Jaelyn Nedelcoff

Oregon senior guard Jaelyn Nedelcoff is one of seven players returning from last year’s WIAA Division 2 state qualifying team.

Coming off an historic season where the Oregon High School girls basketball team made a run to the WIAA Division 2 state championship for the first time in 40 years, an encore performance will be a challenge, despite a team full of talent.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made practices hard. The Panthers graduated three first-team all-conference players, including Badger South Conference Player of the Year Liz Uhl, who averaged a team-high 14.8 points per game last year and is now playing at the University of Illinois-Springfield. Replacing about half of that scoring load from last season could be a challenge.

Oregon returns two starters in seniors Emily Statz and Megan Bloyer from a team that went 21-5, won the Badger South Conference championship and made a run to state for the first time since back-to-back trips in 1980-81. Bloyer was named honorable mention all-conference last year.

“Our seniors are a very motivated group and ready to return to the court and lead us back to state,” Oregon coach Adam Wamsley said.

Statz averaged 6.2 ppg and 5 rebounds per game last season and shot 49%. Bloyer averaged 5.3 ppg and a team-high 6 rpg.

Oregon didn’t wait long to take on some of the state’s top programs. The Panthers lost their season opener to La Crosse Aquinas 72-48 on Saturday, Jan. 9 and then dropped a game to News Berlin Eisenhower, the No. 1-ranked team in Division 2. Aquinas is the top-ranked team in Division 3.

“We are grateful to be playing, but it’s going to be a challenge,” Wamsley said. “(It’s) the challenge of staying safe and while also competing at a high level. Our main goal is to use the games we have during the regular season to prepare us for regionals. Our goals haven’t changed. Win regionals, win sections and return to state.”

The other returning letterwinners for the Panthers are senior guards Carleigh Roberts (5.4 ppg, 2.8 rpg) and Jaelyn Nedelcoff (3.3 ppg, 2 rpg), and junior guards Emily Mortenson (3.6 ppg), Payton Lang (2.2 ppg, 2 rpg) and Lily Eisele. Wamsley said the junior class will take a leap and provide valuable minutes.

He said the biggest challenge is playing games without being able to scrimmage in practice, as coaches have had to be creative, since there is no contact allowed and playing 5-on-5 is not an option. The other big challenge is staying healthy and safe, he said.

“We are grateful for the opportunity to play and don’t want to lose it,” Wamsley said.

Two of the top teams in Oregon’s sectional will be Monona Grove and Stoughton, he said, though both Monona Grove and Stoughton are deep athletic teams with great guard play.