WDP claims conference crown
By Rich Palzewic
DE PERE – This one was for all the marbles.
In a battle of the top two teams in the Bay Conference, the West De Pere girls’ basketball team reigned supreme on a snowy night.
The Phantoms (19-5 overall, 11-1 Bay Conference) won their first conference title since 2021 with a 60-49 victory over New London (18-4, 10-2) at West De Pere High School on Feb. 16.
The Phantoms got 18 points from senior Katie Waukau and 17 from sophomore Faith Walder in the win.
“Our goal before the season was to win a conference championship,” West De Pere coach Chris Abaray said. “We have a young squad, so this title is sweet. Last season, we had a chance to win conference against Xavier, but we came up short.”
Both teams started slowly from the field.
The Phantoms finally broke the ice 2 minutes, 40 seconds into the game on a bucket by Ella Francois.
From there, West De Pere went up 9-0 before the Bulldogs scored their first points of the game almost six minutes in.
That sparked New London, which proceeded to score 11 of the next 14 points to surge ahead, 13-12.
“We knew this would be a tough game against a good New London squad,” Abaray said. “When you’re playing against a player like Lizzy Steingraber, you need to be on top of your game — she’s almost un-guardable. I think New London is going to be a tough team to beat in the postseason.”
Steingraber, a Division I commit to the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, ended with a game-high 20 points before fouling out late.
In a game filled with runs, the Phantoms responded with their own 11-1 run to go up 23-14.
The Bulldogs clawed their way back toward the end of the first half to only trail 26-25 at the break.
After scoring three and two points, respectively, in the first half, Waukau and Walder each came alive from the field after intermission.
Waukau nailed three 3-pointers in the second half and added six free throws down the stretch to help secure the win.
At one point in the second half, Walder scored nine straight points for West De Pere.
“I felt stuck and slow in the first half,” Walder said. “I brought more energy and played my game in the second half.”
Walder said the whole night felt like a playoff game.
“This was a huge win,” she said. “The crowd was great, and it gives us momentum heading into the postseason.”
Early in the second half, the game went back and forth, with the Phantoms clinging to a 38-36 lead. The two-point margin would be the closest New London would get the rest of the way.
“At halftime, I told the girls we needed to get to the paint,” Abaray said. “Our guards are fast, and we had to be patient. In the first half, the ball got stagnant — in the second half, we had better movement. We pushed the tempo, and I think we wore New London down later in the game.”
West De Pere, which hit nine 3-pointers on the night, ended the game with a 22-13 spurt.
“We have great depth,” Abaray said. “It’s big when all the girls can do it, but there are nights we only get production from a couple of them.”
Sophomores Madisyn Berggren and Ella Francois added 10 and 9 points, respectively, for the Phantoms.
“This was a great test for us,” Abaray said. “To have the last game of the regular season be such a big game was great. We have tough teams in our (postseason) regional.”
Notre Dame Academy, the No. 1-ranked Division 2 team in the state and two-time defending state champion, is in the upper half of West De Pere’s bracket. The Phantoms earned a No. 3 seed in the postseason and will host No. 6 Luxemburg-Casco on Feb. 24.
“I don’t think we’ve played L-C since I’ve been (head coach) — you have to be ready for anything,” Abaray said. “Our girls needed to feel a little pressure tonight, and I think that