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Off the mark in first loss
Times photo: Mark Nesbitt Monroes Kyleigh Sellnow puts up a shot during Tuesdays non-conference loss to Verona. It was the first loss of the season for the Cheesemakers.
VERONA - Coming into a non-conference rivalry game with Verona, the Monroe girls basketball team had aced every test.

However, the Lady Cheesemakers latest test proved as difficult as a 400-level college calculus exam as Verona shut down Monroe's inside game Tuesday night and handed the Cheesemakers their first loss of the season, 47-32.

"It's always a good battle to play Verona," Monroe senior Ashley Hermanson said, who led the Cheesemakers with eight points. "They have a high quality coach (Angie Murphy) and players. We were just not intense. They were after every single ball. We were just on our heels. We were not ready to play tonight. We were not focused enough to take care of what we had to take care of."

Monroe (19-1, 10-0 Badger South), ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press Division 2 poll, was a Badger South rival with Verona (17-3, 14-2 Big Eight), ranked seventh in Division 1, until the Wildcats moved to the Big Eight Conference two years ago.

Monroe coach Kevin Keen kept the loss in perspective for two teams gunning for a third-straight trip to the state tournament.

"We said, 'No. 1 we lost to a really good team,'" Keen said. "This game does not affect the conference standings or seeding. We have to come ready to play every night and come to play with some emotion and intensity."

The Cheesemakers started the first quarter like they have all year when teams try to play collapsing defense on Hermanson and senior Jamie Armstrong. The Cheesemakers jumped out to an 8-2 lead sparked by 3-pointers from juniors Kyleigh Sellnow and Kylee Ritschard. The Cheesemakers went cold from there as the Wilcats used a 2-3 zone and went on a 15-4 run that spanned from the end of the first quarter to the half. Monroe shot just 5 of 24 in the first half, but trailed just 17-12 at halftime.

"We had a lot of open looks," Keen said. "You shoot under 25 percent, you are not going to win a lot of games like that."

Verona senior Ali Tackett helped power the Wildcats to the win by scoring 13 of her game-high 18 points in the second half. Tackett went on a six-point scoring spurt to start the third quarter to help the Wildcats seize control. She grabbed an offensive rebound and scored on a putback to give the Wildcats a 23-12 lead midway through the third quarter.

Sellnow, who scored six points, drained a 3 with 3:12 left in the period that sliced the Wildcats' lead to 24-16. That's as close as the Cheesemakers would get. Verona junior Brianna Witte drilled a 3 late in the third and junior Rachel Cropp hit a jumper that gave the Wildcats an insurmountable 31-16 lead.

"It always sucks to lose," Monroe senior Chelsea Brice said, who scored seven points. "This is something we can learn from. We were tested. It's good to get tested. We got open looks. We didn't get as many to fall as we hoped."

Hermanson and Armstrong came into the game averaging more than 24 points a game combined. Hermanson, who averages 11.7 points per game, was held scoreless in the first half before breaking out and scoring eight in the second half. Armstrong (12.5 ppg) was limited to just two points. Ritschard added six for the Cheesemakers.

"They did a great job defensively against us," Keen said. "They are very athletic. They were fired up for senior night."

The Cheesemakers run for an unbeaten season is now snapped. Basketball fans can now debate if there is such a thing as a good loss.

"Maybe, it gets the monkey off our back," Keen said referring to hopes and talk about an undefeated season.

Monroe plays at Fort Atkinson Friday night. With a win, the Cheesemakers can win the outright conference title for an unprecedented seventh-straight season.

"I'm confident we will bounce back and be ready to go Friday night," Keen said.