With eight sophomores and a senior on the roster, few would begrudge Chippewa Falls coach Becca Bestul for lining up a few weaker opponents as her young Cardinals get their feet wet.
But that’s not the way they do things in Chippewa Falls.
“We schedule the toughest competition we can,” Bestul said.
And few would argue the fact that the Cardinals (3-2, 2-0) have played the area’s toughest slate so far this season.
They opened the season against La Crosse Aquinas, last year’s state runner-up in Division 4. The Blugolds, ranked first in the state coaches poll, handed the Cardinals a 99-64 loss in a game Bestul said showed her team just how far it has to go to get to that level.
Saturday was another learning experience, this time on the road against a veteran Stevens Point team ranked No. 5 in Division 1. The Panthers won 77-68, but for Chippewa Falls it was another up-close look at a team filled with upperclassmen that stays within its system and doesn’t get rattled.
In between those games, the Cardinals handed a 5-1 Onalaska team its lone loss, knocked off Hudson and won at Big Rivers favorite Menomonie. While Chippewa Falls shot the lights out against the Mustangs, it was the consistent effort on the defensive end that excited Bestul.
“That game there wasn’t a defensive letdown,” she said.
Things don’t get much easier for the Cardinals tonight as they host unbeaten Rice Lake and Brooke Olson.
Chippewa Falls isn’t the only team testing itself early this year.
Eau Claire Regis went to a tournament in Wausau on Thanksgiving weekend, splitting a pair of games against Division 1 Wausau West and Division 2 Lakeland. The Ramblers handed the Thunderbirds, last year’s Great Northern champs, a 61-48 loss.
Regis coach Patrick Boughton is hoping playing bigger teams with greater depth and length pays dividends as the season goes on.
“The goal is for the end of the year to win, not the beginning of the year,” he said.
Player of the week: Caelan Givens, Chippewa Falls: The 6-foot sophomore scored 33 points Saturday in a 77-68 loss to Stevens Point, the No. 5 D1 team in the state. Only two Cardinals girls have ever scored more points in a game — Lani Johnson (1981) and Jeanette Schindler (1984) both had 34. The day before Givens, who is averaging 20.6 points per game, had 16 to lead Chippewa Falls to a 68-46 win over fellow BRC contender Menomonie on the road.
Team of the week: Stanley-Boyd (4-0, 2-0 Western Cloverbelt): The Orioles have doubled their win total from a year ago. UW-Milwaukee recruit Tahlia Walton is averaging 23 points per game and dropped 30 on Friday in a 56-52 win over McDonell, ranked No. 4 in D5.
Rice Lake at Chippewa Falls, 7:15 p.m.Friday: Two of the top scorers in the Big Rivers face off in Warriors senior Brooke Olson and Cardinals sophomore Givens. Klees’ pick: Chippewa Falls.
Hudson at North, 7:15 p.m. Friday: The Huskies look to get out to a 2-0 start in the conference with a win against one of the teams they shared the BRC title with last season. This is also North’s final game at the Doghouse until Jan. 16. Klees’ pick: North.
Durand at St. Croix Central, 7:15 p.m.Monday: The Panthers (the St. Croix Central variety) continue their tour through their old conference. They’re 1-1 so far, losing to Colfax 49-35 and beating Elk Mound 55-48, both on the road. Now they get the Dunn-St. Croix favorites at home. Klees’ pick: Durand.
Menomonie at Regis, 7:15 p.m. Tuesday: Between Regis’ Amber Darge and the Mustangs’ Tyra Boettcher and Kylie Mogen, there’s no shortage of talented 6-foot wings in this one.Klees’ pick: Menomonie.
Rice Lake’s Olson scored her 1,000th career point in the Warriors’ season opener against Somerset. The senior, who currently has 1,057 points, had a career-high 33 in the win. ... Cameron’s Maddy Otto also hit the 1K milestone on Nov. 27 against Northwestern. She is the seventh Cameron girl — her sister McKenzie among them — to eclipse the mark. … McDonell’s 45-35 win over Clayton on Saturday snapped a 41-game regular season winning streak for the Bears. … Eau Claire Memorial senior Jada Biermeier scored a career-high 23 points in the Old Abes’ win over La Crosse Central on Tuesday.
Mike Klees’ top 10 teams, regardless of enrollment, from the L-T coverage area:
Team Record LW
1. Durand 3-0 —
2. Chippewa Falls 3-2 —
3. Regis 3-1 —
4. Rice Lake 4-0 —
5. North 3-2 —
6. Osseo-Fairchild 2-1 —
7. Elk Mound 2-2 —
8. Cameron 1-1 —
9. Stanley-Boyd 4-0 —
10. McDonell 3-1 —