The mutual respect is so great it seems both coaches belong to a happy man's back-slapping association.
Their teams are playing at such a lofty level right now it's hard to argue with Steve Hluchnik of Oak Creek and Tony Kathrens of Franklin at this point in the season about how much they like the other's team.
The Knights (23-1) and the Sabers (20-4) will meet in Greenfield's shiny new fieldhouse at 7 p.m. in a WIAA sectional semifinal today.
There, motivations will make themselves apparent.
On the one hand, you have the frustration of the Sabers, who dropped a 52-38 decision to the Knights on Dec. 11 and then fell again to them, 51-43, Jan. 25. The two games essentially decided the Southeast Conference title, as Oak Creek rolled to a 14-0 league mark and 23-1 overall record.
Meanwhile, Franklin finished at 12-2 in league play and 20-4 overall. Since that last defeat to Oak Creek, the Sabers have been absolutely on fire, winning nine straight, with four games over 80 points during that span.
According to Kathrens, the Sabers are thinking like they are playing.
"I think the major difference between now and the first two times we played them," Kathrens said, "is that our confidence level has improved 10-fold. We're just going out there and playing basketball. The major key for us here will be to control their 3-point threat. We've managed to do a pretty good job on their posts (6-2 juniors Stephanie Kostowicz and Tamya Sims), but we simply have to do a better job defending the 3-point line if we want to have a shot."
He also said this team is running the fastbreak as well as any Franklin team he's seen in the 12 years he's been associated with the program.
Franklin will also need second-all-time leading scorer and senior guard Cassidy Mihalko to keep on the amazing hot streak that she is on. Sometimes a player like her can put a team on their back and carry them all the way to state.
Kathrens is hoping for that kind of situation.
"This is what she's worked for four years," Kathrens said. "What really helps is that this team is actually having fun. They don't want it to end."
Extending the season
The Knights too are motivated and also don't want their season to end, as previous campaigns have hit the proverbial glass ceiling in recent years with sectional semifinal, sectional final and even Super Tuesday eliminations after stellar regular seasons.
"I think we're where we need to be," Hluchnik said. "We're not letting anything bother us. I just like our overall game right now. Defensively we're sound. I like the way we're spreading the ball around. We're making good decisions and we're limiting our turnovers."
Though Oak Creek has won 23 games in a row and is ranked second in the state, Hluchnik still likes playing the underdog card, as the Knights look for their first state tournament berth since 2008 and their fifth overall. The Sabers are looking for their fourth state tournament berth and their first since 2007.
"It's funny," Hluchnik said. "We're not used to being the hunted, but we'll be ready. We've been close for so many years (sectional final loss to Milwaukee King last season) that we're hoping that this is finally our year. We'll play it up and try to have a little fun with it."
The winner will face the victor of sixth-ranked in state Milwaukee Riverside and seventh-ranked in state DSHA in a sectional final Saturday at 2 p.m. at West Allis Central for the right to advance to the WIAA state tournament. Hluchnik used to coach at West Allis Central.
"I've watched them (the Sabers) play," Hluchnik said. "They're at a very high level right now. It's going to be interesting."
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