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The Monona Grove girls basketball team wasn’t projected as the favorite in the Badger South Conference. And a lofty ranking in WIAA Division 2 also appeared unlikely.

But Monona Grove senior McKenna Warnock lifted her game and the Silver Eagles to new heights this season.

Monona Grove — after finishing 12-11 last season, including 6-8 in conference play — claimed the Badger South title with a 12-2 record, went 20-3 overall and rose as high as No. 2 in the Division 2 state rankings.

Warnock, a 6-foot, 2-inch guard/forward, was a dominant force. She averaged 29.7 points (third-best in the state), 12.5 rebounds (10th-best in the state), 3.2 assists, 1.7 steals and two blocks per game.

“It was a really successful season, especially coming back from the past couple years,” Warnock said. “We learned to play better together. We worked hard to get better each day in practice and in every game. … My goal, basically, this year, was to improve as a team, and I’m proud of that.”

She also received plenty of individual acclaim. Warnock, a University of Iowa commit, was recognized as the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year and the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association’s “Miss Basketball.”

Warnock now adds another honor: The Wisconsin State Journal All-Area girls basketball player of the year.

“I'm very happy McKenna has been chosen for this honor,” Monona Grove coach Tyler Kuehl said. “I think she deserves it. Her statistics this year were incredible, but what she meant to our team was immeasurable.

“Winning a conference championship is tough, especially in the Badger Conference. It takes a high level of sustained play and consistency, and McKenna was our driving force in winning 20 games and a conference championship this year.”

Warnock, a first-team selection on The Associated Press all-state team and a unanimous choice on the WBCA Division 2 all-state team, ended her prep career with 2,311 points. She finished as Monona Grove’s all-time leader in scoring for boys or girls, and in rebounding for the girls program.

She said she became stronger and more mentally prepared playing AAU basketball for Wisconsin Flight Elite last summer, and those improvements translated into better play during her high school season.

Kuehl said he felt fortunate “to coach a once-in-a-generation talent.”

“She will go down as one of the best players ever in our state,” Kuehl said. “She finishes seventh all-time in scoring, but Angie (Halbleib) Murphy is the only other player higher than her who played (WIAA) Division 1 or 2. She has clearly cemented herself in Wisconsin basketball history, and McKenna's career accomplishments against high level competition are affirmation for why she is so deserving of all the honors she has received this year.”

Warnock said she was honored and thankful to receive such statewide recognition among “an amazing class” of seniors that included Shemera Williams of Milwaukee Science, Sydnee Roby of Milwaukee King and Sydney Hilliard of Monroe.

“For me, it’s never about getting the awards and the accolades, it means more to me to have the experiences with my teammates during the high school season,” she said. “Sure, you dream of being Miss Basketball, but it’s the memories you make with your family and your teammates that you will remember and that mean the most.”

She said Monona Grove pulled together after a loss to Stoughton in its second game, a defeat she described as “an eye-opener.”

The Silver Eagles earned a top seed for postseason, but were edged by DeForest 44-42 in a regional final.

Nevertheless, Monona Grove exceeded expectations and Warnock was the chief reason, often putting up staggering numbers, such as her 39-point, 29-rebound performance in an 80-78 regular-season victory over Williams and Milwaukee Academy of Science.

“I think it was amazing,” Warnock said of the Silver Eagles’ season. “Honestly, it didn’t end the way we wanted it to as a team, but we did amazing. I’m so proud of the team and how we did this year and how much we overcame. …We just came out and played every game like it was our last.”

Coach of the year

Beaver Dam’s Tim Chase was named the Wisconsin State Journal/WisconsinPrepZone.com All-Area girls basketball coach of the year after leading the Golden Beavers to their third consecutive Division 2 state championship, defeating Monroe in an all-Badger Conference final.

Beaver Dam became only the fifth girls basketball team in state history to win three straight titles.

“From day one, they were ready to get after it,” said Chase, the AP state coach of the year.

Chase, in his 14th year as coach, praised his assistants for their efforts, the players for their commitment to improving each day and each week and the Beaver Dam community for its support.

“This group this year set the standard high,” he said. “They were all in it together. We had no issues with anything all year. That is unheard of.”

The Beavers (27-1) finished ranked 10th nationally by MaxPreps.com and by USA TODAY. They were undefeated while winning the Badger North Conference — their only loss was a 52-43 decision to Miami (Florida) Country Day, which was ranked third nationally at the time and finished as the nation’s top-ranked team.

Asked which games in particular left him smiling, Chase said, “All of them.”

“We didn’t have an off game this year,” he said.

Others considered for All-Area coach of the year were Marshall's Alex Koeller, Middleton's Jeff Kind, Monroe's Sam Mathiason, Madison Memorial's Marques Flowers and Kuehl. 

Wisconsin State Journal/WisconsinPrepZone.com

2019 All-Area girls basketball team

FIRST TEAM

Player of the year — McKenna Warnock, 6-foot-2, sr., guard/forward, Monona Grove: The Iowa commit was state Gatorade player of the year, Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association’s “Miss Basketball,” a first-team Associated Press all-state selection and a unanimous WBCA Division 2 all-state pick. She led Monona Grove to Badger South Conference title and averaged 29.7 points, 12.5 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.7 steals and two blocked shots.

Sydney Hilliard, 6-0, sr., point guard, Monroe: The University of Wisconsin signee led the Cheesemakers to the WIAA Division 2 state tournament for the third consecutive season; Monroe finished as state runner-up to Beaver Dam. She was an AP first-team all-state choice and unanimous WBCA Division 2 first-team all-state pick, averaging 21.3 points, eight rebounds, 3.5 assists, 2.5 steals per game and shooting 63 percent from the field. She had 25 points in Monroe’s state semifinal victory over Whitefish Bay and 23 against Beaver Dam in the final.

Maty Wilke, 5-10, soph., guard, Beaver Dam: Wilke helped lead the Golden Beavers to their third consecutive Division 2 state title, becoming just the fifth girls basketball team in state history to accomplish that feat. Wilke, an AP second-team all-state selection and a unanimous WBCA Division 2 first-team all-state choice, averaged 13.8 points, 5.2 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 2.3 steals in limited minutes (due to lopsided scores) and shot 53 percent from 3-point range. She had 20 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two steals in the Beavers’ state semifinal victory over Hortonville and 10 points in the final against Monroe.

Tara Stauffacher, 5-11, sr., forward, Beaver Dam: The UW commit helped lead Beaver Dam to its record-tying third straight Division 2 state title. She was an AP second-team all-state selection, a unanimous WBCA Division 2 first-team all-state selection, averaged 11.4 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.4 assists in limited minutes because of lopsided game margins. She had 15 points and seven rebounds in the state final against Monroe.

Anna Lutz, 6-1, soph., forward, Marshall: Lutz helped lead the Cardinals to their second consecutive Division 3 state championship. Lutz was an AP third-team all-state choice, WBCA Division 3 first-team all-state pick, averaged 18.8 points, 8.5 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 1.4 steals and shot 60.3 percent from the field and 42.6 percent from 3-point range. She had 10 points and six steals in Marshall’s state semifinal victory over Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau and 26 points, seven rebounds, three blocked shots and two steals while shooting 10-for-14 from the floor in the title game victory over previously undefeated Laconia.

SECOND TEAM

Mia Morel, 5-7, soph., point guard, Marshall

Ashala Moseberry, 5-11, sr., guard/forward, Madison East

Sitori Tanin, 6-2, jr., forward, Middleton

Jada Donaldson, 5-6, jr., guard, Beaver Dam

Katelyn Meister, 5-10, sr., forward/guard, Wisconsin Dells

THIRD TEAM

Paige Schumann, 5-6, sr., guard, Beaver Dam

Grace Hilber, 5-6, sr., guard, Sun Prairie

Rachael Heittola, 6-2, sr., center, Belleville

Aleah Grundahl, 6-0, sr., forward, DeForest

McKenna Reichling, 5-5, sr., guard, Mineral Point

HONORABLE MENTION

Alana Gilles, sr., Lodi; Julianna Wagner, soph., Lake Mills; Emily Benzschawel, sr., Monroe; Aly Van Loo, sr., Beaver Dam; Ava Douglas, sr., Reedsburg; Paige Banks, jr., Evansville; Laura Nickel, soph., Marshall; Trenna Cherney, fr., Reedsburg; Maddie Farnsworth, sr., Waunakee; Elena Maier, soph., Waunakee; Demetria Prewitt, fr., Madison La Follette; Emmoni Rankins, jr., Madison Memorial; Baluck Deang, soph., Madison Edgewood;

Chloe Buescher, sr., Milton; Megan Benzschawel, soph., Monroe; Liz Uhl, jr., Oregon; Kaitlyn Schrimpf, jr., Oregon; Peighton Trieloff, sr., Stoughton; Teya Maas, soph., Watertown; Alexis Baker, sr., Sun Prairie; Rayna Briggs, jr., Verona; Claudia Fieiras, soph., Janesville Craig; Hannah Flottmeyer, sr., Middleton; Emily Pierson, sr., Janesville Craig; Aaliyah Smith, fr., Verona; Kaitlyn Shadoski, sr., Lakeside Lutheran;

Grace Schmidt, fr., Watertown Luther Prep; Lauryn Milne, soph., Lodi; Jaylynn Benson, soph., New Glarus; Brittney Limoseth, sr., Waterloo; Jamie Pfeifer, sr., Wisconsin Dells; Annalise DeMuth, sr., McFarland; Olivia Ganser, jr., Jefferson; Grace Myklebust, sr., Wisconsin Dells; Bethany Smith, sr., Wisconsin Dells; Nicole Johnson, jr., Mineral Point; Olivia Argall, soph., Dodgeville; Maeya Bakke, jr., Madison Abundant Life/St. Ambrose; Jayme Fischer, sr., Deerfield; Kaitlyn Kuhl, fr., Johnson Creek.

Bucky!

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Jon Masson covers high school sports for the Wisconsin State Journal. He has covered a variety of sports — including the Green Bay Packers and Wisconsin men's and women's basketball and volleyball — since he first came to the State Journal in 1999.