New team, old chemistry:

Grafton girls’ culture of support will serve young squad well during hoops season

THE GRAFTON girls’ basketball team includes (front row, from left) Peyton Konczal, Natalie Ernst, Kendyl Conrad, Emily Sewell, Keira Bryhan, Natalie Manuel, Gracie McNabb, (back row) Allison Viesselmann, Grace Viesselmann, Sarah Aleknavicius, Kaitlin Mangan, Marissa Morgan, Amber Radtke, Josie Gehrke and Savannah James. Photo by Sam Arendt

By MITCH MAERSCH

Ozaukee Press staff

Bringing back a few players from last year’s rotation while losing several to graduation makes the Grafton High School girls’ basketball season a little bit of a mystery.

But coach Matt D’Amato likes what he already knows.

The Black Hawks are continuing their culture of positivity and support for one another.

“To see it come around this year has been very rewarding,” D’Amato said. “To see how they treat each other, cheering each other on — they’re working hard but they’re having fun.”

The Hawks took that to the point of choosing not to elect team captains this season.

“They’ve got very good chemistry. They really want to see their teammates succeed,” D’Amato said, adding that’s something every coach loves to have.

Junior Sarah Aleknavicius will be one of three de facto leaders after being chosen to the North Shore Conference second team last season. The 5-feet, 11-inch versatile guard/forward was near the top in most per-game averages for the Hawks: second in points at 10.7 and assists with 3.5, first in steals at 3.1 and third in rebounds at 4.3.

This season, Aleknavicius will guard opponents’ post players, a role senior Ashley Weir filled last year.

“If she thought we asked a lot of her last year, I have a feeling this year it’s going to be even more,” D’Amato said of Aleknavicius.

The coaches will keep an eye on her workload, he said, but they want to see Aleknavicius be more aggressive on offense.

“Hopefully, we see her come out and put some points on the board,” D’Amato said.

Junior guard Savannah James is back after leading the Hawks in three-pointers last season with 55, nearly double the next highest total. She is recovering from a leg injury and is expected to be back for the second week of the season, D’Amato said.

Senior Grace McNabb is expected to handle more of the scoring load as well. She averaged 4.7 points per game and hit 26 three-pointers last season.

Point guard, D’Amato said, will be by committee. Junior Natalie Manuel has “really come around” since last season, and sophomore Marissa Morgan will share the duties. Senior Grace Viesselmann can play the position as well, but D’Amato said the team’s best ball handler is freshman Emily Sewel, who, along with two other freshmen, is adjusting to the speed of varsity ball.

Senior Kaitlyn Mangan at 5-11, tied for the tallest player on the team with Aleknavicius, will be the Hawks’ primary post player. Sophomore Allison Viesselmann, Grace’s sister, is “a very good rebounder and extremely tough” inside, and junior forward Josie Gehrke at 5-10 will also be in the rotation, D’Amato said.

Without a 6-foot-tall player, one of the early priorities during practices is crashing the boards.

“We are going after that basketball. We want everyone to get on the stat sheet for rebounds,” D’Amato said.

The Hawks are young but D’Amato said he likes his team’s depth.

“We probably have eight or nine girls we would feel comfortable starting depending on match-ups,” he said.

That doesn’t count three freshmen — Sewell, guard Kendyl Conrad and forward Amber Radtke, who D’Amato said “are like Energizer bunnies.”

The team will push the tempo as much as possible, he said, but slow the pace as needed.

Lost to graduation were Weir, the Hawks’ leading scorer (11.1 points per game) and rebounder (6.8), who was chosen to the NSC third team, and Ella Day, who was second in rebounds at 4.5 and scored 5.8 points per game and earned honorable mention.

Starting point guard Emily Grisar, who drained a buzzer-beating three-pointer to beat West Bend East in the playoffs last season and led the team in assists (3.0 per game), graduated, as did guards Ava Wilmanns and Julia Wille, who each saw heavy minutes.

That means this year’s Hawks have yet to take shape.

“I don’t know where the ceiling is with this group,” D’Amato said.

He said he scheduled four challenging nonconference games that should make the team better: Waupun, Randolph, Laconia and Martin Luther all qualified for state last season.

Grafton went 19-7 overall last season and finished fourth in the NSC at 12-6. They got beat by Beaver Dam 60-43, in a Division 2 regional final.

Grafton was to play at West Bend West on Tuesday, Nov. 22,  and host nonconference foe Franklin on Tuesday, Nov. 29, and Laconia on Thursday, Dec. 1.

D’Amato said he expects NSC defending champ Homestead to be tough again, as well as Hartford and Cedarburg.

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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