With nine of 13 players new to varsity basketball, it was fair to wonder just what kind of product the Wauwatosa East girls basketball team would put forth this season.
It didn’t take long for the Red Raiders to prove their worth, opening by winning five of their first six games, including a victory over preseason conference favorite Brookfield Central.
Tosa East went on to finish 19-7 and 8-6 in the Greater Metro, winning a regional championship for the second straight season and advancing to the sectional final for the first time since 2000.
The Red Raiders fell one game short of their first trip to state since 1981 with a 43-34 loss to eventual state-runnerup Cudahy.
“Though the end of the season was hard to take, as time moves on, I realize there is a lot to be happy about,” Tosa East coach Rob Hamill said. “I think the players overall had an outstanding experience and proved to themselves that if they commit to each other and a shared goal, then work at it with a purpose, good things will happen.
“Who at the beginning of the season would have anticipated a Tosa East vs Cudahy sectional final game?”
Sophomore forward Brooklyn Blackburn was named team Most Valuable Player and earned first-team All Greater Metro honors after leading Tosa East in scoring at 15.3 points per game while grabbing 9.3 rebounds per game and shooting 51.3 percent from the field.
Blackburn was the leading rebound and second-leading scorer in the Greater Metro in conference play, putting up 15.8 points and 10.5 points against league foes. She set the Tosa East school record for most rebounds in a season with 250 and her 399 points were good for fifth all-time in a single season in program history.
Senior center Johanna Taylor earned second-team All Greater Metro after averaging 10.7 points, 8.0 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 2.7 blocks per game. One of the top post players in the area, Taylor had the third-highest rebounding average in the Greater Metro in conference play at 9.3 boards per game to accompany 11.0 points per game.
Taylor also was a Greater Metro Scholar Athlete and received the team’s Coaches Award. She will graduate fourth on the Tosa East recorded history rebounding list (since 1989) with 425.
Junior forward Liz Bueckers earned honorable mention All-Greater Metro, averaging 6.7 points and 5.1 rebounds per game.
Junior forward Olivia Romfoe was named Tosa East’s Most Improved Player, sophomore guard Sydney Halstead was Defensive Player of the Year and Taylor, Bueckers and senior forward Cora Bilitz were team captains.
The Red Raiders appear poised for another strong season in 2017-18, but the one hole they have to fill in their rotation is a big one in Taylor.
But Blackburn will return as one of the top players in the area and will be surrounded by a solid core group that now has experience playing in big games.
“While we have a very large role to fill with the departure of Johanna Taylor, I am very excited to think about the returning squad,” Hamill said. “This year, 9 of our 13 players had not been on a varsity basketball team. The season is long and can be a major grind. I think our returning team members will have a much better appreciation for the length and ups and down of a high school basketball season next year.
“I also am looking forward to the competition of our younger players for spots on next year's varsity squad. We have some good younger players that are going to push each other and current varsity to be even better.”
Hamill also wanted to credit the work of varsity assistant coaches Linda Vitrano and Laura Krumenauer, junior varsity coach Tom Oleniczak, freshman coach Quentin Cartier and program assistants TR Yow and Jean Vallier.
“Because of the efforts of so many over multiple seasons, we arrived at the best result in a long time,” Hamill said. “I am more than fortunate to have an excellent staff that simply gets it. All the coaches work extremely well with the players in the program, and not just on basketball skills. They get that we are ultimately trying to teach lessons about life that will carry through to adulthood.
“The strengths of our varsity staff with Linda Vitrano and Laura Krumenauer and myself fit together extremely well. Tom Oleniczak as JV coach did excellent work and has done wonders with the establishment of a youth program that has borne real benefit this year and last. Quentin Cartier not only got our freshmen team to work to its potential, but his time and effort at scouting really helped at the varsity level. This year it was also a very healthy sign that we had community members TR Yow and Jean Vallier willing to put in large amounts of coaching time with the JV and freshmen teams in uncompensated fashion. Their input was very valuable.
“I simply think that as a program we have been on the right road for a number of years and now the rewards of all that effort and toil are coming to fruition.”