The Prescott Cardinals girls basketball team finished 10-4 in the Middle Border Conference this season, marking their best conference record since the 2002-03 season when they finished 11-3.
Last year, the Cardinals finished 6-8 in MBC play. The difference between this year and last? The Cardinals' addition of junior center Haylee Yaeger.
In her first season as a Prescott Cardinal, the former Hastings Raider was the MBC's third-best scoring leader averaging 16.5 points per game, and finished as the conference's sixth-best rebounder with an average of 7.2 boards per game. She received All-Conference first-team honors due to her aforementioned successes.
"Haylee was very difficult for most teams in our conference to defend because of her strength and moves in the post," Prescott's head coach Ron Murphy said.
Yaeger is the first Cardinals girls basketball player to receive first-team honors since Cassie Murphy did so after her 2012-13 season.
Prescott's 10-4 conference record was also largely due to the play of Allie Murphy and Bella Lenz who both received second-team honors.
Murphy, now a two-time second-team honoree, led the conference in assist totals (averaging five assists per game) and finished as the fifth-best MBC scorer (11.8 points per game). As a junior, Murphy set a single-season Cardinals girls basketball program record with 119 assists, and was also one of her Prescott squad's top defenders.
Lenz, a freshman, finished second in the conference in assists (113 total, 4.7 per game) behind Murphy, and was the conference's fourth-best leading scorer averaging 15.6 points per game.
"Bella surprised the conference for the first month," coach Murphy said, "but it didn't take long for the word to get around that this freshman needed a lot of attention."
Yaeger, Murhpy and Lenz all return next year along with a handful of talented teammates.
"All three are fortunate to have great teammates that push them in practice and play hard on the floor with them in games," Murphy said. "Their selections to the All-Conference teams, are reflections of the hard work all three have put in for many years."
The Cardinals' 10-4 conference record put them in third place behind Saint Croix Central (14-0) and Amery (11-3). SCC's Mariah Krogseng was named the conference's player of the year, and her head coach, Luke Fritsche, received the MBC's Coach of the Year award for his team's undefeated conference record.
Madelyn Granica (Amery), Anna Rybacki (Somerset), Claire Frankiewicz (SCC) and Katie Haase (Osceola) joined Yaeger and Krogseng on the first-team list.
Underclassmen put Ellsworth on map
Ellsworth received conference recognition for the play of two of their underclassmen — Autumn Earney and Kaitlyn Nugent.
Earney received second-team honors after averaging 15 points per game in Middle Border games as a freshman. Her 15-point average was a team best, and she also led the Panthers with 2.3 steals per game against conference opponents. Earney's presence on the floor was a concern for both opponents on both ends of the court, as she possesses strong instincts on defense and has the savvy on offense to influence games very quickly.
"Autumn's ability became clear the very first day of practice," Ellsworth's head coach Jason Janke said. "She is strong and plays the game with confidence."
Despite her early successes, Janke said Earney is one of the most humble student-athletes he's ever coached.
"Autumn is a fantastic athlete, and has a chance to be one of the best basketball players around if she puts the work in. She is passionate about helping to strengthen our program, and we're excited to have such a fantastic student-athlete in our program.
"Ellsworth fans are going to enjoy watching her play over the next few years."
Earney's sophomore teammate Kaitlyn Nugent was named to the conference's honorable mention list after averaging 10 points and four rebounds per game against MBC opponents this year. The sophomore's season averages are even more impressive considering she battled a shoulder injury during the offseason.
Nugent, along with teammate Emma Swanson, provided the Panthers with exceptional on-floor leadership on both ends of the court. She provided vocal leadership when teammates were lost on offense, and her defense and rebounding vastly improved as the season progressed.
"Kaitlyn is such a great kid to coach," Janke said. "She has a fantastic attitude in practices at times, and is a driving, positive force during every game."
Like Earney, the Panthers are overjoyed to have Nugent as a returner for the upcoming 2018-19 season.
"The second half of our season seems to have inspired Kaitlyn individually, as she appears prime for a hardworking offseason to help get our program to the next level."
The Panthers finished at the bottom of the conference rankings with a 1-13 record, but are poised to see Earney and Nugent help change the narrative of Ellsworth girls basketball in the near future.
Diesing lone Wolf to earn conference recognition
Elmwood/Plum City's Lexi Diesing was named to the Dunn-St. Croix Conference's All-Conference honorable-mention list after leading her team in points per game, rebounds per game and shooting percentages.
The EPC senior averaged 9.5 points and 7.4 rebounds per game and shot 51 percent from the field in her last season with the Wolves.
"Lexi was a huge part of our success this season," EPC's head coach Shaughn Laehn said. "She was one of our most consistent players, and we are going to miss her next year."
Diesing and the Wolves finished 6-8 in conference play this year, which landed them a fifth-place finish amongst Dunn-St. Croix opponents. This was their best conference record since the 2012-13 season when the Wolves finished 8-8 when there were nine Dunn-St. Croix teams.
Johansen joins Diesing
Spring Valley's Lexi Johansen also received honorable-mention recognition for her 2017-18 season.
Johansen was a dynamic player for the Cardinals, proving she was able to shoot the deep ball and post just about anyone up in the paint.
The sophomore Cardinal player averaged 8.4 points per game as Spring Valley's scoring leader.
Durand's Emily Annis and Mondovi's Haley Poeschel were named the conference's co-players of the year.
Boys basketball conference awards will be published following the sectional finals game on Saturday, March 10.