Gone were the five seniors from a state championship team. New Berlin Eisenhower's girls basketball team needed somebody to step up as a leader.
It was a lot to ask a sophomore, but Julia Hintz was more than up to the challenge.
Hintz became the player and leader the Lions needed, earning Now Newspapers All-Suburban honors after leading the Lions to a 19-6 record, a share of the Woodland West title and a regional championship.
Her game grew on the court, as well, as she upped her scoring average from 8.5 points per game as a freshman to 14.2, while also adding 3.8 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 2.9 steals per contest.
"After getting a lot of props as a freshman maybe you would think she'd come into her sophomore year and have a little sophomore jinx," Eisenhower coach Gary Schmidt said. "But I really saw her take some ownership in this team as a leader. For a sophomore, that's very, very hard to do. I was very impressed with her. A sophomore always has to be careful in how she handles stuff, but I thought she led by example. Coaches always love to see that. She always practices hard and does the little things you need to do."
While Hintz had a fine start to the season averaging 12.1 points over Eisenhower's first 13 games, she went on a late-season run that coincided with the Lions turning their season around.
With Eisenhower in the midst of a four-game losing streak in January, Schmidt implored his team to attack the basket in order to finish or get fouled.
Hintz took the message to heart, becoming more aggressive, upping her scoring average to 16.7 over Eisenhower's final 12 games in which the Lions went 11-1. In addition to getting into the lane and shooting more free throws, Hintz also upped her 3-point percentage from 31.3 percent in the first 13 games to 40.0 percent.
"I knew we had to change something," Hintz said. "When we were on that losing streak nothing was going right and nobody was stepping up to do anything to stand out. It showed me that I had to do something because our team was kind of falling apart at the time. I couldn't be any prouder of how we came back and fought back after being in the drought."
Schmidt saw signs of Hintz's breakout coming when she poured in 26 points against eventual Division 1 state runner-up Milwaukee King despite having to sit out 8 minutes due to a sprained ankle.
"That was the time I thought she matured and finally realized she had to start taking over," Schmidt said. "That was the turning point for her. That's when she really decided she had to be more aggressive and decisive to help the team win. That's what she is about. She could go out and score 20 to 25 points per game. But she gets everyone involved and is not selfish. She really brought our team together.
"What's exciting about her is that she is only a sophomore. She developed a lot this year from last year. She had a surrounding cast last year. This year, she was not only part of the cast but was trying to adapt everyone into what we wanted to do. We were very young this year. We had to get some of our kids developed and I think she really helped them by putting them in good positions with her passing game and understanding of plays."
Hintz is hoping to continue to increase her trips to the foul line while also upping her 3-point percentage during her junior year, which could be a big season for Eisenhower. The Lions return four starters and will add talent from the younger levels of the program.
"I'm super excited," Hintz said. "We can't really look ahead though. I think a problem we had last year was we looked too far ahead after winning state. We just looked too far ahead. I think we learned we have to take one game at a time and put in a huge effort in every game because every game matters no matter who you play. With the freshmen coming in, everyone will step up and play a lot harder in every game."
Earning honorable mention All-Suburban honors for Eisenhower were junior guard Katie Ludwig, senior forward Jasmyn Somarsingh and junior forward Hannah Plockelman. Schmidt also was named honorable mention All-Suburban for his efforts in leading Eisenhower to a conference championship.