Local high school basketball teams look to get back in conference races

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Regionals begin in mid-February
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Gillett’s Sydney Young goes up for a shot in a Marinette & Oconto Conference win over Suring on Dec. 14. Gillett’s stout defense has led to easy baskets on offense and helped the team to a 4-3 start in conference play. (Times Herald photo by Morgan Rode)

The holiday break was a time for some local basketball teams to play in tournaments, but it also gave teams a few days to step back and assess where they were before heading into the new year.

While no local teams sat atop their conference standings, many teams have enjoyed solid starts to the season.

Both the Gillett and Oconto Falls girls teams are in the top half of their respective conferences.

A season ago, Oconto Falls finished with just a 7-16 overall record and 5-13 mark in the North Eastern Conference. The experienced Panthers (5-3, 4-3 North Eastern Conference) are on pace for a much better record this winter behind a strong defense.

“Our defensive system has changed some this year, and the girls are all buying in to the changes,” Oconto Falls coach Mike Kaczamarek said. “We are getting better effort on the defensive end. We have to learn to play the full defensive possession — when we learn that, we will become even more successful taking teams out of their offense. The girls are playing with a lot of energy and effort that is a great start to playing team defense.”

Oconto Falls has allowed over 55 points only three times all season, marking the team’s three losses. The stout defense has helped a struggling Panthers’ offense, which has averaged just 48.4 points in its wins.

“Our offense is getting better. We really have to work on our spacing and play quick,” Kaczamarek said. “We tend to play too fast sometimes; we have to realize that playing quick is not how fast we can go. We have to read each other’s movements before we can make a cut. We are getting better each week, and that is all I am asking for. The girls work very hard in practice, and they are seeing positive results on game night. It is a pleasure and a privilege to work with this team.”

While Oconto Falls’ defensive focus is more on shutting teams down in the half-court, Gillett (7-4, 4-3 Marinette & Oconto Conference) applies full-court pressure which often leads to easy baskets and a flurry of points on offense

Gillett has scored under 50 points just once.

“We are on the verge of turning the corner from being a good young basketball team to a very good young basketball team as witnessed by our holiday tournament we just played in. Beating Oconto and playing Menominee (Michigan), a school three times our size, to the final buzzer gives a lot of hope that the best of what we are going to be is yet to come,” coach Justin Daul said. “It’s an exciting time to be a Lady Tigers fan, and I’m excited about where this road is gonna lead us.”

The Tigers are led on offense by the duo of Aubrey DeBauch and Karissa Schaal, who average 16.5 and 15 points and 13 and 6.1 rebounds per game, respectively. Schaal leads the team with 5.2 steals per contest, while DeBauch averages 3.2 steals.

Suring (5-4, 2-4 M&O) is still looking to find its groove on the court while Lena (0-8, 0-6 M&O) is still searching for its first win of the season.

On the boys’ side of the M&O Conference, Suring (6-3, 3-2 M&O) is tied for fourth in the standings heading into the new year. After starting the year 3-3, the Eagles have rattled off three straight victories, outscoring opponents 198-75 in those wins.

Mitchell Stegeman and Caleb Lally have led Suring on the offensive end, averaging 18.2 and 15.6 points and 8.8 and 7.7 rebounds, respectively, per game.

Gillett boys (4-5, 2-3 M&O) have experienced mixed results under new coach Russ Long. The Tigers started 3-0 before dropping five of the last six.

In its wins, Gillett has scored 55 or more points in each game. But in their losses, the Tigers have scored over 55 points just once.

Gillett has had a balanced offensive attack, with Elijah Framnes, Cole Long and Logan Block all averaging over nine points, but coach Long is hoping for better offensive play moving forward.

“We need to become a better shooting team,” he said. “With the exception of one game so far, I feel we’ve had the opportunity to win the other games we’ve lost. Players need to stay focused and not fall back on the bad habits that have cost them successful seasons the last couple of years. Take advantage of the open gyms and work hard in practice. Like I told them to start the season, great teams are made in the offseason.”

Lena (2-5, 1-3 M&O) is still hoping to find its stride.

Close games have been a theme for the Oconto Falls (3-5, 1-4 NEC) boys over the first month-plus of the schedule. The Panthers have been involved in four games with a final score within seven points, going 2-2 in those games.

Oconto Falls has shot the 3-pointer at a fairly decent clip this season, but they have also become a bit too reliant on 3s at times.

Mitch Manns, Dakota Carriveau, Connor Peetz and Joe Schoen form a formidable quartet of scorers for the Panthers, who are hoping to up their aggressiveness in games the remainder of the season.

With girls’ regional games opening Feb. 19 and boys’ regionals beginning Feb. 26, teams have about a month-and-a-half to get any early-season struggles fixed.