Area teams involved: Spooner Sectional, Abbotsford bracket — Owen-Withee, Lake Holcombe, Greenwood, Cornell, Prairie Farm, New Auburn, Bruce, Gilman. La Crosse Central Sectional, Neillsville bracket — Chippewa Falls McDonell, Eau Claire Immanuel Lutheran, Alma/Pepin, Elmwood, Augusta, Independence, Eleva-Strum, Plum City, Alma Center Lincoln, Gilmanton.
Overview: After advancing to the sectional semifinals in Division 4 last season, Eastern Cloverbelt runner-up Owen-Withee (19-3) is a No. 1 seed in the Spooner Sectional. The Blackhawks open against No. 16 Granton (0-12), which didn’t play a varsity schedule in the conference this season. The No. 2 seed is East Lakeland runner-up Lake Holcombe (17-5), which starts off against No. 15 Rib Lake (1-19) on Tuesday. Prentice (15-7), which qualified for state last season and won the Marawood North championship, is the No. 3 seed. The No. 4 seed is Greenwood (12-10), which took sixth in the Eastern Cloverbelt. Other teams involved include No. 5 Clayton (11-10), No. 6 Turtle Lake (13-9), No. 7 Cornell (8-12), No. 8 Wisconsin Valley Lutheran (8-14), No. 9 Loyal (7-15), No. 10 Marshfield Columbus (6-15), No. 11 Prairie Farm (3-19), No. 12 New Auburn (3-17), No. 13 Bruce (4-15) and No. 14 Gilman (0-20).
No. 1 McDonell, coming off a top-half finish in the Western Cloverbelt for the first time since 2004-05, leads one half of the La Crosse Central Sectional. The Macks, who started fast and tied for third in the conference, face No. 16 Gilmanton (7-13) — the team they beat in their season opener — on Tuesday. Scenic Bluffs champion New Lisbon (17-4) is the No. 2 seed. Immanuel Lutheran (17-5), which rode a second-half hot streak to a share of the Small Dairyland title, is the No. 3 seed and opens against No. 14 Cochrane-Fountain City (7-12). The Lancers beat the Pirates, 64-52, just last week. Alma/Pepin (15-5), the other champion in the Small Dairyland, is the No. 5 seed. Elmwood (15-7), the fourth-place finisher in the Dunn-St. Croix, could cause some trouble as the No. 6 seed. An improved team from Augusta (13-9) is the No. 7 and hosts No. 10 Eleva-Strum (11-11), a co-champion in the Large Dairyland. Others teams involved include No. 4 Wonewoc-Center (16-6), No. 8 Independence (13-9), No. 9 Royall (13-9), No. 11 Hillsboro (13-9), No. 12 Brookwood (9-13), No. 13 Plum City (9-11) and No. 15 Lincoln (5-15).
Underdog nobody wants to play: Out of the Dunn-St. Croix, Elmwood could make a Division 5 run as a No. 6 seed. The Raiders beat Boyceville — twice — Elk Mound and Alma/Pepin. They’ve won four straight and six of seven. With a win, they could meet Immanuel Lutheran on Friday. The Lancers beat the Raiders, 39-26, on Dec. 10.
Players to watch: Immanuel Lutheran guard Abbie Hein is a game-changer. She can handle the ball, drill it from 3-point range and get to the rim. And she’s the all-time leading scorer for a program that won its first conference championship since 2006 this season. Perhaps most importantly, an improved supporting cast is making a difference. Led by Hein, the Lancers are threatening to make some noise.
Also keep an eye on standouts like McDonell’s Sarah Schoch, Augusta’s Allie Nelson and Lake Holcombe’s Tiffany Marshall. Alma/Pepin can rely on a pair of good guards in Sophia Reidt and Ali Murray.
Team that can make a run: Bringing back all five starters and dropping to Division 5 bode well for Owen-Withee. Of the team’s three losses, two came to undefeated Division 4 power Neillsville. The other was a one-point loss to Spencer — another Division 4 team — before the holidays. The school reached the Division 4 state title match in volleyball this fall. The basketball team — coached by Al Guthman, the winningest girls coach in state history — could be going back to the big stage for the first time since 2005.