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La Crosse Aquinas vs. Cambridge

The Aquinas High School girls basketball team celebrates after it defeated Cambridge 86-33 Saturday in a WIAA Division 4 sectional final at Baraboo High School. The Blugolds (26-0), ranked No. 1 in Division 4, earned their second consecutive trip to the state tournament. 

BARABOO, Wis. — It is are where it wants to be, but the journey is far from complete for the Aquinas High School girls basketball team.

The mission, the players know, is not finished until they see, then grab, gold.

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Aquinas High School's Courtney Becker lifts a shot over the head of Cambridge's Elyssa Stein in the first half of Saturday's WIAA Division 4 sectional final at Baraboo High School. Becker finished with 13 points in the Blugolds' 86-33 win.

For the time being, the unbeaten Blugolds (26-0) can take a deep breath and prepare for the WIAA Division 4 state girls basketball tournament in Green Bay this week. Aquinas locked up its second straight state trip with a dominant 86-33 sectional championship victory over Cambridge Saturday afternoon at Baraboo High School.

Aquinas will play a semifinal on Thursday at the Resch Center in Ashwauebnon, Wis., against an opponent to be determined. The four Division 4 teams will be seeded during a 11 a.m. Sunday meeting.

“We talked a lot about it (state) after last season and that is where our senior leadership with Whittni (Rezin), Jessa (Peterson), Kyah (Steiner) and Madessa (Collins) comes in. Those kids are very focused on what they need to get done,” Aquinas coach Dave Donarski said.

“What happened to us last year, we are in a completely different spot mentally and physically with our depth.”

Aquinas had little trouble during its post-season run this season, outscoring Lancaster, Cuba City, Darlington and Cambridge, by an average score of 78-32.

That tops its regular season scoring differential of 72.6-37.3. The state’s top-ranked Division 4 team’s closest game all season came against Iowa big-school power Dowling Catholic, which it beat 67-65.

As Steiner, a 5-foot-9 forward will tell you, it starts — and finishes — with defense. It did in the season-opener and it did Saturday against Cambridge (20-6).

“Once our defense started going, our offense comes around,” Steiner said. “I think everyone on our team just works so hard and we never quit. We want it so badly that we go after it; we bring so much intensity.

“And I think we just know how to keep our intensity throughout the game.”

Cambridge scored the first basket in the sectional final, but Onalaska took it from there, running off more than a dozen points before building a 43-17 cushion by halftime. With the defense amped up, the Blugolds were able to score in transition as well as inside, outside and places in between.

“We had a little bit of a margin early, then it is our pressure,” Dave Donarski said. “That comes down to dedicated, hard work by our kids. They knew what Cambridge was capable of doing and they took it away.”

Donarski credited 6-foot sophomore Courtney Becker for clamping down on Cambridge’s Elyssa Stein, one of the team’s top scorers, who was limited to five points. Likewise for the Blugolds’ Collins, who shut down Cambridge’s other top scorer, Joriann Clary, holding her to six points.

“It was what we needed to do, take them away, and we were able to do that,” Donarski said. “Between that and the speed of the game, it is just wearing you down. When we can get a kid turning away from — and looking at — the rim, we have them right where we want them.”

By that time, sophomore Lexi Donarski — an Iowa State recruit — was well on her way to a game-high 21-point effort. Rezin added 15 points while Becker also finished in double figures with 13 points.

And as has been the case all season, the Blugolds’ balanced scoring also featured nine points from Steiner and eight from Collins.

“Once we started hitting stuff and our offense was flowing, we were kind of killing it,” Steiner said. “We know we have to keep our offense going and come out in the second half and dig even deeper.”

Now, the Blugolds are ready for whatever they face at state.

“That really hurt last year,” Steiner said of the state championship loss to Howard Grove. “We do not want what happened to us last year to happen this year. We have the opportunity to finish it off and we are looking for the opportunity to do that.”

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