GREEN BAY – Green Bay– the home of the WIAA State Girls’ Basketball Tournament– may be known by the nickname of Titletown but when it comes to girls’ basketball in the state of Wisconsin, Cuba City lays claim to that moniker.
The Cubans hoisted up their record-extending 10th gold championship ball in the city by the bay with an impressive beat down of defending champion Algoma, 49-28, in the WIAA Division 4 championship game held at the Resch Center on Saturday, March 22.
“I am really proud of our basketball team. We worked extremely hard to get to this point,” said Cuba City head coach Jeff Pustina after leading the Cubans to the eighth title under his tutelage. “These guys had the motivation to get back here and worked extremely hard for an entire year.”
Pustina led the Cubans to the state tournament last March, but their title hopes were dashed in the semifinals when Algoma battered them around by a score of 62-39 on their way to claiming the title.
What a difference a year makes. The Cubans used the off-season getting better on the basketball court and physically stronger in the weight room, which made all the difference this time around.
“Last year, the physicality, I thought Algoma beat us up a little bit. This year, we came back. Certainly, we did our work in the weight room, but probably more than that we showed a lot of heart and desire. I thought that was the difference in the basketball game,” stated Pustina, who noted the work of weight room coordinator Tami Gleason contributed to the team’s success this season.
Junior center Mollie Wedige put the Cubans (27-1) ahead 4-0 with a pair of baskets, but the Wolves (25-3) charged back scoring nine of the final 13 points of the opening quarter to take a 9-8 lead.
A pair of baskets by Algoma senior Kennedy Blahnik upped the Wolves’ lead to 13-10 until a 3-pointer by Cuba City point guard Chloe Pustina jump started a 10-3 run that put the Cubans ahead 20-16 at the half.
Wedige knocked down a pair of baskets on offensive putbacks during a 7-0 spurt that gave the Cubans back the lead for good.
“When you handle both ends of the glass, you’re going to be in the ball game,” Pustina explained. “Mollie has vice-grip hands. She really positioned herself well and showed the desire to go after the basketball. She was really strong and really smart after she got it. She was dominant inside.”
The Cubans came out strong out of the locker room at the start of the third quarter, and poured in the first seven points of the stanza to extend the lead to 27-16.
Wedige sandwiched a pair of layups around a 3-pointer by Marti to up the lead to 11, and the Cuban defense limited the Wolves to just one point over a span of nine minutes between the second and third quarters.
“We didn’t really change a thing. We talked about some of the things that might occur in the third and fourth quarters. I think the motivation at halftime when you’re up four to play one half of basketball to win a state title was enough. When we left the locker room we could feel it,” said Pustina.
The Cubans took a 33-20 lead into the fourth quarter thanks to a pair of late free throws by Pustina.
Algoma’s sophomore forward Anna Dier, who torched the Cubans for 18 points and 10 rebounds in their 2013 state game, brought the Wolves back within nine on her only basket of the game, but it was all Cuba City the rest of the way as they closed the game on a 14-2 run while going 8-for-10 at the foul line to secure their 21st consecutive win and set off a state championship celebration.
“This is not about me. It’s about these kids, this new team and the special drive and determination and goal that they had,” commented Pustina when asked about winning a 10th state title for Cuba City. “Obviously I’m pretty proud to bring another gold ball back to Cuba City. We’ve got a lot of support in our school and community for what we do.”
Wedige led the Cubans with a game-high 18 points and she snagged 15 rebounds for a double-double, while recording two blocked shots and altering many other Algoma shots as the Wolves shot just 28 percent (12-of-43) for the game, including a 2-for-17 effort from 3-point range.
“I wouldn’t have been able to do it on offense without my teammates getting in there, dishing it and getting me the ball. It was a team effort,” Wedige said.
“We knew we had to work hard and we did. We’re here.”
Marti followed with 15 points, four rebounds, four assists and two steals. Pustina added nine points, including a 6-for-6 effort at the foul line, along with three assists and two steals; while sophomore Kaitlyn Kaiser came off the bench for four points, five rebounds and five steals.
The unsung hero of the tournament, however, had to be the Cubans’ defense which led their two state opponents to a combined 67 points on 25-of-79 shooting (32 percent) while forcing 39 turnovers and blocking 10 shots.
“We knew coming into this game that defense was going to be everything. We had to control the pace of the game with our defense,” said Marti.
The Cubans were whistled for just seven fouls during the game despite applying tight, in-your-face pressure on the Wolves throughout the game.
“Pressure defense wears on you and shooting percentages go down if you can do that without fouling,” said Pustina about his team holding the Wolves to a season-low offensive output.
Blahnik paced Algoma with 11 points.
“Obviously not the result we wanted but Cuba City played a great game,” said Algoma coach Mark Zastrow. “I thought our kids gave it everything they had but we could not find the basket. We got some good looks but I thought Cuba City did a nice job of making every shot challenged. They did a good job of that.”
Coach Pustina agreed, “I thought our defense was outstanding. Our kids were quick, they were fast and they were physical.”
Going out as champions were the two lone seniors on the team, forward Hannah Loeffelholz and guard Jenna Hoppenjan, who earned the respect of their teammates and coach for the leadership they provided during their state run.
“We’re losing two great seniors. Their leadership was everything this year. We couldn’t have done this without them. They were definitely key to this team,” Marti stated.
Pustina added that the maturity they gave this young but experienced team was what the team needed to get them to the top. “I’m really proud of our two seniors. They are quality kids in school academically and athletically. You could feel that those two were the leaders of our basketball team,” he said. “They came in and gave the team whatever they needed to give. Both those players are the glue to the team.”
With four starters coming back next season along with their top player off the bench who is a starter-caliber player, the Cubans should go into next season as the favorite to win it once again. But, they know they have their work cut out for them if they want to hold onto the top spot.
“We’re going to came back just as strong next year. We’re going to work just as hard and hopefully be in this spot again,” vowed Marti.
WIAA D4 STATE FINALCuba City… 8 12 13 16 – 49Algoma…… 9 7 4 8 – 28 Cuba City – Jessi Marti 15, Chloe Pustina 9, Hannah Loeffelholz 2, Shay Lierman 1, Kaitlyn Kaiser 4, Mollie Wedige 18. 17 12-16 49. Algoma – Blahnik 11, Dier 2, Delorit 7, Ryan 4, Blazkovec 4. Totals – 12 2-5 28. 3-point goals– CC 3 (Marti 2, Pustina 1), A 2 (Delorit 2). Total fouls– CC 7, A 18.