With great expectations come great challenges.
So far, the fifth-ranked in the state Oak Creek girls basketball team is living up to both expectations and challenges.
The Knights, who routed sixth-ranked in state Arrowhead on Nov. 17 to open the season, rallied from a six-point halftime deficit to beat seventh-ranked DC Everest, 56-49, in the Brookfield Central Thanksgiving Holiday Shootout on Friday, Nov. 24.
What veteran coach Steve Hluchnik said the Knights needed to do in the second half was breath. They got that when senior forward Lea Finn cashed an easy lay-up just 15 seconds into the second half.
That basket started a 20-7 run for the Knights that saw them hit eight of their first nine shots of the second half.
They would be up 40-33 when the run ended and would never trail again in improving to 2-0 on the young season.
“She (Finn) hit that shot and we were able to finally exhale and play,” said Hluchnik. “They can’t guard us when we slow the game down and space things out. We were able to get some easy shots and then we went from there.”
It was another major hurdle cleared in a season that will be full of them for the experienced and loaded Knights.
Oak Creek finished at 21-5 last season, losing in the WIAA sectional finals to Rufus King, but the Knights return virtually everyone from that squad.
“We know we have a big target on our back this year, but that’s what we want,” said Hluchnik.
The nine seniors on the team are headed by four-year letterwinning point guard Haley Zylka. She is a co-captain along with senior guard Kassandra Bartek, senior forward Jenna Dankert and senior post Corrine Kurz.
Another pair of key returnees include junior twin guards Katie and Maddie Gard.
The Knights needed all the good guard play they could get on Nov. 24 as the Evergreens used a full-court trap in the first half to force 10 Oak Creek turnovers and take a 17-10 lead with 4:55 left.
Oak Creek closed it to 22-20 with 2:25 left, but the Evergreens scored the final four points of the session to go in with some momentum.
“What really bothered me about the turnovers was that four of them got turned into lay-ups,” said Hluchink.
But as noted, the Knights finally relaxed and played like themselves in the second half. They finally took the lead for good on a lay-up by Bartek at the 13:49 mark. A three-pointer by Maddie Gard (team high 16 points) made it 40-33 with 11:42 left.
Everest closed the gap to 40-38 on a trey by senior guard Taylor Petit, but then Katie Gard hit a three and Finn cashed a fast-break lay-up to make it 45-38 Creek with 6:20 to go.
The lead never dropped below five after that as Dankert and Zylka each dropped in a pair of free throws in the final 22 seconds. Oak Creek hit 12 of 18 shots in the second half.
Petit and senior forward Natalie Mohring had 16 points apiece to lead Everest, while for Creek, Finn helped out Maddie Gard with 13 points and Katie Gard had eight and Dankert seven.
“We played very well in the second half, now we just have to do that consistently,” said Hluchnik.
Oak Creek will be back in Brookfield on Saturday, Nov. 25 at 3:45 p.m. to play Pulaski.