Wausau West's Kelly Kray. (File photo/Paul Lecker)

By Mitchell A.Skurzewski

For Wausau Pilot & Review

WAUSAU – Tom Weinkauf has a wealth of experience in coaching and, in his more than 30 years as a head coach, he has always stressed defense. 

Now in his fifth year as head coach at Wausau West, the Warriors’ girls basketball team leads the conference in points allowed and defense is their calling card. 

“We work at it, this is what we have to do to stay in games,” Weinkauf said. “Well we don’t have seniors, we have three juniors who started on varsity a season ago. This is a physically talented group, but mentally too.”

Wausau West’s three sophomore starters last season are one year older and much more seasoned. West had a strong season last year, but weren’t stout like this defensively. Part of that is the growth of a young team; There is no substitute for experience.

West’s Kiley Deaton graduated last year and she led West in points, rebounds and assists. However, the young returnees aren’t underclassmen anymore and now have more than 35 varsity games under their belt. 

Lexie White leads the Warriors averaging 17.5 points and 3.3 assists per game. Molly Anderson averages 11.5 points and nearly 8 rebounds per game and Kenzie Deaton averages 12.9 points and 3.1 assists. 

“Lexie and I got to play a lot of basketball together all summer really, so we are just on the same page on the court,” Anderson said. “We have an even spread of scorers, so it’s somebody new each night to step up which is great. You don’t have to depend on one player.”

But ultimately it’s about the defensive end of the floor for West.

“Defense is the foundation for us,” Anderson said. “We know coach really puts an emphasis on defense. We do defensive drills, slides every day in practice and it just makes us locked in.” 

“Last year was a prep year, almost a bonding year,” she added. “We didn’t all play together. We had a goal to win the conference again and we remind ourselves of that all the time.”

Wausau West’s Molly Anderson. Photo by Paul Lecker

West hasn’t lost a conference game in two years and is a win away from clinching a share of the Wisconsin Valley Conference title. 

Falling back on their defense and the growth on that end of the court has carried the Warriors in tough moments this season.

Like Tuesday night, for instance. The Warriors weren’t knocking down a lot of shots, but found a way to squeak out a hard-fought 44-40 win in overtime over Wisconsin Valley Conference foe Marshfield.  

Wausau West Coach Weinkauf. Photo by Paul Lecker

“We stress defense. Defense wins games,” Weinkauf said. “It also really leads to offense. We like to force turnovers, force mistakes and that gets us out in transition and leads to easy baskets. Also you’re not going to be hitting shots every game and you have to rely on your defense to keep you in those games.”

Not only have they stayed in those games, but have found a way to win most of them sitting at 17-4. The more seasoned Warriors now hope to get past regionals this go-round. 

“We have to continue to work to get where we want to go,” Anderson said.”We are going to just keep playing hard and keep playing together.”

With their defensive foundation, the Warriors could be building something special this season.