Coach Celeste Ratka back on the sideline
By Erik Buchinger
In her first two years since being put in charge at her alma mater, Hortonville head coach Celeste Ratka has guided the Polar Bears to consecutive state tournament appearances.
Hortonville held a single-digit lead over Onalaska throughout most of the second half but pulled away for a 69-59 victory in the sectional final on Saturday, March 3 in Stevens Point.
“I’ve been really feeling like we’re starting to play our best basketball right here at the end, and I’m feeling really confident in our team,” Ratka said. “Our leaders are really starting to step up here at the end.”
Hortonville was led by its senior guard Shay Frederick, who scored a game-high 25 points and made four 3-pointers.
“I honestly don’t know what to say; I’m so overwhelmed with everything, but the feeling is just crazy,” Frederick said. “This team has been through so much this year.”
The day before Hortonville’s sectional semifinal game on Thursday night, Ratka gave birth to a baby girl, Edith.
“It’s been a whirlwind,” Ratka said. “I have so many people that have helped and to thank. My family has been so amazing. It really takes a village.”
Ratka gave birth on Wednesday night at 5:07 and said if the baby had been born a few hours earlier, she would have been available to coach the next day’s game.
“I was trying to get out to be at the Marshfield game, but the doctors and nurses said ‘No go. You’ve got to spend 24 hours in the hospital,’” Ratka said. “So it didn’t work out, but there was no way I wasn’t going to be here.”
Hortonville beat Marshfield 77-36 while Ratka listened to the first half and found an online stream to watch the second half.
“It was hard to listen to the first half because you couldn’t see how they were getting their shots, but it was awesome,” Ratka said. “I knew the girls would respond, and they did it.”
Ratka said she was proud of the way coaches and players in the program responded in her absence.
“Our coaching staff stepped up, and everybody stepped up a little bit more,” Ratka said. “That’s something we stress in our program is having players lead and having a player-led program, and they did that beautifully.”
Ratka said the players ran the walkthrough and delivered the scouting reports to make sure everybody was on the same page.
“That’s what you want as a coach – for them to do it without you,” Ratka said. “It’s not what you know, it’s what they know, and that was a really proud moment for them in that game.”
Ratka returned to the bench on Saturday, and Hortonville was tied at 16 midway through the first half before the Polar Bears went on an 8-2 run to go ahead 24-18. The Polar Bears maintained their lead and never trailed the rest of the game.
“I was feeling confident, but I knew we were running into a really good basketball team with a bunch of seniors – this was their last go of it, so you never know exactly what’s going to happen,” Ratka said. “We have a lot of young players, and they responded really well to the atmosphere and the stage that they were on.”
Polar Bears’ sophomore center Macy McGlone scored 21 points including 14 in the second half despite dealing with a sore neck.
“That kind of hurt, but I just wanted to win it for my team really bad,” McGlone said. “I wanted them to go to state, and for our seniors – I wanted them to go there, and I just wanted to win. I wasn’t even thinking about anything else.”
McGlone appeared in last year’s state tournament game as a freshman and recalled a conversation she had with her coach.
“I don’t remember what game or when we talked about this, but I told Coach Ratka that I wanted to go back [to state] next year,” McGlone said. “She said to stay hungry, and I’m just so happy because I am still really hungry, and this year I want to finish first. I want to bring back that gold ball and put it in our [trophy] case.”
Hortonville’s senior class includes Frederick, Mady Pahl and Lexi Walter, who scored 12 points and knocked down some key free throws down the stretch.
“We’ve just been through so much together, and this team is just something special,” Frederick said. “We work harder than anyone else. I can say that confidently. We come in every day and work our butts off, but for this to happen, it’s just relieving honestly.”
The Polar Bears lost to Cudahy by 10 points in last year’s state semifinal game, scoring a season-low 36 points.
“We have another shot,” Frederick said. “Not many teams are given a second chance. Like I told you earlier this year, this has been our goal in the back of our minds this whole year to get back to state. Obviously last year wasn’t the way we wanted it to end or the way we wanted to play, so we’re just going to work hard, stick to our game plan and hopefully use that experience to come out and do what we do best.”
Frederick will be playing college basketball at Valparaiso University next season but said she was not ready to finish her high school career yet.
“I love this team so much,” Frederick said. “They’re my best friends. I came into this gym today thinking, ‘There’s no way I want this to end.’ Just getting another week with my best friends is something that I won’t take for granted.”
Ratka said she is happy to be able to experience another state tournament with her team, which has a mix of seniors and younger players.
“I think about the journey from start to finish, and that’s what gets me excited and for the kids to have such a great experience,” Ratka said. “A lot of these players are new, so there’s some experience that we still have, but there’s a lot of players where this is a new experience for them. I’m excited for them to have that. Not everybody gets an opportunity to play on that stage.”
Hortonville’s strong bond has played a big part in its success this season, according to Ratka.
“I think this team really likes one another and really have great chemistry,” Ratka said. “That’s what we talk about. Let’s keep this thing going because we just love being around one another…We’ve just got to keep the mojo going. I wish we could play tomorrow because they’re playing at a really high level, and it’s been fun. I’m just enjoying every moment right now.”