NEW LONDON - The New London girls basketball team has hoisted the gold ball each of the past two seasons but with four new starters, a new coach and even a new state venue the Bulldogs aren't the same team that's been at the state tournament the past two seasons.
First-year coach Andrea Flease hasn't lost a game, she's 26-0. She doesn't plan on changing the formula this weekend.
"We're just playing the game of basketball," she said. "We don't do anything fancy. Our game plan is nothing out of the ordinary. There's going to be girls with nerves right away; it's state basketball and I expect that from them."
Brenna Heise is the lone starter back from last year and leads the Bulldogs in scoring and rebounding this season. She knows what playing on the state tournament stage feels like and has had a little advice for her less-experienced teammates.
"It's obviously a little bigger of a game than they're used to playing but you've just got to take it all in," Heise said. "We're still the same team, same group of girls on the court. We've just got to trust one another."
Amber Pethke logged just one minute in last year's state tournament. Instead of the nerves, she's focusing on the excitement of the state semifinals.
"I mean, playing basketball is always exciting but with that many people. You just realize you have that much support," Pethke said.
New London will play New Berlin Eisenhower in the state semfinals. The Bulldogs defeated the Lions 53-49 in the Division 2 state championship game last season.
The Lions lost the 2012 Wisconsin Ms. Basketball, Nicole Bauman, to graduation. The 2013 edition is more balanced though. They have three players who average double figures. Flease said in some ways New Berlin reminds her of her own team.
"They're similar to us," she said. "They have a lot of role players who can go off at any time so we'll see what happens when we go there. They're going to get in our faces and on offense they're looking to get quick shots up."
Heise added: "We're going to make them work for every basket they get."
New London has a chance to make history this weekend. It could become just the fourth school to win three consecutive state titles and the first since Cuba City (2005-2007). The Bulldogs understand the type of rarified air they're in.
"I remember always hearing about Cuba City and how they're so good, but just to be mentioned in the same sentence as them, that's just unreal," Heise said. "If we could get another gold ball back to New London that would just be huge for our community and our program."
While the players are thinking big, Flease is keeping them grounded.
"A gold ball is a gold ball," Flease said. "We'll take it whenever we can get it but we've got one game to prepare for and that's on Friday and we'll talk about the other stuff on Saturday."
If the Bulldogs win, it will be a day unlike another other in program history.
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