When Arrowhead and Brookfield Central square off in a WIAA Division 1 state semifinal, all eyes will be on the two lightning-quick point guards that lead the way for each team.
The Lancers are paced by sophomore Gage Malensek while senior Trevell Cunningham makes the Warhawks go.
Both will be on full display in the second Division 1 state semifinal, which is slated to begin around 8:15 p.m. Friday, March 17, or 15 minutes after Stevens Point (22-4) and Madison Memorial (23-3) finish their semifinal game at the Kohl Center in Madison.
The Lancers will be facing a senior-led team in Arrowhead, which went 13-1 in the Classic 8 Conference to hold of Muskego for the league title.
"We don’t want to be foolish and say we have to go and win the game," Brookfield Central coach Dan Wandrey said. "I’ve been fortunate as a coach to have gone (leading the Brookfield Central girls basketball team), and all my assistants have gone, but our boys haven’t.
"There’s an experience aspect that you want them to experience, but we also don’t want to get caught up in that where we are not focused on the game. There’s a balance to all that."
Malensek leads Brookfield Central in scoring at 20.0 points per game while also grabbing 3.0 rebounds, dishing out 4.8 assists and shooting 57.0 percent from the field and 43.8 percent from the foul line.
He's scored at least 20 points in each of the Lancers last five games, including averaging 24.8 points over Brookfield Central's four playoff wins.
Cunningham, a senior who will play collegiately at Division 2 Lindenwood University, is Arrowhead's second-leading scorer at 15.9 points per game and also averages 5.6 rebounds, 6.1 assists and 2.7 steals.
After going 17-5 in the regular season, Arrowhead was seeded fourth in the Sheboygan North sectional and faced a difficult road to Madison that included two teams ranked in the top five of the Division 1 coaches poll.
The Warhawks easily handled 14th-seeded Manitowoc Lincoln, 78-62, in its playoff opener before rallying late to edge sixth-seeded DePere, 61-59, in the regional final. Arrowhead then upset third-ranked and second-seeded Bay Port, 84-75, in the sectional semifinal before locking up its first trip to state since 2010 with a 61-58 win over fifth-ranked and top-seeded Kimberly in the sectional final.
Brookfield Central doesn't have a member of its rotation over 6-foot-2, while Arrowhead regularly plays four players over 6-foot-4, including leading scorer and 6-4 forward Ben Seefeld, who averages 17.8 and 5.3 rebounds per game.
Alec Hamilton, a 6-6 senior forward, scores 11.8 points and 6.4 rebounds, while 6-7 senior Sam Given and 6-9 junior center Jonathan Chycinski both see time on the floor.
The Lancers have overcome their lack of size with outstanding team defense. Senior forward Chris Post (6.0 points, 6.2 rebounds) has played a big part in Brookfield Central being able to fight through size disadvantages as, despite being 6-2, he more than holds his own against bigger players.
Offensively, Brookfield Central spreads teams out with four shooters on the court most of the time. Malensek and fellow sophomore Cole Nau (10.1 points, 6.8 rebounds, 4.0 assists) penetrate the lane to find junior Andres Peralta-Werns (14.5 points, 35.8 percent on 3's) and senior Sam Rohde (10.9 points, 47.9 percent on 3's) beyond the arc.
The Lancers are the only top seed to make it to Madison. Arrowhead was the fourth seed in its sectional, while Madison Memorial and Stevens Point each were seeded second.
Chasing its third-straight state championship, Stevens Point beat top-ranked Oshkosh North, 76-61, in its sectional final. The Panthers are led by 6-8 junior Joey Hauser, who is one of the top players in the class of 2018, averaging 23.7 points and 11.0 rebounds in 14 games after missing the first half of the season with an ankle injury. Junior guard Drew Blair shoots 47.2 percent from distance and scores 19.0 points per game for Stevens Point, which won the Wisconsin Valley Conference.
State power Madison Memorial won championships 2005, 2009 and 2011 but has not made state since 2012. Memorial, co-champions of the Big Eight Conference, cruised to a 50-35 sectional final win over Madison East, which upset top-seeded Sun Prairie and fourth-seeded Muskego. The Spartans are led by 6-8 senior guard Chris Knight at 15.8 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game.