The Onalaska High School girls basketball team has had its fair share of tests through the first nine games of the season, but with a date with Aquinas waiting on Monday night, the Hilltoppers will have a new measuring stick of exactly where they are.
A disappointing performance led to a loss to Chippewa Falls in the second game of the season, but Onalaska has rebounded with a seven-game winning streak that culminated with a 60-55 MVC victory over previously unbeaten Holmen on Friday.
“I don’t think we went into that (Chippewa Falls) game with a right mindset,” senior Emma Gamoke said. “We couldn’t get on a roll or in a rhythm because there were a lot of fouls in that game.
“We wanted to get things up-tempo, but we couldn’t get there with all of the stops and free throws.”
The Hilltoppers (8-1, 2-0) recovered with a quality win over Stewartville and another against West Salem. Gamoke scored a game-high 22 points against the Vikings (6-1, 2-1) as the team cleared one obstacle to get to another that will present itself Monday.
“We knew it was going to be a slow start, and a lot of people assumed that we would be going through a rebuild,” said Hilltoppers coach Shane Schmeling, the fourth coach for the Onalaska girls in the past four seasons. “We started young, with a whole new system. We start a freshman and two sophomores, with three sophomores and two freshmen in our top nine.”
That the Hilltoppers are young, Schmeling says, doesn’t mean they are inexperienced. Sophomores Lauren Arenz, Lexi Miller and Kenzie Miller, as well as freshman Olivia Gamoke are among the Hilltoppers players who have played at a high-level on the AAU circuit, which Schmeling said prepared them for the type of schedule that Onalaska plays.
“I don’t think being young is as negative as it used to be,” Schmeling said. “They’re more ready than ever. I’m very fortunate with this job because a ton of kids in this program play year-round.”
Schmeling pointed to the 61-57 win over Stewartville (Minn.) after the loss to the Cardinals as one of the impressive moments for the team this season.
He was also sure to point out that Onalaska still has plenty of room to improve.
“It’s coming quicker than I thought,” Schmeling said of the progress. “I think we’ve only scratched the surface actually, at this point, and I’m very happy with where we’re at.”
The Blugolds will provide another good look of exactly where Onalaska is as a team with two weeks left in the calendar year.
“We’ve circled a few games at the beginning of the year as barometers,” Schmeling said of games like Aquinas and Holmen. “We’ll see where we’re at. We’ll have weaknesses pointed out, and we’ll be even better next time around.”