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Oregon girls turn back the clock with first WIAA state tournament appearance in 40 years

Oregon girls turn back the clock with first WIAA state tournament appearance in 40 years

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Lisa Stone had been following the Oregon girls basketball team’s progress from afar, with the help of friends and family.

When the texts, calls and messages starting pouring in last weekend, Stone knew the news had to be big. And it was: The Panthers were returning to the WIAA state tournament for the first time since 1980.

Stone immediately flashed back to her days in Oregon — where her parents, Malcolm and Karen Anderson, still live, in the same house Lisa (Anderson) Stone called home beginning at age 4 and where she met her husband, childhood sweetheart Ed Stone.

“It’s a great community, with wonderful people,” she said.

She also vividly recalled the Panthers’ only other state girls basketball appearances in 1979 and 1980.

“Those are memories that last forever,” Stone said.

The 5-foot-8 All-State selection — wearing short shorts, high socks and her orange Chuck Taylors — was a high-scoring guard who led Oregon to those two state tournament trips at the University of Wisconsin Field House, with its fan-shaped backboards and no 3-point lines.

“The Field House, that was your dream,” said Stone, the Saint Louis University women’s basketball coach who also coached at the University of Wisconsin for eight seasons, Drake University, UW-Eau Claire and Cornell College. “That was the game you wanted to get to.”

Forty years later, the goal was the same.Prior to this season, ending the season at the Resch Center in Ashwaubenon was the Oregon girls basketball team’s target.

After a last-second loss to DeForest in a regional semifinal last season, Oregon set its sights this season on winning the Badger South Conference, regional and sectional titles and a trip to the WIAA Division 2 state tournament. The Panthers decided that it was “Our time.”

“We talked about it as a team going into the offseason workouts that if we want it, we have to put in the work early, and we did,” Oregon senior Liz Uhl said this week prior to a practice at the high school. “And here we are now.”

Yes, here they are, preparing for a Division 2 semifinal. Fourth-seeded Oregon (21-5), the Badger South champion, will meet top-seeded and top-ranked Hortonville (25-1) at 1:35 p.m. Friday at the Resch Center.

“It has been a lot of emotions,” said Oregon coach Adam Wamsley, who has been receiving numerous congratulatory texts and emails, many from people he doesn’t even know. “Obviously, the cheers, the tears, everything in between. It’s been amazing.”

The Panthers advanced by defeating DeForest 57-46 in a sectional semifinal at Madison Edgewood and Waukesha West 51-46 in the sectional final at Janesville Craig, the school where Uhl was earmarked to attend prior to moving from Janesville to Oregon five years ago.

“It’s unreal,” said the 5-8 Uhl, an Illinois-Springfield commit who’s Oregon’s leading scorer. “It is kind of sinking in for me. I am ecstatic and I know everyone else on the team is ecstatic. I can’t even put a word to it. It is indescribable. It is a dream come true.”

Making the rush to the Resch

Seniors Kaitlyn Schrimpf and Izzie Peterson — Uhl’s teammates and fellow captains — had gone together with their fathers to the state tournament since the girls were sixth-graders.

“For the past five or six years, I’ve been seeing it from the crowd’s perspective and now I will be on the court, which is super cool,” said the 5-10 Schrimpf, a Winona State (Minnesota) commit and Oregon’s second-leading scorer.

“It is crazy, knowing we will be playing there,” said 5-6 guard Peterson, who’s committed to Clarke University in Dubuque, Iowa. “It was something we talked about before the season, but we didn’t want to look too far in advance. But knowing that this is the moment now, that it is happening, is a crazy feeling.”

Wamsley saw the promise when he took over as coach three years ago, when Uhl, Schrimpf and Peterson were sophomore starters.

He knew how hard the group worked last offseason and believed a state run was possible. Wamsley, asked by his coaches to be a defensive stopper when he played, emphasized tough defense and a balanced offense — led by the guards and the inside work of 5-8 junior Megan Bloyer, persevering despite a shoulder injury.

“You could tell they were motivated, especially my senior group,” Wamsley said. “They recalled last season, losing to DeForest in the regional semis on a last-second bucket. They were motivated to go further and really make a run at it. So, it’s been a special year. I have a great group of kids. Team chemistry has been great, and we are really excited about this opportunity.”

It is an opportunity that was earned.

“You have to be impressed with what Oregon has done this year,” said Beaver Dam coach Tim Chase, whose three-time defending champion Golden Beavers play Pewaukee in the other Division 2 semifinal Friday.

In Oregon’s second meeting with Beaver Dam this season, the Panthers fell behind early and suffered a 59-45 loss in the Badger Challenge first-place game. But they outscored the Golden Beavers 31-28 in the second half.

“After that, we could tell we could compete with any team,” Schrimpf said.

“We talked a lot about, in the second half of the season, if we just play how we play and focus on what we do best, rather than who we are playing, we’ll be just fine,” Peterson said. “And the amount of heart and passion we have on this team is what has been carrying us through these games.”

The first visits to state

“In 1979, we were just happy to be there,” Stone said. “We lost our first game, but we cut the net down anyway. They didn’t like that so much.”

She scored 20 points, Donna Freitag had 16 points and Jill Rowe added 12, but Oregon dropped a 73-58 decision to Greendale in a Class A quarterfinal, according to the WIAA box score.

The point guard recalled hopping on post player Freitag’s shoulders for her chance to snip the net and acknowledged she liked to shoot, taking 26 shots against Greendale.

“I was a gunner,” she said, laughing.

The next year, the Panthers weren’t satisfied with just being there.

“We didn’t have a lot of plays; we just played,” said Stone, who went on to play at Iowa.

Oregon defeated Green Bay Southwest 62-47 in a state quarterfinal in 1980. Stone scored 31 points, finishing 12-for-25 from the field and 7-for-9 from the free throw line.

She had 22 points and Rowe 10, but Oregon ran into Kathi Bennett and eventual champion Stevens Point in the semifinal, losing 51-40.

History lesson

The 37-year-old Wamsley and his players, including 18-year-olds Uhl, Schrimpf and Peterson, weren’t alive the first time Oregon made it to state and don’t know much about those teams.

But they do appreciate all the support the Oregon community has demonstrated.

“The support from the community has been overwhelming,” Uhl said.

Said Wamsley: “I can’t wait to see the amount of people getting up to Green Bay Friday. It will be something special — the first time in 40 years. I think everyone is feeling it and excited.”

Stone, whose parents still attend some Oregon games, has obligations with her team Friday. But she said she might try to travel to the Resch Center if the Panthers reach Saturday’s final.

“I’ll be rooting for the Panthers,” she said, adding: “I’m really proud of them. It’s too bad it took 40 years, but you have to remember that you need to embrace every moment.”

Uhl plans to do just that.

“I’m just super-excited for the experience, with the team, knowing these are going to be the last one or two games of our high school career,” Uhl said. “I just want to take it all in. I don’t think there is a better way to end it than being at the Resch Center.”

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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.

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