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Aquinas High School girls basketball coach Dave Donarski has made a career of challenging his team with quality opponents.

Dave Donarski mug

Donarski

The Blugolds have traveled for and hosted big nonconference games before, but none are likely to compare to the journey Donarski and company will begin at 7 a.m. Saturday.

That’s when the team will board a bus and head to Hopkins, Minn., for a 12:30 p.m. game against the top team in Minnesota’s biggest class.

Hopkins (19-0), the top team in AAAA, recently beat second-ranked Wayzata 69-66, and that is its only victory by less than 10 points all season.

“This is the best team we will play and the best team we have played,” Donarski said. “They are loaded athletically with five kids 6 feet or taller, and their top six kids are Division I players.”

It doesn’t get much better than that.

But Aquinas won’t get sympathy with the kind of run it is on. The Blugolds have won 47 games in a row, 63 during the regular season, and beat a number of powerhouse teams along the way — Iowa’s Dowling Catholic twice, DeLaSalle, Marshall, Onalaska, Melrose-Mindoro among them — heading into a game it has taken very seriously since it became official.

It also enters with two Division I players of its own in Lexi Donarski (Iowa State) and Courtney Becker (Drake). Donarski averages 22.8 points and 5.6 assists, and Becker adds averages of 14.7 points and 7.6 rebounds.

Courtney Becker mug

Becker

“We are treating this like a playoff game,” Donarski said. “We’ve been preparing for this one for awhile, and now we just have to see if we’re where we need to be to play with them.”

The connection is Becker, who plays with a number of Hopkins players in the summer. Through Becker, coaches started talking, and a game was worked out. Donarski said they are trying to find a time to play each other again next season.

“They really don’t have a reason to play a school with 300 students from Wisconsin,” Dave Donarski said. “But I worked on them and worked on them to give us a chance, and they are giving it to us.”

Hopkins is led by junior Paige Bueckers, who is at the top of her recruiting class nationally and has given UConn coach Geno Auriemma and other prominent coaches reason to visit the school. The 5-foot-10 point guard drives a team that likes to push the ball up the floor and take opponents out of rhythm with pressure defense.

Sound familiar?

“We both like to play the same kind of game,” Dave Donarski said. “It could be a lot of fun.

“But they are also good enough that if we don’t play at a really high level or get in foul trouble, they have the ability to really wax us.”

COULEE CRAZINESS: Westby, G-E-T and West Salem have all taken turns leading the Coulee Conference in boys basketball this season, but a clearer image of which of those teams wins the title could emerge after Friday night.

Or maybe it will just get more confusing.

The Panthers (9-9 overall, 7-2 Coulee) hold the lead when they host the second-place Red Hawks (9-8, 7-3) in a 7:15 p.m. tipoff. A win strengthens West Salem’s grip on first place with the next game scheduled for Thursday at Westby (9-5, 5-3), which is tied with Onalaska Luther (8-8, 5-3) for third place.

G-E-T beat West Salem 54-53 when they played the first time this season, so the Panthers have revenge on their minds.

Malachi Athnos mug

Athnos

West Salem also has very consistent weapons in seniors Malachi Athnos and Trenton Foreman. Athnos averages 19.7 points per game and Foreman 15.0. Athnos has made 50 3-pointers and hit two of them but was held to 11 points by G-E-T the first time around.

Athnos has averaged 22 points in the six games since and went off for 30 in a victory over Westby.

If G-E-T completes the sweep, it takes a half-game lead and has just one remaining conference matchup at Arcadia on Feb. 21. The Panthers’ final conference game is against Viroqua.


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Assistant Sports Editor

Todd Sommerfeldt has covered sports for the La Crosse Tribune since 2003 after doing the same previously in the Fox Cities and Rock County.