Still basking in the glow of Nicolet's 57-47 North Shore Conference championship win over second-place Germantown Thursday night, junior point guard Courtney Smith carefully measured her words when she was asked if the 17-1, second-ranked in state Knights still had some goals left to achieve.
She took her time, chuckled and then gave the most precise of answers in a long, carefully drawn out "Yes".
That's because Nicolet is not taking anything for granted even with the solid effort over a game Warhawk squad (15-4), even with the thought of a potential number one seed in its WIAA sectional and a long-sought after state tournament berth now drawing closer and closer.
Coach Corey Wolf didn't want to talk about that just yet but did keep her eyes on the future.
"Conference champs was one of our main goals, now we'll just have to set a new one," she said. It was the second consecutive title for the Knights, but this one is theirs alone after they shared it last season with Grafton.
"It was important that we secured it tonight," said guard Ashley Green, who led all scorers with 21 points. "Coach gave us a nice pep talk right before the game, talking about that we had to fight on. Play well but don't put any added pressure on ourselves."
For the Warhawks, it was the second frustrating loss of the season to the quicker, more athletic Knights.
"Shots we hit all season, we just couldn't hit tonight," said Warhawk coach Matt Stuve, "and I know that some of that is them (Nicolet), but we believe it's up to us to hit the shots. It's not who we play that counts, but how we play that does."
Nicolet is now 12-0 in league play with two NSC games remaining while Germantown is 9-3, also with two to play.
As it was in the first game, the Knights hit the Warhawks with a fast start, as a steal and lay-up by Brittney Fair (16 points), a putback by Green and a three-point play by Alex Cohen (13) gave Nicolet a 7-0 lead just 1:48 in the contest.
It was just the latest in the string of hard-charging starts by the Knights that have allowed them to cruise past most North Shore competition, and it put on display their crisp, quick and accurate passing skills.
"They (the Warhawks) play so aggressively," said Green, "so we had to use ball fakes well. We were able to pick off a few of their passes too and get ahead right away."
Germantown battled back later in the quarter, as forward Eliza Wortman (18) hit a jumper in the lane to make it 12-8, but then Green, Fair and Becca Olin closed out the quarter with consecutive hoops for Nicolet to make it 18-8.
The Knights were able to rattle the Warhawks to the tune of six first quarter turnovers.
Nicolet's advantage went to 23-8 less than a minute into the second quarter on a three-point play by Fair and reached 18 at a couple of points. It was 34-19 at the half and the closest Germantown was able to get in the second half was right at the buzzer.
Stuve was pleased with tenacity of his team but noted that a few shots here or there could have helped give Germantown some badly needed momentum.
"We do have a resilient group," he said. "We compete hard all gave long. Maybe we don't quite have the skill that they have, but we won't back down." Injured point guard Melissa Klemm, who tried to come back in the previous game for the Warhawks, was held out of this contest.
Rachel Hoft added 10 and Lexi Keefe had nine for Germantown.
Wolf was pleased with the effort, but still wants more out of her talented group.
"I gave Germantown a lot of credit," she said. "They kept coming and coming and giving us more to worry about each trip down the floor. We were fortunate to hold on here."
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