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‘They can never take that away’: Pewaukee’s 2019-20 girls basketball team will always be the Pirates’ first to make it to state

‘They can never take that away’: Pewaukee’s 2019-20 girls basketball team will always be the Pirates’ first to make it to state
The Pewaukee girls basketball team posing after winning Sectionals this last season. (Courtesy: Jim Reuter)

PEWAUKEE, Wis. (BVM) — “This has never happened before in high school sports where all of a sudden 11 p.m. you find out your game in the final four is not being played the next day and there is nothing you can do about it. I think that was the hardest part. As teachers and coaches we push kids to work hard, give yourself a chance and you’ll be rewarded, but still there are no guarantees in life.”

Pewaukee High School girls basketball coach Jim Reuter is still trying to help his team find some closure after their first-ever appearance in the WIAA state tournament in school history was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I certainly think, the girls for sure, they talked about state being the end goal for them this year…I think after last year having finished the year so strong, won 12 games in a row and finished one game short of state that I think that the natural next step for them was let’s make it happen.”

The Pirates’ expectations going into the 2019-20 season were state or bust. Losing in the sectional finals last year to Whitefish Bay, they had one goal for this year. 

With the leadership of their five seniors and strong team chemistry, Pewaukee went 21-5 this season. After winning back-to-back regional finals, they matched up with top-seeded Pius XI Catholic High School. The Pirates beat the Lady Popes handedly, 73-42, making school history as the first team to make it to state.

“I was happy that they were able to achieve what their initial goal was, which was to make it to Green Bay, make it to state,” said Reuter

They entered the state tournament the three-seed slated to go up against the reigning Division 2 state champions, Beaver Dam.

“It was a matchup we were very excited about. We get to play a team that was a three-time defending state champion. We were looking forward to it,” said Reuter.

However, the whole week leading up to the Friday, March 15 game was filled with uncertainty. The COVID-19 pandemic was gaining momentum and as the country began to prepare for the worst, many athletic events across the nation were being canceled or postponed. 

“Obviously on Wednesday, I think it was, you hear about the NBA postponing indefinitely that’s when it first hits you like, ‘Is this going to have repercussions through the domino effect and affect us possibly?’ It’s kind of that thing in the back of your mind you try to keep pushing out. Thursday morning then we found out about limitations with the fans…We have a great practice Thursday night then team dinner and it wasn’t until 11 p.m. that night we heard the games had been called,” Reuter explained.

The Pirates would have to end their state run before it even began. With no control over the outcome these girls were left, like many athletes, trying to find closure in the midst of an unprecedented issue. 

“It’s odd and so shocking because you never really thought it could happen to you,” said Reuter. “You try and take solace in the fact that, ‘Hey, you won your last game’ and not many people can say that.”

It still doesn’t change the fact that what these girls worked so hard for since losing last year’s sectional final is over. Like all the other teams that had made it to state, Pewaukee was allowed to go to the Resch Center on Friday to at least see where they would have played that day. 

“That’s when it really hit me walking onto the floor, through the tunnel onto the floor,” said Reuter.

After that the Pirates went home and were greeted by friends, family and faculty celebrating what they had accomplished.  

The hardest part for them has been trying to find closure. In a moment that was completely out of their control these girls had to lose their chance to continue a historical run. What has made it worse is immediately after the cancellation of state everything has been shut down. This has left both coaches and players in a scenario where it is hard to move on because there is nothing to move onto at the moment. 

On March 31, the team met for the first time since the cancellation, via Zoom, just to be able to see everyone. The girls and team had been messaging each other prior to the video conference, but this was at least a way to look at each other and interact in a way that is close to being there in person.

Even though they never played a game, the Pirates made history this year and that is something coach Reuter will never forget.

“For me personally, it’s taking a step back and realizing that as awful as this is for us they can’t take away the fact that this is a team that got to state. All five coaches and the 15 girls are a part of that and they can never take that away from you…you’ll forever be one of the four finalists that made it there.”