On the biggest stage of the season, Danielle Wieseler delivered one of the biggest performances of her career.
The 5-foot-3 Wynot senior scored 11 points, including three 3-pointers, in 2 minutes, 25 seconds of the second quarter to help the Blue Devils rally from an eight-point deficit and eventually knock off O'Neill St. Mary's 40-31 in the Class D2-3 district final.
“She’s just a competitor,” her coach, Steve Wieseler said. “She’s learning when to get other people involved and when she’s got to take it over herself. We really needed that boost to get us back in the game.”
Wieseler finished with a game-high 22 points to lead Wynot, the defending D2 runners-up which had won the previous four-straight championships.
While those scoring numbers were flashy, it was her game-high five steals – part of 13 by Wynot – that contributed to 28 turnovers by the defending D1 champion Cardinals that ultimately decided the game.
St. Mary’s attempted 22 field goals in the entire game, making nine, including no 3-pointers. Wynot made 9 of 34 field goals – but hit 5 of 9 3-pointers.
“Wynot is always about defense. It’s pressure defense,” Danielle Wieseler said. “Get up in their face, make sure they can’t get it down into the post. They have some big posts, and we wanted their guards to struggle with that.”
St. Mary’s coach Traci Berg said that’s exactly what Wynot did, forcing them to almost as many turnovers as points.
“They were pressuring us on the wings,” Berg said. “We didn’t run our offense; we didn’t get our inside-out game going.”
One factor that may or may not have played into Friday’s game at the Norfolk Catholic Activities Center was each team’s future.
The Blue Devils were in sixth in the NSAA points standings coming in, and with two teams ahead of them losing in subdistrict play, Wynot had to win in order to extend their state-qualifying streak to seven years.
“What I’m proudest of is our girls played for 32 minutes,” Steve Wieseler said. “It was a good win, no doubt about it. They’ve beat us a couple years in a row at the Crofton (holiday) tournament.”
St. Mary’s was in line for a state tournament berth regardless, as the Cardinals were second by more than three-quarters of a point coming into Friday night. It would be the fifth-straight year St. Mary’s makes a trip to Lincoln.
“We wanted the momentum to go into the state tournament,” Berg said. “We didn’t talk about power points. We wanted to win.”
Wynot somehow lived to tell about a stretch in which it missed 14-straight field-goal attempts, which St. Mary’s countered with an early 12-4 lead that included six points from Riley Sibbel.
She finished with a team-high 12 points, while Hattie Blumenstock added nine and 6-foot post Sydney Hupp was held to 1 of 6 field-goal shooting, six points and 10 rebounds.
“We started off with quite a bit of fire,” Berg said. “Then we lost our fire, lost our edge when Wieseler made those 3s, and then mentally we kind of shut down.”
The easiest explanation was they equaled St. Mary's in defensive intensity, with both teams employing a stifling full-court press to try and spark offense.
Danielle Wieseler provided the spark Wynot were looking for. She drilled a 3-pointer before turning a St. Mary's turnover into a scooping layup to cut the gap to 12-9. After a Cardinals free throw, Maddy Gartner broke the Cardinals’ press and dished to Danielle Wieseler for a corner 3, and then added another 3 for Wynot’s first lead with 3:25 left in the first half at 15-14.
While the Blue Devils were held to no field goals over nine minutes, St. Mary’s followed by making no field goals over eight minutes, but the Cardinals took the lead, and seemingly the momentum, when Riley Sibbel cashed in a conventional 3-point play with 6.3 seconds remaining.
Danielle Wieseler worked her magic again, racing down the court and dishing to Cortney Arkfeld for a baseline jumper as the horn sounded to tie the game heading into intermission.
From there, Wynot opted for a slow-go offense that dictated the Blue Devils ditch its typical run-and-gun style.
It worked, in that Wynot drew enough fouls to attempt 17 free throws in the fourth quarter. They made 10, including Danielle Wieseler’s 7 of 10 effort in the quarter to help close out the win.
“I think we just wanted it more, honestly,” Danielle Wieseler said. “We gained confidence there (in the first half) that we could play with them.”
St. Mary’s .......................... 10 7 8 6 – 31
Wynot ................................ 4 13 13 10 – 40
ST. MARY’S (21-4): Breanna Hedstrom 0-1 1-2 1; Sydney Hupp 1-6 4-4 6; Tracy Chvala 1-3 0-1 2; Hattie Blumenstock 3-4 3-3 9; Riley Sibbel 4-7 4-6 12; Emily Pongratz 0-0 1-2 1. Totals 9-22 13-17 31.
WYNOT (21-5): Olivia Wieseler 0-1 1-3 1; Maddy Gartner 0-3 2-4 2; Cortney Arkfeld 2-8 5-8 9; Danielle Wieseler 5-11 8-12 22; Carissa Kuchta 1-4 0-0 3; Skylar Arkfeld 1-7 1-2 3. Totals 9-34 17-29 40.
3-point field goals: SM 0-1; WYN 5-9 (D. Wieseler 4-6, Kuchta 1-1). Rebounds: SM 23 (Hupp 10, Blumenstock 4, Colman 4); WYN 12 (C. Arkfeld 4, Kuchta 4). Assists: SM 2; WYN 3. Steals: SM 4 (Hupp 2, Colman 2); WYN 13 (D. Wieseler 5, C. Arkfeld 3, S. Arkfeld 3). Blocked shots: SM 2 (Hupp 2); WYN 1 (Julia Eskens 1).