MELROSE — To a player, to a coach, they said the season — and now the state tournament — has not been about another, top-ranked and unbeaten team 30 miles away.
They are the Melrose-Mindoro High School girls basketball team, they said, not Aquinas. It is their time, too. No one understands this more than sophomore Erika Simmons, a 5-foot-10 junior forward who leads the Mustangs (26-0) in points (14.3) and rebounds (7.8) per game. So when Melrose-Mindoro takes the court at approximately 8:15 p.m. Thursday for a Division 4 semifinal at the WIAA State Girls Basketball Tournament at the Resch Center in Green Bay, the focus will be on Manitowoc Lutheran (21-4).
“I would say, especially after our loss (to Aquinas) last year, there was a lot of pressure to get back to at least that point (sectional tournament) in the playoffs,” Simmons said. “We especially wanted to get past the game where we got beat last year.”
The Mustangs — who found themselves in a different sectional than Aquinas due to some juggling by the WIAA — did that and more, earning the first state tournament trip in school history.
Ironically, Mustangs coach Joey Arneson said the team, at least in part, has No. 1 ranked Aquinas to thank for that.
“I will attribute a lot of it to the loss to Aquinas last year,” said Arneson of a 64-43 loss that spoiled Melrose-Mindoro’s perfect season. “After that loss, the girls had tears in the eyes and everything. It was a really hard point for us.
“But after that game, we were a different team. We were more determined. We experienced the atmosphere at Central (High School) with that Aquinas game, and it really got the girls more motivated and more determined.”
Not just for a possible rematch with Aquinas, but for each and every team they faced. And if it so happens that Melrose-Mindoro and Aquinas square off in the Division 4 championship game at 12:45 p.m. Saturday, all the better, Simmons said.
“I had a really bad flu that I got just that day (of the Aquinas sectional semifinal game). It was like a 24-hour flu and it was gone. I don’t even remember playing all that much. So that is why I have been looking forward to the opportunity to play them again,” Simmons said.
“To at least get to this point, it is something I really wanted to do, especially since I couldn’t give my all last year for our last game. I feel like I owe my team this year to really try and contribute more in the playoffs this year.”