Polar Bears eye first state title
Hortonville girls heading to Resch
By Greg Seubert
Its’ been four years since the Hortonville girls’ basketball team stepped foot on a basketball court at state.
The Polar Bears fell to eventual WIAA Division 2 state champion Beaver Dam 68-48 in a state semifinal game in 2019 and will return to the Resch Center in Green Bay Friday, March 10, to face Kettle Moraine in a Division 1 semifinal.
Kettle Moraine is back at state after winning its second Division 1 championship last year. The Lasers received a No. 3 seed at state despite having the best record – 26-1 – of the four Division 1 teams left in the tournament. Hortonville (25-3) is a No. 2 seed.
The winner of that game will then play top-seeded Brookfield East or No. 4 Germantown for a state championship Saturday, March 11.
Hortonville coach AC Clouthier didn’t have to wait long to take a team to state after taking the program over this season.
“This is my first year here and it’s been very exciting,” he said. “We have a tremendous group of young people that have obviously had really good coaching in years past from coach (Celeste) Ratka. We’re doing a lot of things different, but we kept a lot of things the same. We defend really well and I think that is now we got to this point. We do a little full-court press and then we’ll play really well in the half-court.”
The Polar Bears’ offense is centered around sophomore Rainey Welson, who Welson averaged 19 points a game this season and set a school record with 41 points March 4 in a 74-59 sectional final win over Neenah.
“When we have a kid like Rainey Welson, we can put the ball in her hands and let her work,” Clouthier said. “She makes a lot of free throws when we need them, makes a lot of baskets and attacks the rim really well.”
Clouthier said he wasn’t surprised at Welson’s effort against Neenah, a team that beat the Polar Bears by 20 points during the regular season.
“We just said, ‘Rainey, this is your game, you take control,’” he said. “It was a special moment. It was a big stage, that environment was unbelievable and she answered. I don’t take things for granted, but she’s done that a lot for us this year. It might not be 41 points. A lot of teams try to take her away from things. Her teammates are really good at getting the ball to her and helping her out.”
Kettle Moraine coach Todd Hansen said his team will focus on Welson.
“It’s not going to be easy, that’s for sure,” he said. “I watched some game film today on them and she’s extremely good. They have some other pieces that are good and they’re very athletic. We’re just going to hope to contain her and not let her go off for 30 or 40 points. She’s going to get her points and it’s not going to be one person to shut down Rainey. It’s going to be a team defensive thing. If she goes off and gets 30, 35 points, we’re going to be in a lot of hurt.”
While Hortonville’s roster includes Welson, the Lasers have a pair of seniors in Grace Grocholski and Braelyn Torres that combined to average more than 40 points a game.
Grocholski averages 24,8 points and 9.4 rebounds per game, while Torres scores 16.2 points per contest.
“They’re special players and I’ve been blessed to be able to coach them,” Hansen said. “Our team works hard, but they’re our hardest workers. They’ve played together for so long It’s almost like they know what they’re going to do when they’re running down the court. They’ve been driven this whole year to get us back here. They want to say, ‘Hey, we can do it with another group of girls.’
“We lost a lot from last year,” he said. “We lost three starters and our top two reserves. We only returned two of our top seven players from last year, but the two kids we returned are all-state players. I knew we’d be good just because of Grace and Braelyn, but we had to replace a lot. The three other girls that start have done a great job.”
Kettle Moraine’s only loss came to Notre Dame, a team that also handed Hortonville one of its three losses.
“I’m not going to lie, I was a little surprised when I saw we were the (No.) 3 seed,” Hansen said. “You’re going to have to beat a good team on Friday to get to the championship and you’re going to have to beat a really, really good team on Saturday.
“I thought we’d be the (No.) 1 seed, but it is what it is,” he added. “We’ll use that as a little bit of motivation, but what are the kids going to get mad at, a computer? It’s not like it was a decision made by other coaches or a panel of people. I figured we’d have a few more losses than we have now, but our kids have played pretty well throughout the season. I thought we played a pretty good schedule, especially nonconference. We’re just happy to be here and it doesn’t diminish anything that we’ve done this year. I’m just happy to be back in Green Bay.”
Clouthier, who took a pair of Xavier girls’ teams to state in 2016 and 2017, said his return to coaching high school basketball has been a smooth transition so far.
“I’ll tell you what, since day one, I never felt that they weren’t bought in,” he said. “I didn’t feel I had to compete with the former staff. The staff that we put together – most of them were on the staff – were really good, too. They’ve been great with me, but it starts with the athletes. I never felt that they weren’t trusting what I was doing.”
WIAA Girls’ State Basketball Championships
Resch Center, Green Bay
Semifinals, 6:35 p.m.: Game 1: No. 1 Brookfield East (26-2) vs. No. 4 Germantown (23-5); Game 2: No. 2 Hortonville (25-3) vs. No. 3 Kettle Moraine (26-1).
Championship, approximately 15 minutes following Division 2 championship.
Semifinals, 1:35 p.m.: Game 1: No. 1 Pewaukee (27-1) vs. No. 4 Lakeland (22-6); Game 2: No. 2 Notre Dame (27-1) vs. No. 3 McFarland (26-2).
Championship, 6:35 p.m.
Semifinals, 1:35 p.m.: Game 1: No. 1 Waupun (21-7) vs. No. 4 Milwaukee Academy of Science (22-3); Game 2: No. 2 West Salem (26-2) vs. No. 3 Kewaskum (22-5).
Championship, approximately 15 minutes following Division 4 championship.
Semifinals, 6:35 p.m.: Game 1: No. 1 Aquinas (27-1) vs. No. 4 Mishicot (21-6); Game 2: No. 2 Laconia (25-3) vs. No. 3 Colfax (21-6).
Championship, approximately 15 minutes following Division 5 championship.
Semifinals, 9:05 a.m.: Game 1: No 1 McDonell Central (24-5) vs. No. 4 Albany (28-0); Game 2: No. 2 Blair-Taylor (27-1) vs. No. 3 Wabeno/Laona (21-7).
Championship, 11:05 a.m.