Latt led Hamilton to new heights
Mature sophomore All-Sub choice helped Chargers grab first-ever title
Sussex - For the first time in recent memory, the Sussex Hamilton gymnasium is packed to see a girls basketball game. The March 1 battle between Divine Savior Holy Angels and the Chargers couldn't carry any more weight than it does - the winner would walk away from the gym as undisputed Greater Metro Conference champion, and the loser would have to settle for second place.
"It was a really special experience this season," 6-1 sophomore Mackenzie Latt said. "It was cool to have the whole community come behind you at the end. It was a goal for all of us the whole season and fueled us in the off-season. We were playing for it for so long."
Though just a sophomore, Latt has already become the face of Hamilton girls basketball, playing that night for its first conference title in school history. With a roster featuring just one senior starter (Mackenzie's sister Danielle Latt) and two seniors overall, the Chargers were young but hungry, having improved dramatically in each of the past three seasons under coach Dan Carey.
"It was a new role for her being a clear-cut go-to player, and she really ran with it," said Carey of Latt, a selection to the 2012 All-Suburban girls basketball team. "It showed in the first game of the year against Kettle Moraine when she had 23 points and 11 rebounds. It was like, 'Wow, OK, she's serious, and that's good. She wanted this role and she embraced it, and she ran with it and never looked back."
Latt had already performed well in big games, including league battles against Menomonee Falls and Brookfield Central. She scored in double figures every game this season.
"I remember before the game that I had to focus on the game," Latt said. "I had to put everything else aside and focus on myself and how I could help our team. In my mind, if we don't win tonight, it's almost like our whole season was for nothing."
Latt scores her team's first four points and finishes the quarter with eight tallies, but DSHA trades baskets with the Chargers. After the first buzzer, the game is tied at 15-15.
"We hadn't designated captains for the first half of the season, so (Carey) was looking for the leadership," Latt said. "It didn't come as easily, but I had to remind myself to communicate, that was my biggest issue. Once we got playing, it was fine, but it was about stepping up as a leader off the court more. We did get off to a really good start (in the season), that did help with our team chemistry. We realized what we could do this season."
In fact, the Chargers started 10-0 before a loss to DSHA on the road Jan. 20. A follow-up setback against West Allis Central at the buzzer dropped Hamilton out of first place in the league standings, but the Dashers lost twice to Falls (a team the Chargers swept), and both headed into the season finale with an 11-2 record.
Hamilton goes on a run, taking a 33-22 lead into the locker room. Every point is scored by a player who figures to return next year, including six apiece from Latt and junior post Jenny Shernell.
But the lead doesn't last. Arike Ogunobowale, in the conversation for the state's best freshman, catches fire in the third quarter and rattles off 10 straight Dashers' points after going scoreless in the second. By the 3:10 mark of the third, the game is tied, and DSHA takes a lead at 39-38 before a Latt basket makes it 40-39 at the third-quarter buzzer.
Ogunbowale went on to earn Greater Metro Conference Player of the Year, and she'll likely battle with Latt for that honor the next two seasons.
"There's definitely some of that there," Latt said of a rivalry between players. "There's definitely going to be some competition (in the league). We kind of traded buckets, and we wanted to one up the other. But it was more about trying to get my team to win."
Latt, who finished the season averaging 18 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game this year, had been on Carey's radar since she was a seventh grader.
"There's always some unknown," he said. "How are they going to adjust to the varsity game and older players? I was very optimistic because I knew how hard she worked and her character and how she played AAU against older players leading up to that. That part wasn't going to faze her. She put together a really breakthrough freshman year. I knew she was good."
Carey said one of Latt's greatest assets is her maturity.
"Every defense schemed to take her away, and she was still able to lead us the way she did," he said. "I've told her this many times. I forget how young she still is. A lot of that is who she is as a person. I always feel like I'm talking to a player older than she is."
Latt scores the first two baskets of the final period, giving her team a 44-39 lead. But DSHA hits a 3-pointer with 38 seconds left to tie the game at 50-50. A last-second Hamilton possession goes for naught. We have overtime for the Greater Metro title.
"Last year I was more of a strict post player, and I had a few moves, but once I got doubled or tripled, I couldn't finish," Latt said. "This season, I got better at extending my game and having fun a little bit more and driving. Coach (Vance) Forrest worked with the posts and taught us a lot of new moves that I used. I thought I got better finishing overall in general with contact."
Latt can't be stopped in the extra period. She scores eight of her 31 points in the extra period - all but two at the free-throw line - and Hamilton wards off the Dashers for the title, 59-54. The Chargers cut down the nets and celebrate their first league crown.
"I don't even know what came over me looking back on it," Latt said. "I wanted the ball. I want to be a good player, but I don't want to be selfish. In that game, I just realized I needed to step up and called for the ball."
Though the Chargers were eventually upset in the first round of the WIAA playoffs by Waukesha West, that championship night was a celebration for the Hamilton program. With two more years remaining, Latt hopes it's only a jumping off point.
"We don't have that whole surprise factor, but I think that we've tasted what this feels like, I don't think we're going to let it go that easily," she said. "It's motivated us to work even harder in the off-season. I never thought we were overlooked, anyway. If we play our game and work hard enough, we could definitely do it (again)."
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