By Greg Bates
GREEN BAY – Last season ended in sectional semifinal disappointment for the Notre Dame girls’ basketball team.
This time around, it was a different story.
Notre Dame, the top seed in a WIAA Division 2 sectional, used its suffocating defense against No. 4-seeded Shawano and didn’t let up until the game was out of hand.
The Tritons jumped out to a 41-3 lead and cruised to an 87-21 victory in a sectional semifinal Thursday, Feb. 18.
“It’s pretty crazy,” said Notre Dame senior Sammy Opichka about the lopsided score. “I don’t think we were expecting that at the beginning of this year. We got farther than we did last year already, so it’s nice.”
After every made basket early in the game, Notre Dame implemented its press, and Shawano couldn’t handle it.
The visiting Hawks were only able to get in their half-court set a handful of times and put up just four shots in the opening 9 1/2 minutes of the game.
By that point, the Tritons were up 38-2.
“That’s what we pride ourselves on,” Notre Dame head coach Sara Rohde said. “In the full court when we were pressing, that was effective. Shawano did struggle to get it across half court. Then we had a couple of mix-ups where they had hit a couple of 3s in the half court. It was us getting a little lazy and undisciplined because we had a big lead, which is not a good excuse for that to happen. In the second half, we cleaned it up in the half court.”
Notre Dame’s press has been effective all season.
“It’s all five of us ready to play, and our bench is deep as well,” said Opichka. “When we can have players come in and do the same thing as the starting five, that’s a huge advantage. Coming out with energy is the main thing.”
Opichka had 12 points in the opening stretch, as the Tritons’ lead ballooned to 36 points, 38-2.
With a 52-12 lead entering the second half, Notre Dame’s starters put their feet on the gas pedal.
The Tritons went on a 28-4 run out of halftime.
Opichka and Sarah Hardwick each had 17 points to lead the way, as nine players scored for Notre Dame.
Hope Barington came off the bench and chipped in 14 points.
Rohde called this year’s team the deepest group she’s ever coached.
“There’s no drop-off in the kids coming off the bench,” Rohde said. “They all know what to do. I feel comfortable putting any one of them in. Who they’re surrounded by, they can do what’s being asked of them.”
Saturday’s sectional final will be a clash between top-ranked Notre Dame and No. 4-ranked Freedom.
Both teams come into the game with 25-1 records.
Notre Dame has won 23 straight games, while Freedom has captured 22 wins in a row.
The game will tip at 1 p.m. at Notre Dame.
“We need to keep our press up – that’s what we do,” Opichka said. “We tire teams out with our good conditioning and our defense. Gabby Johnson and Callie Genke (from Freedom) are two good players, so we need to be ready for them. Playing good defense is what we need to do to beat them.”
With Notre Dame playing so well, scoring more than 80 points in four of its last five games, can anyone in Division 2 beat them?
“I think we can beat everyone if we play like a team and we come out strong with the press,” Opichka said.
“If we play the way we’re capable of playing, I think it would be tough (to beat us),” said Rohde.