By Greg Bates
APPLETON – An early-season test is what the Notre Dame Academy Tritons girls’ basketball team needed in order to gauge where it’s at in relation to the top teams in the state.
The reigning Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association Division 2 state champions had the ultimate challenge, heading on the road Tuesday night to face Appleton East, the No. 1-ranked team in Division 1.
Notre Dame, ranked No. 1 in Division 2, showed its youth and inexperience, as Appleton East cruised to a 63-45 victory in non-conference play.
Appleton East’s combination of Emily LaChapell (22 points) and Sammi Beyer (20 points) couldn’t be stopped.
“They made every shot, and they’re long,” Notre Dame Head Coach Sara Rohde said. “Beyer and LaChapell were good for them, and we didn’t defend them as well as we needed to.”
For the second straight game to start the season, Notre Dame’s defense allowed 60-plus points.
In 29 games a season ago, the Tritons gave up 60 or more points only three times.
Rohde said she knows playing a strong team will only make her girls better.
“We schedule these games for a reason, and I think it exposes us to what we need to work on,” she said. “We can learn from this. I’m excited about that.”
Three of the Tritons’ starters are sophomores to go along with junior Hope Barington and senior Sarah Hardwick.
Hardwick used her experience playing big games over the years to help teach the underclassmen.
“I try to communicate as much as I can,” Hardwick said. “If someone misses a shot, you’ve got the next one. If they make a shot, nice job. I encourage communication.”
There were plenty of valuable teaching moments against Appleton East for the Notre Dame players.
“We need to understand defensively who we’re playing and do a better job of getting the gap and closing off their best players,” Rohde said. “Offensively, I don’t know we adjusted a whole lot. We kept making the same mistakes over and over. Our girls need to learn how to adjust when one thing isn’t working and then look for another option.”
Hardwick said her teammates can learn from the loss.
“Especially on the defensive end — lots of times our defense fuels our offense, so communication is a big part of that,” she said. “In a loud gym like this, we needed to be louder so we could hear each other better. Then, knowing who we’re guarding. We talked about personnel before but taking that in mind and putting that into the game.”
Notre Dame (1-1) looked good early, getting out to a 6-2 cushion.
Appleton East (2-0) came back to tie the game at 13-13.
The Patriots then got out on the fastbreak and ended the first half on a 20-6 run to go up 33-21 at the break.
LaChapell, a Marquette signee, scored 13 points.
Appleton East continued its run — extending it to 33-10 — and the home team was up 46-25 early in the second half.
Notre Dame answered with a 12-3 spurt as Gracie Grzesk had back-to-back baskets, her first two of the game.
The Tritons got their deficit to 12 points twice in the final nine minutes, but Appleton East always had an answer.
“We needed to keep on on the defensive end with our stops,” Hardwick said. “We like to say, ‘stop, score, stop.’ Get a stop, get a score and then a stop. That gets us into the flow.”
Sydney Whitehouse scored a team-high 14 points for Notre Dame.
Barington added 11 points, and Hardwick put in eight.
Following the loss, Rohde talked with her girls and stressed it’s not easy to become a state title-caliber team.
“Our team is different from last year, so we do have lots of players coming back, but there’s lots we need to figure out,” Rohde said. “We’ll get better. We’ve got to keep working every day.”