Last Saturday marked the beginning of the second half of the WIAC season, but don’t expect either race to be over anytime soon.
Eau Claire will likely take a one game lead in the womens standings to second-place Whitewater this Saturday, although the 8-1 Warhawks will face a tougher challenge at La Crosse Wednesday than the 9-0 Blugolds will that night at Superior. For UWEC to remain in first place the rest of the way, the Blugolds have to prove they can win on the road–something they haven’t done in previous seasons. Eau Claire has a February 13th matchup at Stevens Point, but the rest of the Blugolds conference games are at Zorn Arena. Tonja Englund’s team has talented veterans in Michelle Burns and Heidi Arciszewski, good point guard play with Heather Witt and Missy Fremstad, to go along with excellent depth–all factors in UWEC’s recent wins over UWSP and UWL. The key against Whitewater, much like it was against Point last week, is to play tough defense. UWEC is 2nd among WIAC teams in scoring defense (allowing 55.6 points per game), while UWW is tops in the conference in scoring offense (84.2 points per game). The Warhawks blistered the nets in a win at Superior last Saturday, hitting close to 75% from the floor in the first half while scoring 61 points.
Two other teams could certainly challenge Eau Claire and Whitewater…Stevens Point has lost two straight but Shirley Egner will have her team ready for the stretch run…and don’t sleep on Stout, which has won four of its last six WIAC games, and won’t have the burden of being a conference favorite down the stretch.
On the mens side, any of four teams could win the regular season title…Whitewater, Platteville, Oshkosh, or Stevens Point. Right now, the Warhawks, Pioneers, and Titans are all 7-2, with the Pointers 6-3. Point may have the most experienced roster, but if Pete Rortvedt’s injury keeps him out of the lineup, UWSP is missing the conference’s most dangerous outside shooter. The Warhawks also have injury issues, you wonder how Rob Perry’s absence (broken foot, out for the rest of the season) will hurt UWW’s inside game. Oshkosh has some impressive wins, but also some perplexing losses–it’s hard to say which Titans team will show up down the stretch. Platteville presents a matchup problem with 6-10 center Jeff Skemp. His presence inside opens up the perimeter for a number of streaky shooters…remember when the Pioneers went 10-18 from behind the 3-point line in the first half at Stout?
While those four teams battle for the lead, Eau Claire, La Crosse, and Superior will all look to move into the upper division, which means a home game in the first round of the WIAC playoffs. The Blugolds’ Dan Beyer is worthy of first-team all-conference consideration, but how much help will he get down the stretch? The Eagles have a very good backcourt with Tony Mane, and Chris Fehrenbach and Brandon Brown, but will UWL’s inside game ever provide consistency? And on the topic of consistency, the Yellowjackets youngsters (Shane Manor, Dan Culy, Jake Smith, Dwight Hill) are definitely talented, but are they hitting the proverbial wall?
There are plenty of questions to be answered, but there’s no doubt that exciting finishes await in both the mens and womens races. I didn’t pick the NFC Championship game correctly, but what the heck, I’ll go out on a limb again: Eau Claire will wind up on top of the womens standings at the end of the regular season, while Stevens Point will get on a roll to take first in the mens race.
Posted under Hometown Sports
This post was written by bbradovich on January 29, 2008