Although it may hurt an overall record, there's little question a difficult schedule only helps a high school team in the long run of its season.
In addition to playing in a loaded Woodland West, New Berlin Eisenhower's girls basketball team undoubtedly played one of the more challenging nonconference slates in the state. The rugged schedule reared its head in January when the Lions lost four consecutive games, all to teams in the state rankings.
Eisenhower recovered to win its final eight regular-season games to clinch a share of its first conference title since 2012-13. The Lions then dominated Catholic Memorial in its regional opener and took down state-ranked Pewaukee in the regional final before losing to eventual Division 2 state runner-up Cudahy in the sectional semifinal when a game-winning shot attempt by sophomore Julia Hintz just missed at the buzzer.
"Obviously, when you look at the playoffs and some of the things that could have happened, we maybe could have got up to state again," Eisenhower coach Gary Schmidt said. "Fortunately, we've been successful and the bar is set awfully high for our kids. I try to remind our parents and our program that to win a conference championship and a regional championship and to be four seconds away from potentially going to state -- I'm not saying we would have beat Tosa East (in the sectional final), but if (Hintz's shot) would have gone in, things could have totally been different. But kudos to Cudahy. They made the plays to win. We put ourselves in position to win and it didn't happen.
"You have to be good, you have to be healthy and you have to be lucky. Lady luck maybe wasn't on our side. But you earn your luck too, and Cudahy did. The ball didn't bounce the way we wanted it to. I was very pleased with our kids. We lost to a very good team. Any program that can say they won a conference championship and a regional would be pretty happy."
The Lions finished 19-6 overall, with their six losses coming to Division 3 state champion Madison Edgewood, Division 2 state champion Beaver Dam, Division 2 state-ranked New Berlin West, Division 1 state runner-up Milwaukee King, Division 2 state-ranked Pewaukee and Division 2 state runner-up Cudahy.
Four of those losses — Beaver Dam, New Berlin West, Milwaukee King, Pewaukee — came in a row in January. That left the Lions in must win territory when it came to winning a conference title. They responded by winning their final seven conference games, including a 52-42 victory over New Berlin West in the regular-season finale, to grab a share of the Woodland West.
"Our kids never gave up for a second," Schmidt said. "There are no such thing as good losses, but you can say that the losing streak certainly helped us. We were battle tested and tournament tested. Each one of those games were tournament games for us. We had to every one of those games down the stretch.
"Every game we took the court, it was a tournament game for us. I think that benefitted us. We could have played with anyone at the end, but unfortunately, we caught a buzzsaw by playing one of the hottest teams in the state in Cudahy."
Eisenhower's talented backcourt duo of Hintz and junior Katie Ludwig earned first-team All-Woodland West honors after leading the team in scoring.
Hintz, who averaged 14.2 points, 3.8 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 2.9 steals per game, also was named honorable mention Division 2 All-State by the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association.
Ludwig scored 9.4 points per game to go along with 3.5 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 2.0 steals.
Junior forward Hannah Plockelman earned second-team All-Woodland West after averaging 7.5 points and 6.2 rebounds per game. Junior guard Olivia Canady was named honorable mention All-Woodland West.
Eisenhower will graduate a starter in forward Jasmyn Somarsingh (7.0 points, 3.0 rebounds), a key rotation member in Abby Szukalski (2.0 points) and reserves Jenna Loewus and Cayley McKowen.
But the future is bright, as the Lions return four starters that earned All-Woodland West honors in Hintz, Ludwig, Plockelman and Canady. Freshman forward Erin Hedman is also back after showing promise in her rookie season, while junior guard Alicia Putney returns after being in the rotation last season.
Schmidt is so intrigued by the potential of what is to come that he spent last Sunday up at Eisenhower preparing despite the season being seven months away.
"I was up at school by myself thinking about what I want to do," Schmidt said. "I have a lot of juices flowing. I'm already planning my attack for next season. You can say you have super talent, but on paper sometimes that doesn't mean anything. We have talent and quality kids coming back all the way down the program.
"I'm very optimistic about the things that could happen. But just like anything, we'll be starting fresh and new and have a lot of work to do and shore up so we can be a good opponent for everyone we play next year."