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Darlington junior leads Redbirds to the brink of the state tournament
Will Schwartz POW
Darlington junior Will Schwartz scored 31 points in a pair of sectional games last week, including a game-high 17 in Thursday's sectional semifinal victory over Cuba City.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The Athlete of the Week is a web-only feature that will publish each Thursday throughout the calendar year.


Will Schwartz, jr., Darlington boys basketball

     Darlington junior guard Will Schwartz helped lead the Redbirds boys’ basketball team into the WIAA sectional finals for the first time in 20 years and had them on the brink of earning their first state tournament berth since 1990 last week.The junior guard scored 31 points in a pair of sectional games as Darlington came within a point of advancing to the WIAA Division 4 state tournament.      

     Schwartz, this week’s Mast Water Technology Athlete of the Week, came up big on both ends of the court for the Redbirds (20-6 overall) in their 38–32 victory over SWAL rival Cuba City in a WIAA Division 4 sectional semifinal game in Verona last Thursday. The junior scored 12 of his game-high 17 points in the second half to help keep the Cubans (17–8) at bay. Darlington built a 30–20 lead with nine minutes to play, but the Cubans refused to go down without a fight, using a 10–2 spurt to slice the deficit to 32–20 on a basket by Brady Vaessen with 3:40 left. But Schwartz stepped up and scored back-to-back baskets to push the lead to six at 36–30. From there the Redbirds made a pair of free throws to put the game away.

     “Will didn’t come off the court in the second half,” said Darlington head coach Mike Hopkins. “He came to play [Thursday night]. He was on top of his game on both ends of the floor. He plays a lot bigger than he is, and he certainly had a big heart tonight.”

     In Saturday’s D4 sectional final game in Baraboo, Schwartz scored seven of his 14 points during an 11–3 Darlington run that erased a seven-point second-half deficit and put them ahead of Aquinas, 44–43, with 4:07 to play. The Blugolds (15–11) ended the game by outscoring the Redbirds, 7–5, to rally for a 50–49 victory and deny Darlington their first state appearance in 26 years. The Redbirds took a 49–47 lead with 1:16 to play on a layup by Trevor Johnson, but Aquinas senior Alex Shulte converted a three-point play with 35.8 seconds left to provide the final margin of victory. Darlington turned the ball over with 15 seconds to play, but the Blugolds (15–11) missed the front end of the bonus, giving the ‘Birds one final shot. But with 6.3 seconds remaining, Darlington inbounded the ball at half court and failed to get off a shot before the final buzzer sounded. The Redbirds finished the season 20–6 overall.


HONORABLE MENTION (In alphabetical order):

Sierra Brecke, sr., Platteville girls basketball

     The Platteville senior was named the Southwest Wisconsin Conference Player of the Year after leading the Hillmen to the conference title and their first regional title since 1992. Brecke averaged a conference-best 20.7 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.8 steals and 1.0 assist for the Hillmen, who finished 17–8 overall and 8–2 in the SWC. She top the 20-point mark 15 times in 25 games this season, including scoring a career-high 33 points in a 63–59 win over Benton on Jan. 1.


Briana Leahy, so., Shullsburg girls basketball

     The versatile 6’1” sophomore center led the Miners to a 21–4 overall record and an outright Six Rivers West title (10–2) to earn the league’s Player of the Year honors. She averaged a team-high 17.8 points, 10.0 rebounds, 4.8 blocks and 1.7 steals per game, while shooting 60.1 percent (170-for-283) from the field and 65.1 percent (99-for-152) from the free throw line. Leahy posted three triple–doubles this season in wins over Platteville (Jan. 19), Wauzeka–Steuben (Feb. 11) and Belmont (Feb. 18). She topped the 20-point mark in 12 games.


Jessi Marti, sr., Cuba City girls basketball

     Marti was named the SWAL Player of the Year for a second straight season after leading the Cubans to a 22–3 overall record. The 5’8” guard and four-time first-team All-SWAL selection led the Cubans in scoring, assists and steals. In 25 games, the Division 2 Northern State recruit, averaged 19.1 points, 3.8 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 4.5 steals per game. She also shot 57 percent from the field, 76 percent from the free throw line and made 29 of 98 from 3-point range. Marti finished her career as Cuba City’s all-time leading scorer with 1,596 points and was named to the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association Division 4 All-State team for a second consecutive year.

Hunter Matye, jr., Shullsburg boys basketball

     The junior forward was named the Six Rivers West Player of the Year after leading the Miners to the conference title with a 10–2 mark in league play and a 20–5 overall record. Matye averaged 15.1 points, 8.6 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 1.0 block per game, while shooting 48.7 percent (149-for-306) from the field and 44.2 percent (57-for-129) from behind the 3-point line.  


Max Stockwell, sr., Hillsboro boys basketball 

     Stockwell was named the Scenic Bluffs Conference Player of the Year after leading the Tigers to a 24–2 overall record and a perfect 14–0 mark in league play. Stockwell became Hillsboro’s all-time leading scorer early this year and finished the year averaging 20.2 points, 8.5 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 2.8 steals and 0.6 blocks per game, while shooting 57.8 percent (177-for-274) from the field and 66.5 percent from the free throw line (117-for-176). Stockwell was named first-team All-SBC four times.


Jen Wellnitz, fr., UW–Green Bay women’s basketball

     The University of Wisconsin–Green Bay women’s basketball team earned their seventh NCAA Tournament bid over the last eight years after routing UW-Milwaukee, 64-32, in the Horizon League championship game at the Kress Center in Green Bay on Sunday, March 13. Redshirt freshman guard Jen Wellnitz, a 2014 graduate of Black Hawk High School, scored two points in 14 minutes of play to help the Lady Phoenix locked up their second consecutive Horizon League Tournament title and earn their second straight NCAA Tournament berth.

     UWGB also won the Horizon League regular season title for an unprecedented 18th consecutive year after posting a 16-2 record in conference play this year. The Phoenix (28–4 overall) received a #10-seed and will face #7-seed Tennessee (19–13) in an opening round game of the Sioux Falls Region in Tempe, Arz., on Friday, March 18, starting at approximately 4 p.m. The game will air on ESPN2. The winner of that game advances to take on either #2-seed Arizona State (25–6, ranked #11) or #15-seed New Mexico State (26–4) in a second round contest in Tempe on Sunday, March 20. Wellnitz was the hero of Saturday’s semifinal thriller against Northern Kentucky University when she scored the game-winning basket on a putback with 0.6 seconds remaining to lift the Phoenix to a rousing 80-78 double-overtime victory over the Norse at the Kress Center.