Defense has been a priority for the Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau High School girls basketball team since Rick Schmidt took over as its coach seven seasons ago.

The Red Hawks have proven to be particularly good in the half-court, but Schmidt expanded his expectations with the return of nine letterwinners and three starters from a team that won 18 games last year.

He wants his team to be more aggressive and extend pressure of his “Raider” defense to the opposing back court.

“We’ve got a number of kids that have been in the program for three to four years,” said Schmidt, whose team is 7-2 after losing to a 61-54 nonconference game to Onalaska on Thursday. “With that experience and background, we have been trying to be more aggressive defensively, and the kids have responded pretty well. We have athletic kids that can play multiple positions.”

“Traditionally, we have been a half court — we call it our “Raider” defense — that’s been really effective. It’s a 2-3 set that we do various things out of.

“This year we have gone more full court man-to-man — full court Raider — which is really just a 2-2-1 because we just want to mix it up. I have the athleticism and we want to capitalize on it.”

Four of the five G-E-T starters are 5-foot-8 or taller with impressive length that allows them to switch on defense and play zone with ease. Factoring in the experience level with all five starters being upperclassmen means the Red Hawks can play any defense at any time.

“We have got good height, we try to be aggressive mixing the defenses up between man, zone and some trapping,” Schmidt said. “We have been trying to take advantage of the experience and the length and the athleticism we possess.”

So far it has worked.

The Red Hawks have played a very good nonconference schedule and have only been beaten by Melrose-Mindoro (9-0) — that was a 63-62 game — and the Hilltoppers (9-2).

G-E-T is also performing well offensively with an average of 62.1 points per game and owns a 49-42 win over C-FC and a 45-29 victory over Bangor, which was a WIAA Division 5 state semifinalist as a young team last year.

Junior Lexi Wagner, who ran her career total past the 1,000-point mark this season and has an offer to play for Division I Cleveland State after graduation, leads the way there with 21 points per game and pitches in defensively as the leader in steals.

“She has gotten quicker and stronger. One thing that I have really seen from her is when she can’t get her shots off, she still controls the game with the other aspects of her game, defensively, rebounding and assists,” Schmidt said. “There were three games last year where she had a triple-double, and she already has one this year. Good things happen when the ball is in her hands.”

Wagner is the key cog in the G-E-T machine, but senior Maddie Schmidt is the glue that keeps it together. A four-year varsity player, Maddie Schmidt is a pest on the defensive end while also being another coach on the floor.

“Maddie might not be the most polished offensively, but defensively she is just a beast,” Schmidt said. “She is one of our leaders in steals, one of our leaders in assists. Whoever their best player is, I put Maddie on them. She goes after it. She’s got that attitude on defense that she isn’t going to ever back down.

“She’s been a special kid in my heart as well being my daughter. But it’s like having another coach on the floor. She’s not afraid to tell kids what needs to be said.”