As the Oak Creek Holiday Tournament drew near, many assumed the championship game would pit the host Knights against Beaver Dam in a battle of state-ranked teams.
But Brookfield East's girls basketball team had other plans, using the opinions of others as bulletin-board material.
The Spartans earned a 50-44 victory over the Knights in a semifinal on Dec. 29 before falling to Beaver Dam, the top-ranked team in Division 2, 69-41, in the tournament championship on Dec. 30 to head into 2017 with a 7-3 record.
"I'm very happy with where we are at," Brookfield East coach Michael Goodman said. "It was a good weekend. I don't think a lot of people thought (we would make the championship)."
The Spartans jumped out to a 14-9 lead, but the Knights used a 9-0 spurt to pull ahead and carried a 24-21 lead into halftime. Brookfield East came out of the break strong, outscoring Oak Creek, 19-10, over the first 11 minutes of the second half to go up, 40-34, with 6:48 to play.
"We were at an ultimate high," Goodman said. "The girls were so ready. Obviously, the Beaver Dam game meant a lot, too, but Oak Creek is in our sectional, so (it was big) for seeding purposes, and we might see them again in the playoffs.
"Beaver Dam was a good measuring stick to see where we are at, but they are in Division 2, and we aren't going to see them again. These girls go back and have a history with Oak Creek having played them for years, so a lot of emotion goes into that."
Oak Creek, which is ranked No. 9 in Division 1, didn't fold easily, as the Knights (7-3 overall) pulled to within 42-41 with 4:52 left and 45-44 with 1:09 remaining. But the Spartans responded each time, eventually scoring the final 5 points of the game to seal the win.
Molly DeValkenaere finished with 11 points and 7 rebounds. Adriana Plavsic also scored 11 points and had five assists, while Lizzy Cagle recorded a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
"We played very well," Goodman said. "We had very few turnovers, good decision making and played good defense."
Brookfield East started fast in the championship game, grabbing a 12-5 lead on the Golden Beavers just eight minutes into the game.
But Beaver Dam's pressure eventually got to the Spartans. Brookfield East committed 15 turnovers in the first half, nine of which came during a 17-0 run by Beaver Dam that gave the Golden Beavers a 22-12 advantage.
"We were settling in the first half," Goodman said. "Because we got it across halfcourt so rarely that when we did, we finally got it across, so we took the first shot we got, panicking and settling. It didn't lead to too many positive things."
Brookfield East was able to cut Beaver Dam's 33-21 halftime lead to 37-29 and were at the line to pull within 6 points with 13:51 to play. But the Spartans missed both free throws, and Paige Schumann connected on a 3-pointer that started a 24-8 run that put the Golden Beavers up 61-37.
It was almost an identical run to the one Beaver Dam (10-0 overall) went on in the first half, as its pressure turned Brookfield East over. When the Golden Beavers weren't converting turnovers into easy points, they were crashing the glass for 20 offensive rebounds.
The Spartans turned the ball over 12 times in the second half to finish with 27 miscues for the game.
"We have to be more consistent," Goodman said. "That's the downfall of not having any seniors. Ten games into the season, there aren't any more excuses for a lack of experience, but we don't have a true point guard. We have a lot of guards that can handle the ball, but when it comes down to it, you have to have girls that step up and make some plays."
DeValkenaere led the Spartans with 14 points, while Plavsic had 11 points and Emma Ralfs scored 10 points.