Fairytale comes true for Oak Creek girls basketball team

Dream season ends with gold ball

March 25, 2014

The WIAA state championship trophy sat in Steph Kostowicz and Tamya Sims' hotel room overnight last Saturday in Green Bay.

It was carefully placed by the TV. Nothing was going to happen to it.

Kostowicz was going to make sure of that.

"She was pretty adamant about taking it for the night," laughed Kostowicz's senior front-line teammate Katie Finn.

And who could blame Kostowicz?

The Oak Creek girls' basketball star had said the night before, that winning the state title would be a "fairy-tale come true." She had hit an improbable lay-up in Friday night's semifinal against Kimberly to send the game into overtime, an extra session the Knights dominated.

A night later, she was pinching herself, trying to make sure the Knights had actually routed Superior and claimed their first basketball state title in school history.

And she was already thinking about her and the team's legacy.

"I remember when we got way ahead (late in the game) and I thought the end was just dragging on and on," Kostowicz said. "I was like 'Just give me the ball (the trophy)!'|"This is such a great feeling. People will look up to us. It's happening even now, because in the last few weeks I've had so many younger kids come up to me and tell me that I'm their favorite player. I just hope to be able to come back (in some years) and watch Oak Creek win another state title."

Kostowicz was named to the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association Division 1 all-state first team along with her roommate Sims. Sims was a four-year letterwinner for the Knights, Kostowicz a three-year as was Finn. The experienced crew said they tried to go through the same routine they always did Saturday afternoon preparing for the title game.

"We tried to keep it a healthy normal thing," said Sims, "even though we were so excited (to be playing for a state title). We tried to keep it like any other game and we did. We knew we had made a major step (in beating Kimberly the night before), but we also knew there was another game out there.

"I'm still wondering how we did it."

Veteran coach Steve Hluchnik knew how the team did it. He is a man who likes routine and consistency. He's also a believer in democracy. He had wanted to go shirt, jacket and tie for the state semifinal against Kimberly last Friday, but when someone noticed he was wearing an Oak Creek short sleeve and warm-up jacket instead, he could only laugh and say:

"I got out-voted!"

So the Oak Creek staff, believing that if the look worked for one game, it would for another, kept the same clothes for the title game against Superior on Saturday.

Hluchnik also kept his pregame speech the same, too. No big "rah-rah, win one for the gipper stuff."

"I think I used a variation of the same thing for the last three or four games," he said. "I just had them huddle up and hold hands and I told them 'Just keep playing. Who the heck knows what will happen, just keep playing.'"

And they did.

Maybe it was karma, maybe it was inspiration, maybe it was all they had gone through that helped them win the title.

The trio of front-line performers all remembered the horrendous feeling after the sectional semifinal loss to Franklin last season. The injury to point guard Morgan Kokta, the blown lead, the lost opportunity.

"We really did think about that," Finn said. "We knew we were a good program and we knew that we could do this, but maybe we needed to go through something like that, to remind us that if we don't work hard or do all the little things (it won't happen)."

The work was put in, the little things accounted for.

Sims said the feeling of the championship started to sink in when Hluchnik subbed her out in the final minute.

"It was just a rush of emotion," Sims said. "Every single emotion that you could have I felt it right at that moment."

Everyone sought out someone important in those moments afterward.

"There was just so much happiness," Finn said. "There were students and parents everywhere. I just took it all in and then I found (teammate) Alex Widenski. We've been playing together since fourth grade and we've been partners for everything (so we had to share this)."

On the sidelines, the past and the future of the Oak Creek athletic hierarchy could only smile and understand the feeling.

"It was so fun to watch these kids develop into the players and people they are," said the recently-retired Athletic Director Greg Lampe. "They had a great run, a great season. Such a good bunch, very classy, very hardworking.

"We all knew that they had the potential. It was just a matter of putting it together."

"It was unbelievable," said baseball coach and newly-appointed Athletic Director Scott Holler, who has won two state titles himself in his chosen sport. "I said to somebody that I've coached in two state title baseball games and I was more nervous for this one than for either of those.

"There had been a good vibe for this since the sectional. They didn't play well in the regional (and still won easily) but Steve (Hluchnik) got on them and told them that they couldn't afford those slow starts again and the last four games they all started strong."

The vibe the team created had a ripple effect.

Holler said the WIAA gave the school 400 tickets it could sell (for the semifinal game) and then he had to call them back and ask for 350 more when the initial allotment sold out quickly.

Kostowicz, who only reluctantly gave the trophy over to Hluchnik on Sunday when the team finally got home in the early afternoon, finally took a moment to reflect for the first time in months at the post-title party in the hotel.

Pizza, soda, tears, laughter and hugs all combined to form a pretty emotional mix.

"We reflected on all the hard work, and it made us appreciate what we had done," she said. "We needed to be able to end this on a positive note. We deserved this."

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