GREEN BAY, Wis. – It was simply Mineral Point’s time.
Following countless years of playing second fiddle in their own conference, the Pointers struggled to get out of regional play and then continuously hit a roadblock in sectionals.
It always came down to getting past Cuba City, the most decorated team in state tournament history. After achieving that feat three times this season, the Pointers were destined for the gold ball.
Led by the high energy play and leadership of seniors Clara Chambers and Jessica Schultz, Mineral Point has left its mark in the state record books and can finally say: ‘We Are State Champions.’
Schultz scored 21 points with nine rebounds, Sydney Staver added 20 with five assists and Chambers chipped in 18 points as the Wisconsin Division 4 No. 3-ranked Pointers overcame second-ranked Kenosha St. Joseph’s Academy, 68-52, on Saturday for the program’s first state championship in their debut trip to the Resch Center.
“We worked so hard for this,” Staver said. “We started off this summer in tournaments all the time and always with each other. The team chemistry came together. We have to thank Coach, too, he’s the reason we did it.”
Only six players scored for the Pointers (26-2), who closed the season on a 25-game winning streak. The trio of Schultz, Staver and Chambers combined for 87 percent of the scoring against the Lancers (25-3), who were led by all-state forward Sidney Cooks’ 30 points and 13 rebounds.
“I’m the luckiest guy in the state of Wisconsin because I get to coach one of the best group of girls that I’ve ever been able to work with,” said Mineral Point coach Mitch Wainwright, who joined a select group of coaches to win state titles with multiple programs after leading Pecatonica to titles in 1993-94. “Just a fantastic opportunity for myself. They hung with me, believed in me long enough to give me a chance and thankfully it paid off for all of us.”
Chambers ran a cut play to the basket to open the scoring, but things slowed down as both teams struggled with turnovers and missed shots before Staver warmed up from long range.
The junior guard’s first 3-pointer gave the Pointers a 5-4 lead at the 15:08 mark. Schultz tapped the ball away and hit Chambers in transition for a layup before Staver drained a triple from the top of the key for a 12-9 lead with 12:07 to go in the opening half.
The Pointers opened up their lead behind their senior captains. Schultz scored inside off a great feed from Chambers, then the 6-foot-3 senior scored again to make it 16-9. Chambers hit a runner in the lane before connecting on a 3 from the left wing to give Mineral Point its biggest lead, 25-15, with 4:25 left until the half.
“Oh my gosh it’s incredible,” Schultz said. “Words can’t even begin to describe what I’m feeling right now.”
The Lancers chipped away with a 7-0 run, but struggled to get any offensive production outside of Cooks. The 6-4 junior scored 19 of St. Joseph’s 22 points in the opening half, and her 3 cut the deficit to 25-22.
“Really you put your biggest girl on her and try to slow her down,” Wainwright said. “But really it comes down to if you can prevent everyone else from really hurting you. We certainly kept everyone else from getting good looks and that’s a credit to Jessica and everyone else.”
Needing to reclaim momentum heading into the locker room, the Pointers found Staver at the right wing in the final seconds for her third 3-pointer of the first half to push the lead to six at the break.
St. Joseph’s wouldn’t let Staver’s shot slow them to open the second half, however. Cooks scored in transition to give the Lancers a 32-31 lead, their first since the opening minutes. Cooks hit the hoop inside again, then Jalah Harris took it to the bucket to cap a 17-5 run that gave St. Joseph’s a 39-33 lead.
“The games leading into the state tournament were a big factor in that,” Wainwright said of his team’s mental toughness. “Against Cuba City in the sectional semifinal we’re down five and comeback. We gave up the lead late and these guys just never get rattled. You just have to weather that storm. They believe in themselves and they believe in each other and that’s really the difference maker.
“You grow up, you watch this on TV, you dream about playing in a place like this and being able to have that medal and that trophy, but their mental approach is it’s just another game for us.”
Schultz and the Pointers answered with the biggest run of the game to claim the state championship, outscoring the Lancers, 35-13, over the final 11:30 of the game. The spark came from Chambers going off the glass on a 3 from the right wing, followed by Schultz snagging a pair of offensive boards and scoring inside to retake the lead at 50-46. Schultz would add two more buckets in the paint against Cooks to push the advantage to 57-48 with 3:40 to play.
“She had three fouls so she was just staying straight up at that point so I attacked her,” Schultz said. “I was the girl open so I finished. It just all worked out.”
The Northern Michigan recruit scored 10 huge points down the stretch as the Pointers locked down the Lancers and pushed to the program’s long-awaited first state championship.
“I couldn’t even believe it, it felt like a dream,” Schultz said. “I watched the state tournament three years in a row on TV and now I’m living it. It’s just incredible.”
To experience this feeling in their first trip to state, you can bet Staver and her other returning teammates are going to fight to make it a habit.
“Definitely the seniors that are going away, I think they were great role models for the girls below them,” Staver said. “It makes us want to do it more. That drive is all there now. We believe that we can do it and I think that helps out a lot.”