Appleton North girls basketball coach Joe Russom talks about the team’s mindset after being seeded No. 4 despite winning last year’s Division 1 title.
USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
ASHWAUBENON – The question made Joe Russom pause for a second.
Just how much did the fourth-seed designation motivate his defending state champion Appleton North girls basketball team heading into the WIAA state basketball tournament?
“I think … yes,” he said.
Russom challenged his team to respond in kind and the Lightning didn’t disappoint, leading from start to finish in a 52-38 pummeling of top-seed Arrowhead in Friday’s Division 1 state semifinal at the Resch Center.
North (23-4) plays Mukwonago in Saturday’s championship game at approximately 8:15 p.m.
Russom, who has a long history of finding unique ways to rally his team, said the fact that his team was looked at as a No. 4 seed with the three top seeds going to Milwaukee-area schools played into the “us-against-the-world” mentality heading into Friday’s game.
“I told them in the locker room, ‘You know when people tell me I can’t do something, I find a way to do it,’ ” Russom said. “That’s just my mindset. And when people tell us that we’re not the best defensive team or we’re not the best offensive team or that we’re just a four seed or whatever, that sticks with me and it sticks with our kids.
“We’re like elephants. We don’t have a short-term memory. We’re not going to forget it. And that really hung around.”
North senior guard Sydney Levy, who scored 20 points to lead all scorers, said her team being overlooked by other programs – and even state media – has been par for the course this season.
“Honestly, I would say that we’re used to being overlooked,” she said. “And I think that really motivates us because we want to prove people wrong.”
Junior guard Paige Schabo, who added 12 points and eight rebounds for the Lightning, concurred.
“I agree with Syd,” she said. “We’ve been overlooked and we came in as the underdogs. I think we proved that we can be any seed really.”
Russom stressed that he wasn’t against the idea of seeding teams. Rather, he felt there should be a different way to do it.
“When you get there, you have four great teams and I think we’re all different and play a different way. I think anybody could have been No. 1, to be honest,” he said. “I think it would have been better if our peers did (the voting) in the (Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association). If that happened, I think you would get a legitimate 1-4.
“Because really if you look at the breakdown, it’s us vs. Milwaukee and that’s where it came out. And there’s only two northern teams left – Amherst and us – and we used that (as motivation).”