|Hailey Kontney averages 16.4 points per game and gets to the free throw line more than any other player on the Yellowjackets.
Photo by Ryan Coleman, d3photography.com
By Nathan Ford
The exact number might not jump to mind, but you’re fairly certain a streak is going.
At the very least, you can’t remember when a streak would have ended. So at this point, it has to be a significant number.
Go straight to the source of the streak, though, and you won’t find an answer.
“I couldn’t tell you the number now,” said Zach Otto-Fisher, UW-Superior interim women’s basketball coach. “Maybe the girls could.”
“Nope,” Hailey Kontny and Hannah Norlin responded in unison.
“It’s something that we don’t talk about at all,” Otto-Fisher said.
Do the research yourself and you’ll discover the streak. It’s 50. Fifty straight wins for UW-Superior against Upper Midwest Athletic Conference competition.
That’s two straight 16-0 regular seasons since joining the league in 2015-16, another four wins en route to conference tournament championships and a perfect 14-0 start this season, with two games to play.
Fifty is a significant number. Right now, the Yellowjackets are more focused on zero. As in, zero NCAA Tournament wins.
“I know each day we want to focus on what we want in the end,” Kontny said. “I think we all have that one big goal to win some games in the NCAA Tournament.”
After coming up a game short in the 2014 and 2015 WIAC tournaments, head coach Don Mulhern led UW-Superior to its first two NCAA trips the last two seasons. Both ended in the first round.
Mulhern left for St. Catherine in September to move closer to family and Otto-Fisher, who was an assistant coach last season, quickly took over. With four starters back, led by second-team All-West Region pick Kontny, expectations didn’t change.
“Zach is definitely the best person we could have had step up,” Norlin said.
|Hailey Kontny with interim head coach Zach Otto-Fisher
Photo by Jade Jensen, UW-Superior Athletics
“It was a really easy transition for us,” Kontny said. “He knew the system. He also incorporated his own ideas into the system as well, so we did have to learn a couple of new things but the nice thing about it is he knew how to push us to make us better.”
Kontny, a Superior native, was drawn to UW-Superior after a year at Division II Minnesota-Duluth because the program was becoming a winner. The 5-foot-8 guard surpassed 1,000 career points earlier this season and is averaging a team-high 16.4 per game.
Her desire to win above all else comes across when she talks about individual milestones.
“Achieving 1,000 points doesn’t happen by itself, with one person,” she said. “It happens with the whole team. That’s the name of the game. It’s a team sport. I couldn’t be more thankful to do it with this set of girls and with Zach as a coach.
“Every player wants to win and to be part of a program that has such success on and off the court, it’s really something that I always wanted to be a part of … the University of Wisconsin-Superior can give me that.”
Now she wants to help UW-Superior get to the next level. NCAA tournament losses to UW-Oshkosh and St. Thomas the last two years have left her and her teammates wanting more than a UMAC winning streak.
This year, only one of the Yellowjackets’ UMAC wins has been by single digits (77-72 over Minnesota-Morris). They’ve held opponents to fewer than 30 points on four occasions.
With that streak showing no signs of stopping, it appears the Yellowjackets will have another opportunity to dance past the first night. They would be an underdog come March, unranked in the first West Region rankings. That’s why a challenging non-conference schedule was put together.
Superior tested St. Benedict, now ranked No. 24, in November before falling, 61-58. A trip to Wartburg after Christmas resulted in losses to the Knights, now ranked No. 2 (83-65) and Gustavus Adolphus, currently receiving votes (67-46).
“I think it was a really good experience for us to be in that tournament,” said Norlin, the team’s second leading scorer (13.0) and top rebounder (7.3). “In previous years, we didn’t have that experience playing teams like Gustavus or Wartburg.”
Even if Superior can’t get over that hump, Otto-Fisher has a pretty good case to have the interim tag removed. The school will accept applications and go through the hiring process after the season and, presumably, he’ll be a candidate for the job.
“Zach knew he had a big role to fill when Mulhern left and he’s definitely excelled in that area,” Kontny said. “I think what he’s brought to this program is he knows how to make us better as a team and individually. He takes our weaknesses and tries to make them our strengths, and then he takes our strengths and puts them into work both on and off the court.”
One trait Otto-Fisher doesn’t want to change is the team’s apathy for basic addition. The equation “50 plus 1” won’t be talked about Saturday at Bethany Lutheran.
Something like “the next one” is more likely.
“Our big goal, like Hailey said, is to get to the NCAA Tournament and win games there,” said Otto-Fisher. “Therefore, keeping that streak in the conference, winning the conference, winning the conference tournament, that’s all the byproduct to get to our main goal.”
With UW-Superior having clinched its third straight outright UMAC women’s basketball title with Wednesday’s 59-43 win over Northwestern, let’s take a look at how the rest of the conference races are shaping up in the West Region.
IIAC Men: Nebraska Wesleyan’s 108-92 win over Loras (9-4) on Wednesday put the Prairie Wolves (11-3) in the driver’s seat. NWU closes with a road trip to Wartburg and a home date with Central, two middle-of-the-road teams. Buena Vista (9-5) also lurks with an outside chance at a title share; the Beavers travel to Loras on Saturday.
MIAC Men: St. John’s (16-1) suffered its first league loss to St. Olaf (13-4), 75-62, Saturday, but has at least a share of the championship wrapped up. It just needs to beat Augsburg, Gustavus or St. Thomas down the stretch, or for the Oles to lose to St. Thomas, Carleton or Concordia to win it outright.
NWC Men: A thrilling 100-99 win over Whitworth (11-2) Tuesday means Whitman (13-0) is on track for another unbeaten run through the NWC. The Blues can clinch a share by beating George Fox on Saturday. Willamette and Linfield await next week.
SCIAC Men: CMS (11-1) and Occidental (10-1) are tied in the loss column, with the Stags handing the Tigers their first conference defeat Saturday, 70-60. Chapman (9-4) and Pomona-Pitzer (8-4) are mathematically still alive, but it looks like a two-team race. The CMS-Oxy rematch is Monday at Occidental, and the Tigers still have to play the other three teams mentioned above. CMS still has Whittier and Chapman as well.
UMAC Men: Bethany Lutheran (11-3) and St. Scholastica (10-3) split their season series and are tied in the loss column atop the standings. The Vikings have the easier remaining schedule with UW-Superior and North Central, while CSS takes on third-place Northwestern (9-4) and also ends with Crown, which had won five straight conference games before Wednesday’s 104-99 loss to BLC. Minnesota-Morris (8-5) is mathematically alive for a share, too.
IIAC Women: Second-ranked Wartburg (13-0) clinched a repeat with Wednesday’s 63-54 victory at rival Luther.
MIAC Women: St. Thomas (15-0) and St. Benedict (14-1) are on a collision course for a monster regular-season finale. The Tommies could clinch a share with wins over St. Olaf and St. Mary’s before that. UST cruised past St. Ben’s, 77-52, on Jan. 20. The Blazers have a huge test next Wednesday against Gustavus (12-3), which needs a lot to go right to earn a co-championship.
NWC Women: Whitman (13-0) and George Fox (11-1) meet Saturday in a battle of regionally ranked teams (No. 3 vs. No. 6). The Blues would clinch at least a share of the regular-season championship with a win. If GFU beats Whitworth on Friday, the Bruins wouldn’t be out of it with a loss to Whitman, but would need a ton of help. Third-place Willamette is also on Whitman’s remaining slate.
SCIAC Women: Like the MIAC, the SCIAC women’s race could be in for a thrilling final day. It’s between Chapman (13-0) and CMS (12-1) here, who meet Feb. 17 at CMS. Chapman won the first meeting, 68-56, on Jan. 13.