By Benjamin Wideman / Director of Media Relations and Sports Information
The eruption of cheers in the Athletic Department office said it all — the Silver Lake College women’s basketball team is heading to the national championships.
Players, coaches, managers and school administrators gathered the morning of Feb. 24 to hear which teams earned a bid to the United States Collegiate Athletic Association’s 2016 Basketball National Championships.
The moment USCAA officials started saying “And from Manitowoc …” several people excitedly raised their arms and high-fived, while others jumped for joy and shouted in celebration.
“It’s really exciting for me,” said Mike Flentje, who, in his ninth season as head coach, is making his first trip to the national championships. “But it’s even more exciting for the players, the college, the basketball program and the whole Manitowoc community. The girls have worked so hard for this, and it’ll be a great experience.”
The national championships are being held March 1-5 in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, just south of Pittsburgh. The Lakers (21-5) are a No. 4 seed in the eight-team Division 1 field and will play the University of Maine-Fort Kent (19-5), a No. 5 seed, in the first round at noon on March 2.
“The Silver Lake College family is so proud of our women’s basketball team for going to the national tournament,” said college president Dr. Chris Domes, who, along with his wife, Mary, will be rooting for the team from the stands in Uniontown on Wednesday. “This is an exceptional group of women. Not only have they been a great example on the basketball court, but they’ve been excellent in the classroom as well.”
It’s the Lakers’ first trip to the national championships in two decades. Every team member contributed to the squad's success.
Seniors include guard Kaela Cheesman of Rolla, Mo. (9.3 points per game, 2.3 assists per game); forward/center Raelyn Woock of Burnett (12.5 ppg, 10.4 rebounds per game); forward/center Courtney Clavers of Brillion (8.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg); and guard/forward Marissa Senglaub of Manitowoc (1.6 ppg).
Juniors include guard Amanda Kudick of Kewaunee (9.4 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 4.5 apg); guard Jordan Barbeau of Iron Mountain, Mich. (2.4 ppg, 1.7 apg); and guard/forward Abby Gerhard of Iron Mountain, Mich. (2.7 ppg, 2.0 apg).
Sophomores include guard Danielle Byrum of Sheboygan (9.0 ppg, 1.7 apg); forward Danelle Buck of Newton (10.6 ppg, 4.7 rpg); and forward Daisneekqua Thompson of Pontiac, Mich. (7.1 ppg, 6.5 rpg).
And freshmen include guard/forward Hailee Kotche of Manitowoc (3.0 ppg, 2.5 rpg); and guard Ashley Rumlow of Oshkosh (3.1 ppg).
Also making the trip to nationals are assistant coaches Mike Quistorf and Alison Daehling, and managers Danielle Hunt and Megan Mendolla.
Silver Lake College finished last season with a 23-7 record, but surprisingly they didn’t receive a bid to the national championships. So, even though the Lakers won 16 of their final 18 regular-season games this season, they gathered for Wednesday’s bid announcements with guarded optimism.
Woock, one of three co-captains along with Kudick and Barbeau, said her heart was racing when Silver Lake College’s name was finally revealed as the No. 4 seed — which was one spot higher than the team's ranking in the previous week’s USCAA national poll.
“The whole world just stopped,” said Woock, a first-team USCAA All-American last season. “There was so much excitement. A lot of energy and emotions running through me. Tears were falling.”
Kudick, who won two WIAA state basketball championships while at Kewaunee, said earning a trip to nationals is an entirely different feeling.
“At Kewaunee, everyone expected us to go to state,” she said. “Here, we’re building something special. … Nationals is a really big deal for us. We want to show what Silver Lake College can do.”
For most of the Lakers, there’s nothing comparable to making it to nationals.
“Neither one of us has ever played for a national championship in anything before — not even a state championship in high school — so I think it’ll be a great experience,” Gerhard said of herself and fellow Iron Mountain native Barbeau. “I don’t know what to expect at nationals, but I’m excited to find out.”
Added Barbeau: “I’m excited and nervous. I know what we’re capable of as a team — we just have to play together, play our game and use the skills we have.”
Competing in the national championships will be especially emotional for the seniors, who will be playing in their last games.
Cheesman put in countless hours of rehab over the past few years battling back from a torn right ACL as a high school senior and a torn left ACL as a college sophomore. So, "making it to nationals my senior year is something I’ll never forget,” she said.
Clavers, whose team lost in the WIAA state semifinals as a high school sophomore, said that playing for a national championship is the pinnacle of her career.
“It’s a great way to end your basketball career — going to nationals,” she said. "We're going to do everything we can to keep winning."