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Success comes from Black Hawk's perfect blend
Black Hawk freshmen Natalie Leuzinger and Hannah Butler and captains Sammy Lovelace and Hannah Herbst make up the backbone of the unbeaten Black Hawk girls basketball team. (Times photos: Marissa Weiher)
SOUTH WAYNE - Black Hawk girls basketball captains Hannah Herbst and Sammy Lovelace made sure four freshmen felt right at home before the season even tipped off.

Herbst and Lovelace helped spearhead bonding experiences around swimming and going to the movies. They played in the Monroe summer league with the freshmen and made them feel welcome. The Black Hawk girls basketball team got to know each other more while playing cards, swimming and talking during a two-day Wisconsin Dells tournament in July.

It's those experiences that have helped shape a Black Hawk team that has woven four freshman into an experienced team that is 18-0 and ranked second in the Associated Press Division 5 state poll.

"I don't look down on the freshmen," said Herbst, who is in her third year as a starting point guard and captain. "We are all equal and treated the same. No one is above anyone else."

The tournament in the Wisconsin Dells was key team-building time away from the court. It helped the returning players learn some tendencies of the freshmen.

"It helped me learn to trust them and for them to trust me," Herbst said. "I know each of their personalities now. I know how they react if they get down or mad, and I know how to pick them up."

Two of the Black Hawk freshmen, Natalie Leuzinger and Hannah Butler, are starters who served as team managers last year in eighth grade.

"We knew them last year because they practiced with us," Lovelace said. "We knew they would be really good as freshmen. We knew we would have a good team this year. It's nice having them on the team and being so strong."

Leuzinger, who leads the team in scoring at 19.1 points and also grabs 4.9 rebounds per game, said the upperclassmen take the entire team to Pizza Hut in Monroe for dinner before every game.

"Bonding together makes a stronger team," Leuzinger said. "We have all got to know each other better off the court, and we have learned each other's games. I think that is a big reason why we are having success."

Leuzinger and Butler are in the top 10 in the state in Division 5 in 3-point shooting percentage and are on track to qualify for the state's 3-point competition.

Leuzinger leads the team, shooting 40.2 percent from 3-point range, which is ninth in the state in Division 5. Butler, who averages 15.3 points per game, is 10th in the state in 3-point shooting percentage at 39.1 percent.

Herbst is averaging 6.3 points, 2.9 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game.

Employing a pressure defense, the Warriors have four players averaging more than two steals per game led by Butler at 2.9 followed by Herbst (2.5), Leuzinger (2.4) and freshman Maddy Huschitt (2.1).

The other freshman on the team is Kristen Knapp.

Butler said playing volleyball in the fall with Herbst and Lovelace also helped her get to know them.

"We do a lot of team bonding and played basketball in the Monroe summer league," she said.

Butler said she didn't envision being one of the top 3-point shooters in Division 5 as a freshman.

As the season has progressed, Butler said a goal has developed to make a trip to state in the 3-point contest.

"We do a lot of shooting drills in practice," Butler said.

Black Hawk coach Mike Flanagan said sometimes a coach needs to force the issue with getting players to spend more time with each other off the court so they can develop a rapport. He has not had that challenge with this year's team.

"They love to talk," he said. "Our upperclassmen have not been concerned about their status on the team. They have been great about making sure kids feel accepted on the team. You know it's real when the kids are doing it on their own and it's not your idea. Our captains have been phenomenal."

Led by Lovelace and Herbst, the Warriors went through speed and agility drills and weight lifting every Monday, Wednesday and Friday in the summer.

While there were some adjustments in getting players accustomed with each other, Herbst said there were not many adjustments needed on the court.

"Sammy is a post player, and we have four guards," she said. "It was an adjustment finding out who would work at guard and as post players."

Herbst has noticed one common attribute the veteran players and freshmen share.

"Our basketball IQ is very high," she said. "We have a lot of players who really see the court well, and our shooting has been very good this season."

As an unbeaten team and Six Rivers East Conference champion, Black Hawk will likely garner a No. 1 seed when Flanagan attends the seeding meeting Saturday in Randolph.

"One of our goals this season is to be conference champions," Leuzinger said. "We want to be undefeated in conference especially. We just hope to keep it rolling throughout the season and in the playoffs."