By Tim Johnson
WAUSAU – Colby won a girls basketball conference title for the first time in school history last year. The Hornets not only repeated as Cloverbelt Conference East Division champions this season, but also hit an even-more noteworthy milestone on Saturday night.
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Vannesa Lopez led four players in double figures with 18 points as the undefeated Hornets pulled away for a 67-50 win over Crandon in a WIAA Division 4 sectional title game in front of a boisterous crowd for both teams, which packed the Wausau West Fieldhouse. The victory earned Colby its inaugural appearance in the state tournament next week at the Resch Center in Green Bay. Colby drew the #3 seed and will take on Melrose-Mindoro on Thursday, March 7th at 8:15pm.
“It’s a great feeling,” said Colby junior Hailey Voelker, who finished with 17 points. “We did it for our team. We did it for our community and we did it for everyone in the past that wore the jerseys before us.”
Alyssa Underwood and Ashley Streveler added 16 and 12 points, respectively, and Streveler led the team with four 3-pointers. The Hornets (25-0) will play in a state semifinal matchup in Green Bay on Thursday night. The seedings for the four Division 4 finalists will be made on Sunday.
“There’s five girls out there that can score and it can be anybody (each game),” Colby coach Randy Rau said. “To stop five of us, that’s tough. To stop two or three? Yeah, you can accomplish that, but we have five girls out there who can score and all of them did tonight.”
Lopez said the team’s passing was a key to the offensive performance.
“It was just moving the ball around, getting touches inside and then kicking it back out (to the perimeter),” Lopez said.
Tabitha Renkas had a team-high 19 points for the Cardinals, who made a program-first trip to the state tournament last season. Alexa Neilitz and Micasslyn Crawford added 12 and 10 points, respectively.
Colby took the lead for good with just over eight minutes left in the first half and built a 32-24 cushion at the break. The Hornets then scored 13 of the 17 points in the opening four minutes of the second half to grab control of the game. The Hornets’ lead grew to 22 points with less than under nine minutes left in regulation.
“We’ve played some pretty good halves (this year) but, yeah, against the stiffest competition that we have faced, that’s about as good as we can play,” said Rau of the Hornets’ second-half offensive performance. “I was hoping that after our Thursday performance of not shooting the ball very well (against Neillsville) that it meant that we would be able to bring it tonight.
“The girls were very calm, cool and collected (before the game). They weren’t really nervous today,” Rau said. “I felt pretty confident that we would play well. I didn’t know that we would play this well.”
Crandon (19-5) had a five-game winning streak and hopes for a second-straight trip to the state tournament snapped. The Cardinals hit nine 3-pointers in the loss, but struggled offensively overall throughout the game.
“We didn’t quite bring our ‘A’ game on offense tonight,” Crandon coach Keegan Kincaid said. “I think a lot of it was nerves. We have been (to a sectional final) before, but this was a different atmosphere. Then our shots just weren’t falling.”
Colby’s defense had an impact on Crandon’s woes as well.
“I just thought we communicated really well (defensively),” Rau said. “We didn’t lose track of their girls. When one of them possibly got open, we always had somebody getting out there in their face. They didn’t have too many open shots tonight. We contested pretty much everything and that was a big part in how we beat them.”
Hornets 67, Cardinals 50
Colby 32 35 – 67
Crandon 24 26 – 50
COLBY (67): Hailey Voelker 17, Vanessa Lopez 18, Lexi Underwood 4, Ashley Streveler 12, Alyssa Underwood 16. FG: 25. FT: 9-12. 3-pointers: 8 (Streveler 4, Aly. Underwood 2, Lopez, Voelker). Record: 25-0.
CRANDON (50): Autumn Schallock 3, Alexa Neilitz 12, Sarah Kalkofen 6, Micasslyn Crawford 10, Tabitha Renkas 19. FG: 17. FT: 7-14. 3-pointers: 9 (Renkas 4, Crawford 2, Kalkofen 2, Schallock). Record: 19-5.