Notre Dame girls heading back to state
By Greg Bates
GREEN BAY – They’re back.
For the first time since 2016, the Notre Dame girls’ basketball team will be playing in the state tournament.
The Tritons, the top-ranked Division 2 team in the state, continued their dominance this postseason.
Led by a career-high 33 points from senior Sammy Opichka, Notre Dame ran past Freedom 70-38 in a WIAA Division 2 sectional final Saturday afternoon.
Opichka said it’s special for her and her teammates to make it back to state.
“It means everything,” she said. “My three senior teammates and I have been waiting for this since the third grade. It’s surreal. I’m proud of the girls and my coaches – we wouldn’t be able to do it without them.”
Fellow senior Charley Apple seconded her teammate’s sentiment.
“We’ve been working for this all four years, and it’s a good feeling knowing we’re there and we’ve got two more games to keep going,” Apple said.
This marks the fifth time to state for Sara Rohde in her 10 seasons as Notre Dame head coach.
She won state titles in 2013 and ’14.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” Rohde said. “I’m proud of the girls on how they played today. (State) hasn’t happened in a couple of years, so they’ve worked hard for this, and they deserve every minute of it.”
Notre Dame, winners of 24 games in a row, has won its four playoff games by an average of 43 points per game.
All four games were at home.
During a typical, non-pandemic season, a sectional final would have been played on a neutral court, but Notre Dame was granted a home game as the No. 1 seed.
“With all of our students here, the energy was high, and it’s awesome,” Opichka said. “It’s my last home game ever, and we won in the sectional final – it’s pretty great.”
Freedom (25-2) held a 7-3 lead early, but Notre Dame woke up in a big way.
Opichka had six points to lead a 15-3 run, as the Tritons cranked up their defensive pressure.
In all, Notre Dame (26-1) scored 28 of the final 36 points of the opening half to take a 31-15 advantage into the break.
Opichka had 15 points at the half.
“We had to play our game,” Apple said. “We know how to play – we had to calm down and get the nerves out and then we were there.”
Notre Dame didn’t let off the gas in the second half.
Opichka kept up her solid play inside, scoring eight straight points for the Tritons, as they went up 47-24.
When Opichka left the game alongside her fellow seniors, she had outscored Freedom, 33-31.
“I never expect lots of points,” Opichka said. “Our whole team can score. Lots of the offensive boards turned into more points, and I was in basically the whole game as well, so those two things helped me get my points.”
Senior Georgia Gregoire chipped in 11 points for the Tritons, while Apple added eight.
Freedom, ranked No. 4 in the state and winners of 22 straight games coming in, was more one-dimensional than normal.
Its second-leading scorer, Gabby Johnson, missed her second straight game because her sister tragically died in a skiing accident earlier in the week.
The Irish’s Callie Genke kept her team in the game early, scoring 21 points on the day.
Notre Dame is only two wins away from the program’s fourth state title.
Rohde said she’s constantly impressed by how well her players have competed all season.
“They’ve earned my trust, and they’re consistent, I can say that,” Rohde said. “Coming into a season, as a coach, you get nervous or wonder what to expect. They have proven night in and night out they come to play. If a few people get in foul trouble or have an off night, they pick each other up and overcome any adversity that comes our way. I’m proud of how they play as a team and share the ball. They’re cohesive and united.”