Lady Comets Get Invite To Nationals After Strong Season; Shadowing 2011 Comets Team
After falling one game short of an automatic qualification for the Lutheran Schools Nationals Tournament, members of the St. Paul Lady Comets basketball team received some good news from their coach.
“We have to practice more this week because we have to get ready for Nationals,” those were the last words Coach Brad Luepke said, before the news set in and the screams filled the classroom at St. Paul. The coach surprised the girls, telling them that WTCH radio needed to interview them about the State Tournament. Only to find out, WTCH was only there to capture the moment.
“I received the call on Monday night from Texas,” said Luepke. “They only take the best teams, and I was told they look at the body of work as a whole season before the teams are selected. We are from a community of 1,200 and we go against teams that are huge, so for them to get this bid to Nationals is big for the team, the school, and the community.”
After finishing 5th place at State last weekend, the Comets were truly on the bubble watch, waiting for the news.
“It was really exciting since we did not do as well as we were hoping we would at State,” said Maddie Jacobsen. “It was a really rough loss, but knowing that we are at Nationals is a real good feeling.”
“I was very excited, it was very emotional” said Halea Sporisky.
The Comets were unbeaten on the season as they entered the State Tournament, but after a loss in the second round to New Hope-Neenah, the girls faced adversity for the first time.
“It was an emotional loss and we did not shoot the ball well that game,” said Coach Luepke. “The next game the girls were down late in the first half, but we went on a 13-0 run to take the lead. It took a while to get going, but once we did, they took off.”
Luepke then reflected back on the last time he was in this situation.
“I told them ‘you still have a chance and you guys are playing like you are done’ and I reminded them of the 2011 team.
That team also had a strong regular season, fell in the State Tournament, and reached the National Tournament as an At-Large team.
“Everything is exactly laid out the way it was in 2011. We were favored to do well then and just like this year, they got upset in the second round. The loss was in the same gym we lost in this year and we didn’t know then if we were going to get in after we finished 5th that year, but we did.”
That team was led by Jen Dowden, Lexi Reinke and Dee Zernicke who all went on to great high school careers at Bonduel High School. The girls on this years Comets team do not remember that season, but they have been hearing about it for as long as they can remember.
“I don’t really remember it that well, but I heard about it and it is really exciting knowing that people will kind of remember us for years to come,” said Jacobsen.
“It feels pretty cool, that was a really good group so being compared to them is really awesome,” said Sporisky.
Even though the Lady Comets did not come away as a State Champion, and will face teams that may be a little bigger, Luepke said this is not a team that you can ever sell short.
“These girls from 5th grade on would work hard in the gym, so this is not something that was just handed to them, it has been about three years in the making and they earned it,” said Luepke. “This team is 8 to 10 deep and there is no superstar on this team. We are so deep, opponents can’t pick one girl to key in on, so we are a dangerous team. They are capable of anything. They don’t get rattled. We have been in big tournaments against good team. They are a blue collar team, so when we go down there, anything is possible because this team is really good.”
The Comets have four girls that average 9 points or more and have a strong chemistry.
“I think that we all just work really well together as a team, we are really deep and we don’t have just one or two really good players,” said Jacobsen.
“I think we are very special because we don’t just hang out on the court, we hang out off the court and are a real tight group” Sporisky said. “Just because of that one loss it does not mean that we can’t make it.”
The National Tournament will be March 23-26 at Valparaiso University in Indiana. The Tournament is 32 teams and is a double elimination format.