WINNER -- As Winner cut down the nets at the Premier Center last March, it was the culmination of a season powered by the sole goal of winning a state championship.
Now it’s time to do it again.
After posting a 24-0 record and a Class A girls basketball state championship, the Warriors must embark on the journey all over. Many of the girls know rigorous the path is to get there, but Winner coach Larry Aaker is attempting to ensure they don’t take any shortcuts along the way.
Winner loses three starters from a season ago, but returns two of its top three scorers in sophomore Bella Swedlund (16.3 points per game) and senior Morgan Hammerbeck (11.4 points per game) to make another state championship run an attainable goal.
“You can’t take any shortcuts getting there and getting that state championship,” Aaker said. “You have to take care of business in every single game and every step of the way. … You can’t take a shortcut in a workout, in practice -- you have to do it the right way, do it our way. We really preach that we work harder than anyone else. When they saw it happen last year, it obviously helps.”
Winner has many of the same faces, allowing the offense and uptempo style of play to remain intact, but some roles have been altered.
The Warriors relied upon a deep bench last season, but three of those key pieces move into the starting lineup. Kalla Bertram averaged 9.3 points per game off the bench and used the state tournament as a coming out party by averaging 11.7 points, 6.7 rebounds and 2.3 steals per game.
She wasn’t alone, however, as Maggie LaCompte (6.3 points) and Kelsey Sachtjen (5.3 rebounds) also performed well in the tournament. Meanwhile, Ellie Brozik moves into the sixth-man spot
“Any of those girls can go bonkers on any given night,” Aaker said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we had a different leading scorer night-in and night-out. Those first six can flat-out score.”
Swedlund and Hammerbeck will also have their roles altered a bit. While they are still going to be relied upon to score and handle the ball, they also stepped into roles typically reserved for veteran players.
Last season, when Winner need a basket in a key situation, Gabriel Kocer always seemed to come to life. With Kocer’s graduation, Aaker wants to see Swedlund and Hammerbeck fill the void, but they come with experience.
“Since I was pulled up in seventh grade, Coach Aaker has expected each person on the floor to be a leader -- vocally and as a teammate,” Swedlund said. “You get that vibe from him, so it has been an easy transition.”
Winner will start the new season by hosting Wagner on Dec. 13 and it is no secret that the expectation is to return to the state tournament in back-to-back seasons for the first time in program history.
As requested by Aaker, the Warriors have put last year’s state championship in the past with the intent of creating a new memory.
“We just want to keep proving everyone wrong and keep improving as a team,” Swedlund said. “We want it more than ever. Each practice is motivating. We want to repeat. We want it again.”