By Cara L. Dempski
APPLETON — The Elk Mound fifth-grade girls’ basketball team had an opportunity not previously offered to them when they played in the 2017 Wisconsin State Invitational Championship Tournament.
The Mounders traveled to Appleton the weekend of February 18 and 19 to take on multiple teams in their first appearance at the tournament. The team finished 17th out of 18 teams in their division after earning a 27-20 win over Osseo-Fairchild in the 17th-place game.
Elk Mound coach Mark Levra said the team had a great season this year and definitely earned the right to play at the tournament, but came out flat.
“They were nervous because it was a way bigger venue than they’ve seen,” Levra explained. “We’re used to going to place likes Colfax and Fall Creek, not to Appleton North.”
The Mounders were 9-4 playing in weekend tournaments this season, and were excited for the chance to represent their hometown in the tournament. While they did not reach the goal they set for themselves, Levra stated he told the girls it was still 17th-place out of 18.
The team plays as part of the Great Northwest Basketball League based out of Hudson, and has taken on teams from Hudson, Eau Claire North, Fall Creek, Colfax, and everywhere in between. Great Northwest teams are placed in divisions (one through five) mirroring those created by the WIAA, but most teams do not play their own division consistently during the regular season.
Invitations for the tournament are sent early in the girls’ basketball season and are based on the ratings each team earns from the previous season’s play. A team can be graded anywhere from an “A” to a “C.” The Mounders were rated as a B-plus team for their 2016 season.
Only 18 teams in each division are invited to the tournament held each February. Elk Mound is technically a Division 3 school, but because they were the smallest school in their division, they were offered a spot in the Division 4/5 tournament after another school was forced to drop out.
Elk Mound opened the tournament in the Purple/Orange Pool. The Mounders were bested 15-14 by Darlington, 20-11 by Shiocton, and 29-9 by Kohler. They took on Bangor in a consolation game to determine 13th through 18th places and lost 18-17, before finally beating Osseo-Fairchild in the 17th-place game.
Levra, whose daughter Lydia played on the team, said the girls had trouble with the hubbub in the gymnasiums.
“You’re hearing whistles on one side, and parents screaming and yelling. It was a lot,” Levra stated.
Overall, though, the Elk Mound coach said it was a good learning experience for next year. He hopes this season’s final record, and the fact that the Mounders garnered an invitation to this year’s tournament, will result in Elk Mound playing in the invitational again in 2018.
Laconia won the tournament, beating Shiocton 27-17 for the championship.