The Wauwatosa East girls basketball team had its share of ups and downs this season, but there were positives to look for that made the future look brighter.
The Red Raiders finished with a 7-16 record, their most victories since the 2006 season (11-11). They were sixth in the eight-team Greater Metro Conference with a 5-9 record, their most conference wins since 2006 (7-7).
"This year in particular I feel the ups far outweighed the downs," Tosa East coach Rob Hamill said. "I believe we saw lots of reasons to believe we have turned a corner and the girls basketball program is headed in the direction we all want."
Hamill said this group of players consistently played hard and never gave in right to the end, a credit to the six seniors - captains Emily Jensen, Katherine Oleniczak and Lydia Taylor and Deniesha Kinnebrew, Maddie Packard and Daisy Wedel.
"Our seniors helped this squad demonstrate the kind of commitment to improvement and aggressive style of play that will really serve our younger players very well in seasons to come."
Hamill pointed out that this style helped his team get to the line more than any other team in Tosa East girls history (443 free throws). The 251 free throws made was the fourth-most in history. The .566 free-throw percentage needs improvement, however.
"This senior group has given their efforts over the past four years in a way that shows the high quality young people that they are," Hamill said. "We will miss them."
Some goals met
Hamill said the Red Raiders reached some of the team goals set at the beginning of the season.
"We believed we should be able to beat two conference teams each time we played them and take at least one from one of the other Greater Metro teams," he said. "We did that when we ended the conference season with a 59-53 win at West Allis Central.
"That was the most complete game performance from everyone on the floor from start to finish that I have been associated with in a long time. It was the kind of game in which everything game together against a quality opponent that will last in the memories of all the players for a long time.
"They worked hard over their careers and it was great to see it all play out in such a positive way for them."
Jensen stepped up her play throughout the year, especially when others were injured. She became the 10th leading rebounder in total rebounds (142) in a single season in the history of the program.
"When you combine these achievements with the spark that Maddie Packard consistently gave us off the bench and the physical play of Lydia Taylor inside on the defensive and offensive end, we took big strides toward being that team that is tough to beat and just won't go away," Hamill said. "Each of these girls had important contributions that were big in the outcomes of each of our wins."
But perhaps the biggest highlight was the emergence of sophomore Katie Salmon, who finished fifth in scoring (12 points per game) in the GMC.
"She is on track to be a real force in her final two seasons," Hamill said. "Her combined 49 points over her last two games this season, when she finally was fully healed from an ankle injury, I think are testament to the future she has in store."
Junior point guard Alayah Walls also stepped up this year and had the fifth-best single season assist total (64) in school history.
"Alayah became much more consistent with her game and became the kind of floor leader we need," Hamill said.
Hamill also praised the work of his coaching staff - Brian Karas, Robby Dubinski, Terry Benter, Noel Myers and Tom Tom Oleniczak.
"The addition of Brian Karas as a varsity coach made a big difference," Hamill said. "His 'all in' attitude, attention to detail and work with the X's and O's was invaluable to this squad this year.
"The continued efforts of Robby Dubinski to work individually with our varsity players cannot go unnoticed. I also believe the coaches working with our JV squad, Terry Benter and Noel Myers, have put a group of players on the road to success and they were greatly improved. And Tom Oleniczak's communication of the fun of the game and competition went a long way to the improvement shown by that squad as well."
Hamill was also happy with Oleniczak's work with the Wauwatosa Basketball Club (WBC) youth program.
"It is now taking root and beginning to pay dividends combined with all the positives seen throughout the program this year," Hamill said.
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