Passing the test

Women’s basketball wins twice to give new life to the season

Story by Nick Erickson, Managing Editor

UW-Eau Claire head women’s basketball coach Tonja Englund laid out a test for her team when the second half of the WIAC season began.

Her Blugolds found themselves in last-place by losing a lot of close, and in Englund’s mind, winnable games. The task was simple.

The report card is how we do against these teams we lost to in the first round,” Englund said.

Saturday and Wednesday, the Blugolds received nothing but A’s.

In two pivotal conference matchups, one on the road Saturday at UW-La Crosse and one home in Zorn Arena Wednesday against UW-Superior, the Blugolds avenged earlier losses to climb the standings.

Eau Claire went on the road to beat UW-La Crosse Saturday by a score 57-47 and came back home to take care of UW-Superior 73-56 Wednesday night in Zorn Arena.

With the two wins, Eau Claire, now winners of three out of its last four games, moved into a tie for sixth-place in the league, the last remaining place eligible for the WIAC tournament at the end of the month.

“We really focused on this half of the conference, coming out strong and not letting those second halves get us,” sophomore guard Teenie Lichtfuss said. “It’s good that it’s finally coming around and we can pull out a win.”

Englund said a lot of the time, the team goes as Lichtfuss goes. The Oshkosh Lourdes High School graduate leads the WIAC in minutes plays, and at the point guard position, she commands the offense.

For these past two games, the only direction she has taken the Blugolds is up.

Lichtfuss combined to score 36 points, six assists, 10 rebounds and 12 steals over the two game span.

“It’s a lot of responsibility for a sophomore, but when she’s feeling it, you can really see it,” Englund said.

But Lichtfuss wasn’t alone in the successful week for the standing-soaring Blugolds.

Courtney Lewis scored 12 points against La Crosse and chipped in 15 points and eight boards against Superior. Wednesday, Lichtfuss and Lewis were joined in double-figure scoring by freshman guard Abby Midtlien and sophomore forward Madison Johnson. Midtlien had 10 points while Johnson had a career-best 16.

“The thing we always talk about is that if we can get three players to double figures, we feel we can win the game,” Englund said. “When we get four players up to double figures, that’s a really magical sign for us.”

Defensively, Eau Claire was able to deflect passes, create turnovers and score off them. They had 15 steals Saturday and seven Wednesday.

The Blugolds will now have the opportunity to keep avenging losses as they host UW-River Falls at home Saturday. The conference tournament is still the goal, and Johnson said they have bigger aspirations than just qualifying.

“We want to have a chance to make it there and have a chance to beat out everyone,” Johnson said.

Englund said she has been pleased and proud of her team’s turnaround, and the potential is all there to make Johnson and the rest of the team’s plans to come true.

“I give credit to our team that they’ve really hung together,” Englund said. “I think they’re now seeing they can be a really good team.”

Tip-off against the Falcons is set for 7 p.m. Saturday in Zorn Arena.