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Big Eight girls basketball preview: COVID-19 has slowed the season, but coaches, players await their chance
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Big Eight girls basketball preview: COVID-19 has slowed the season, but coaches, players await their chance

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BIG EIGHT CONFERENCE GIRLS BASKETBALL

2019-2020 STANDINGS

Team Conf All

Middleton 17-1 25-1

Madison Memorial 17-1 24-2

Sun Prairie 13-5 15-9

Janesville Craig 13-6 17-8

Verona 9-9 11-12

Madison La Follette 8-10 10-14

Madison East 7-11 8-14

Janesville Parker 4-14 7-16

Beloit Memorial 3-15 4-19

Madison West 0-18 1-22

ALL-CONFERENCE RETURNEES

First team: Claudia Fieiras, sr., Janesville Craig; Jazzanay Seymore, sr., Sun Prairie; Mia Morel, sr., Madison Memorial.

Second team: Kate Huml, jr., Janesville Craig; Megan Murphy, so., Verona; Antionique Auston, so., Sun Prairie; McKenna Monogue, jr., Middleton.

Honorable mention: Malia Green, jr., Madison La Follette; Evelyn Walker, sr., Madison La Follette; Ashley Rae, sr., Sun Prairie; Marie Outlaw, so., Sun Prairie; Grace Radlund, sr., Sun Prairie; Paige Lambe, so., Verona.

COACHES’ PICKS

1, Sun Prairie; 2, Janesville Craig; 3, Madison Memorial, Madison La Follette, Verona.

Beloit Memorial Purple Knights

Coach: Dilonna Johnson, first year (0-0), third year overall. 

Season status: The Beloit school district has announced it won’t hold sports practices or events until at least Jan. 24.

Returning starters: Mizhana Burner, 5-8, jr., G.

Other players: Karlee Dunham, 5-6, sr., F; Mandi Franks, 5-5, jr., G; Bre Davis, 6-1, jr., F; Jacki Pabst, 6-0, jr., F; Tiara Lowery-Maddox; Tyeoncella Grady; Antanasia Anderson, 5-10, sr., F; Nemyah Nichols, 5-4, sr., G.

Key fact: Johnson is in her first season as coach, after Purple Knights athletic director Joel Beard served as the team’s coach in 2019-20. As a player, Johnson received all-conference honors at Heritage Christian School and all-conference and all-state recognition at Whitefish Bay Dominican during high school. She played collegiately at Drake University and Southwest Baptist University in Missouri. She also coached high school basketball in Minnesota. 

The lowdown: Beloit Memorial has struggled in recent years and will look to Johnson and assistant Asha Knight to improve the program’s fortunes. Last year’s record, including three wins in conference play, was a positive step. How many games Beloit Memorial will play, however, is in question due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the school district’s decision to not start athletics through Jan. 24. The Knights have seven returning letterwinners. Ashari Wilson has been added as a transfer and Tajah Randall departed as a transfer, Johnson said. "Beloit Memorial will be returning six players that received significant playing time last season," Johnson said. "We will be challenged with losing our top two scorers from last season in Meghan Drucker and Ter'Rayjanay Peppers. With this group of strong leaders and athletes, the Lady Knights Girls Basketball program is on the rise."

Janesville Craig Cougars

Coach: Kerry Storbakken, 11th year (156-87), 17th year overall (230-145). 

Season status: The Janesville school district has decided to conduct winter sports.

Returning starters: Claudia Fieiras, 5-9, sr., F (18.2 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 1.3 apg); Kate Huml, 5-8, jr., G (13.2 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 2.4 apg).

Other returnees and other players: Ellie Magestro-Kennedy, 5-8, so., G (4.2 ppg, 1.5 rpg), Jessa Alderman, 5-9, jr., F (3.4 ppg, 2.1 rpg), Mya Nicholson, 5-10, fr., G; Lily Campbell, 5-6, fr., G; Bryn McBride, 5-10, jr., F.

Key fact: Janesville Craig and Janesville Parker are the only Big Eight teams starting the season and have to construct non-conference schedules. Craig, Parker and Beloit Memorial are in Rock County. Craig is limiting the number of spectators at home games and limiting practice times as it tries to be safe, but also provide playing opportunity.

Storbakken said he's "very thankful for the opportunity to play this season. Every practice/game is a gift! We thank the Janesville school board and administration for giving us the chance to play a game we all love. (I) feel said for all the teams that were not given the same opportunity." 

The lowdown: Craig has a strong team returning, led by Fieiras and Huml and well-regarded younger players Magestro-Kennedy and Nicholson. Fieiras was the conference’s top scorer last year. Huml made 54 3-pointers last year and is a good perimeter shooter. The Cougars had figured to challenge for the conference title, but the Big Eight won’t hold conference competitions or crown conference champions this season. Fieiras became the program’s leading scorer early this season. 

"We will have a very strong starting lineup," Storbakken said. "We return the leading scorer in the Big Eight -- Claudia Fieiras. We have many scorers and will put a lot of points on the board. Kate Huml, Ellie Magestro-Kennedy, and Mya Nicholson can all lead our team in scoring. We have shooters and playmakers that have a great mentality for offense. Claudia Fieiras, Kate Huml, Ellie Magestro-Kennedy and Mya Nicholson have put many hours in this off season to become very good players and help Craig be a force in the strong Big Eight."

Janesville Parker Vikings

Coach: Jennah Hartwig, sixth year, 11th year overall.

Season status: The Janesville school district decided to conduct winter sports.

Returning starters: Alli Rosga, 5-5, sr., G (4.8 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 0.8 apg); Alexys Luek, 5-6, sr., G (5.2 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 1.2 apg); Jasmyn Demrow, 5-10, sr., F (7.6 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 1.5 apg); Alyssa Ayers, 5-6, jr., G (4.4 ppg, 3.2 rpg. 0.6 apg); Paisley Booth, 5-8, so., G (5.9 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 1.0 apg).

Other players: Mea Green, 5-9, sr., F; Addie Miller, 5-10, so., F; Charlie Simmons, 5-7, fr., F.

Key fact: Janesville Parker and Janesville Craig are the only Big Eight schools starting the season close to on schedule, but the Big Eight won’t hold conference competitions or name league champions in winter sports. “Parker is excited for the opportunity to play new programs and a mixed-up game schedule,” Hartwig said.

The lowdown: The Vikings, 7-16 overall last year, worked hard in the offseason on improving their shooting and strength, Hartwig said. “We return a number of players who have logged a lot of minutes on the varsity the past two seasons, and have a couple of new players that will help us this year,” she said. Demrow, Luek, Ayers, Booth and Rosga are players with experience for the Vikings. Ava Eggers-Ahrens, a 5-5 sophomore who averaged 2.9 points per game and 1.7 rebounds per game in 15 games last season, will miss the season due to injury (Achilles tear), Hartwig said. The Vikings had six players available for their first games of the season.

Madison East Purgolders

Coach: Ronda McLin, 2nd year at Madison East (8-15), sixth overall. 

Season status: Madison public schools are not allowed to start in-person practices until Jan. 25 at the earliest, with first games in early February; the team is holding virtual workouts now.

Returning starters: Kylah McCullers, 5-5, so., G (6.3 ppg).

Other returnees: Dasia Banks, 5-9, sr., F (4.0 ppg).

Key fact: The Purgolders bring back just two letterwinners after losing 10 seniors, four of whom were starters.

The lowdown: Second-year coach McLin will be looking to improve on a 8-15 record, but will have to do so with just two returning players. McCullers, the lone returning starter, will be relied upon heavily. “Kylah McCullers will play a huge role in the success of this team this season. She is a sophomore guard who earned starter minutes late last season and will be a floor general season,” McLin said. Madison East will be “looking to rebuild with a young group of players with minimal varsity playing experience,” McLin added.

Madison La Follette Lancers

Coach: Will Green, 5th year at Madison La Follette, 27th overall (46-37)

Season status: Madison public schools are not allowed to start in-person practices until Jan. 25 at the earliest, with first games in early February; the team is holding virtual workouts now.

Returning starters: Demetria Prewitt, 5-8, jr., G (14.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 3.9 apg, 3.2 spg); Malia Green, 5-7, jr., G (9.8 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 1.5 apg, 1.8 spg); Evelyn Walker, 6-1, sr., C (8.2 ppg, 10.1 rpg, 1.6 spg, 1.8 bpg).

Other returnees: Imani Simmons, 5-7, jr., G (6.1 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 2.2 apg, 1.8 spg); Angelina Myhr, 5-5, jr., G (4.7 ppg, 1.7 rpg, 0.9 apg, 1.3 spg); Alisha Ghelfi, 5-5, jr., G; Jayda Woods, 6-0, sr., F (5.4 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 1.0 apg, 3.0 spg, 0.8 bpg); Lucy Murphy, 5-7, jr., F (0.8 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 0.1 apg).

Key fact: The Lancers’ roster includes talented junior guard Aaliyah Smith, who started her prep career at Verona prior to transferring to La Follette last school year. Smith is ranked the 10th best player in the country in the class of 2022, according to Green. Green praised the way she can create her own shot and get other players involved.

The lowdown: Green said the team will be one of the shorter ones he’s had at La Follette, but being guard dominant won’t be a negative. “We are guard heavy and will be able to attack a lot of teams off the dribble,” Green said. “We will be a much better defensive man-to-man team. Demetria Prewitt and Aaliyah Smith are two of the top point guards in the state. We will be a decent 3-point shooting team. Malia Green had 42 3-point shots made last season. Evelyn Walker will be a force in the middle for us.”

Madison Memorial Spartans

Coach: Marques Flowers, seventh year (87-81).

Season status: Madison public schools are not allowed to start in-person practices until Jan. 25 at the earliest, with first games in early February; the team is holding virtual workouts now.

Returning starters: Mia Morel, 5-7, sr., G (15.7 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 3.4 apg, 4.4 spg); Charlotte Sweet, 5-11, sr., F (4.8 ppg, 1.9 spg, 1.0 bpg)

Other returnees: Natalie Rauwolf, 5-8, jr., G (2.7 ppg, 1.4 rpg); Lauren Sparks, 5-11, jr., F (2.3 ppg, 2.3 rpg); Olivia Virgin, 6-0, jr., F (1.0 ppg, 0.9 rpg).

Key facts: Morel, who transferred to Memorial from two-time WIAA Division 3 state champion Marshall for her junior year, was lost for the season with a knee injury during the year but is back at full strength. She has committed to California Baptist University. … Maya White Eagle, a 5-6 senior who averaged 8.8 ppg and 2.5 rpg last year, has transferred from Memorial to Baraboo due to a family move, and McClain Mahone transferred to Memorial after earning all-Capitol North Conference honorable mention as part of Lake Mills’ WIAA state tournament team last season.

The lowdown: Despite losing six seniors who played key roles on last year’s Big Eight co-championship team, Flowers said, “We expected to be one of the better teams in the area, and the state” before the COVID-19 shutdown was announced. “My heart breaks that (the seniors) will not get a full senior season to compete and lead our program. This year’s team had the potential to compete for a Big Eight and state championship.” Strengths are perimeter play and shooting on offense, and versatility and size in what Flowers called our “trademark pressure defense” featuring a balance of size, quickness and speed.

Madison West Regents

Coach: Chaz Jones, sixth year (16-98). 

Season status: Madison public schools are not allowed to start in-person practices until Jan. 25 at the earliest, with first games in early February; the team is holding virtual workouts now.

Players include: Zola Davis, Jr., G; Sawyer Sullivan, jr., F; Mirra Blehert, sr., G; Mallory Hanson, so. F; Maggie Moylan, jr., F; Dana Zidani, sr., F; Madeline Holmes, so., G; Kazaray Shanklin, jr., G; Ella Mueller, sr., G. 

Key fact: The Regents only defeated Milwaukee Madison last season and were winless in conference play. Jones will look for improvement. "This year's basketball team looks to be very scrappy and competitive," Jones said. "We are returning the majority of our roster this season because we did not have any seniors in the program last year. With all of our starters returning from last season, we will be more experienced and ready for the challenges that the Big Eight presents. We still lack size which was a problem for us last year. Our heart and speed will play a huge role in our success this year." Starters who return are Davis, Blehert, Shanklin, Sullivan and Zidani, Jones said. 

The lowdown: The Regents will seek improvement this season. However, how many games they get to play is uncertain considering they cannot begin until Jan. 25 at the earliest and further COVID-19 restrictions could affect the schedule. Jones said the team's guards will set the tone for what the team wants to do on offense and defense. 

Middleton Cardinals

Coach: Jeff Kind, 29th year (486-198), 39th year overall (625-269).

Season status: The start of the season is delayed. The Nov. 18 Public Health Madison Dane County order doesn’t allow small-group practices.

Returning starters: None.

Other returnees: McKenna Monogue, 6-1, jr., F (7.7 ppg, 3.7 rpg); Melanie Accola, 6-1, sr., F (2.2 ppg, 1.5 rpg), Andrea Young, 5-11, sr., F (1.5 ppg, 1.4 rpg); Molly Gaab, 5-5 sr., G (1.4 ppg, 0.9 rpg); Amber Kaplan, 5-11, sr., F (0.8 ppg, 0.6 rpg); Lauryn Abozeid, 5-9, sr., F (0.8 ppg, 0.8 rpg).

Key fact: The Cardinals split their regular-season games with Madison Memorial to share the Big Eight Conference title, and then took a 71-68 win in a WIAA Division 1 sectional final to qualify for state.The Cardinals were the top seed entering the Division 1 state semifinals, but didn’t get to play due to the WIAA stopping the tournament in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This season due to the pandemic, Middleton is “in a wait-and-see mode for now,” Kind said. Kind starts the season with 486 victories at Middleton, but it’s uncertain how many games the Cardinals will be able to play in a shortened schedule.

The lowdown: Middleton lost eight letterwinners from last year’s team. Monogue, a good perimeter shooter, is the most experienced player and the top returning scorer. Accola had the most playing time of six returning seniors who saw some action as juniors, Kind said. “Obviously, we have a ton of roles to fill,” Kind said. “We lost the bulk of our experience, scoring and leadership so we need to have new people step into those roles. It's hard to predict where we will fit with the loss of summer workouts and not being able to conduct any practices. Our only goals at present are to get back on the floor at some point and possibly get to compete.”

Sun Prairie Cardinals

Coach: John Olson, ninth year at Sun Prairie (142-105).

Season status: Sun Prairie started small-group practices as scheduled, but the Nov. 18 Public Health Madison Dane County order shut that down. Regardless, athletic director Eric Nee said the Cardinals won’t play games until Jan. 22, at the earliest. “I hope we have a season!” Olson said.

Returning starters: Ashley Rae, 5-11, sr., W (7.9 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 1.1 apg); Grace Radlund, 5-9, sr., W (3.2 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 1.3 apg); Jazzanay Seymore, 6-0, sr, P (14.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 1.7 apg, 2.0 spg, 2.0 bpg); Antionique Auston, 5-9, so., G (8.2 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 3.8 apg, 1.9 spg); Maddie Strey, 5-11, sr., P (4.4 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 1.1 apg, 1.0 spg).

Other returnees: Rachel Rademacher, 5-9, jr., PG, missed last season with an injury but is expected to play a reserve role this year; Olivia Kostelnik, 5-9, sr., W (1.8 ppg); Avree Antony; 5-9, so., W (5.9 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 1.5 apg); Marie Outlay, 5-10, so., W (7.3 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 1.2 apg).

Key fact: The five returning starters alone averaged a combined 39.2 points per game last year. Add in the top three reserves, and they bring back 54 out of last year’s per-game average of 57.2 points — giving this year’s team quite an advantage in experience over most competitors.

The lowdown: With more returning players than any other team in the league, Sun Prairie is ready to hit the ground running — whenever the Cardinals are allowed to take that first step. “With a mixture of seniors and sophomores, we should be very competitive … competitive enough to challenge the top three positions,” Olson said. “Team play and a strong supporting cast can provide depth … Athletic ability is there, along with some maturity that is needed at the varsity level.” Rae, Radlund, Seymore, Auston, Antony and Outlay give the Cardinals a lot of firepower. 

Verona Wildcats

Coach: Angie Murphy, 17th year.

Season status: The start of the season is delayed. The Big Eight Conference has said it won’t hold conference competitions and won’t name conference champions during the winter sports season.

Returning starters: Megan Murphy, 5-6, so., G (11.5 ppg), Paige Lambe. 6-1, so., F (7.8 ppg).

Other returnees: Katie Pederson, 5-8, sr., G (6.0 pppg); Abbi Rupnow, 5-4, so., G (5.6 ppg); Lexi Stromlow, 5-9, jr., F (3.3 ppg).

Key fact: The Wildcats will be fielding a young team with only one senior on the roster but welcome two talented freshmen, Taylor Stremlow and Reagan Briggs, who already have garnered interest from collegiate programs. Junior Anna Nielsen, who averaged 2.1 points per game last season, will be sidelined for most of the season with a broken bone in her right foot, Angie Murphy said.

The lowdown: This year’s team will be the youngest Angie Murphy has coached but she also says they are the “most competitive bunch of players I have had since my state championship team in 2016.” Leading the way for Verona will be sophomores Megan Murphy, who led the conference in 3-point baskets and earned second-team all conference honors, and Paige Lambe who was named honorable mention for the all-conference teams. “Although we are young, this team competes hard, takes no plays off and plays together,” Murphy said. “I would put us in the mix in the top of the conference with the ability to beat any team on any given night, but our youth will still be an issue at times.” Lambe is receiving Division I interest, Murphy said.

Compiled by -- Eliot Clough, Raul Vazquez, Jon Masson, Art Kabelowsky. 

Information included from league coaches who turned in forms. 

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