The atrocities of the Packers notwithstanding, there is joy in the Green Bay sports world.
Last season, the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay men’s basketball team, led by current senior/All-America candidate Tony Bennett, capped off a 20-win regular season with a Mid-Continent Conference tournament championship and an NCAA invitation.
UW-GB’s women’s basketball team also played well last year, winning 22 games and the regular-season North Star Conference title.
Though they are not quite as popular as their counterparts and average less than 500 fans per home game, the Lady Phoenix are gaining a following and aren’t upset at being second fiddle.
“They have a hero in Tony Bennett,” 19-year Lady Phoenix head coach Carol Hammerle said. “That’s something (Green Bay) hasn’t had since Vince Lombardi. I really feel the community supports the women’s program. I’ve noticed with the success of the men’s program, it’s trickled to the women’s program.
“The men’s success has helped our scope with fans and the media. We’ll have two radio stations cover us (in tonight’s 7:30 home game versus NIU). It’s the first time two have covered us.”
This season’s Lady Phoenix squad is 13-5, 5-0 and tied with NIU for first in the conference. The team is led by seniors—principally, guard Sandra Baerwald (14.6 points per game) and center Lisa Wegner (12.2 points, 6.2 rebounds per game)—who haven’t forgotten last year’s loss to Valparaiso in the second round of the conference tournament, which was held in Green Bay.
The loss ended the Lady Phoenix’s season.
“I still have scars on my wrist from that game,” Hammerle said. “It was probably the most difficult loss in my coaching career.
“We talked about it at the beginning of the season, but we let it go. It’s in the past. I think my seniors are definitely on a mission not to let it happen again.”
To complete its objective, UW-GB relies on its defense, which is allowing 59 points a game.
“We’re known for our defense,” Hammerle said. “I believe if we execute in our system, we can beat any team we play.”
Baerwald and Wegner are the offensive core of the team, the former being the Lady Phoenix’s chief perimeter threat, the latter being the inside menace.
“I believe (Baerwald) is a complete player,” Hammerle said. “She’s an excellent outside shooter, she can drive and take the ball to the hoop. You have to play her honestly.
“Wagner, she’s definitely our strongest post player. She’s quick on the block. She gets the job done.”
UW-GB will start two other seniors, forward Beth Peters and guard Mariann Van Den Elzen, and a junior, forward Dawn Schirmacher, when it faces NIU.
“I think (NIU) is a tremendously athletic team,” Hammerle said. “We’ll definitely have to slow them down.”
The Huskies lost 91-79 in Green Bay last season. The game decided the conference champion. The Huskies beat UW-GB 81-80 earlier that season on a Cindy Conner free throw with no time left in regulation.
Last season, the National Women’s Invitational Tournament chose NIU over UW-GB as one of its Midwest representatives.
Hammerle, who worked as administrative assistant to Jane Albright-Dieterle when the NIU coach was an Olympic Festival head coach over the summer, said a rivalry is in the making.
“I believe so,” Hammerle said. “I don’t think it’s to the extent of Northern-DePaul, but it’s a good, competitive rivalry. The rivalry is healthy and competitive.”