The Milwaukee women’s basketball team began building for the future this week, both on and off the court.
The 2023-24 season began for twelfth-year head coach Kyle Rechlicz and her Panthers on Tuesday night in Madison. Milwaukee lost to the Wisconsin Badgers 62-51, but they fought back multiple times, and were in the game right up until the final minute.
The Badgers started hot, with a 20-9 advantage after the first quarter. The Panthers got things going in the second stanza, but Wisconsin still held a 36-23 halftime advantage. Wisconsin stayed ahead, and were up 53-42 in the fourth quarter. The Panthers weren’t finished, though, and the Panthers had a final push in them. Capping a 9-3 run, senior scorer Kendall Nead cashed in a short-range shot after a Badger turnover to pull the score back to a 56-51 margin with just 1:06 left on the clock. It was the second time in the final frame that Milwaukee converted a steal into a Nead bucket to trim Wisconsin’s lead. From there, though, the Badgers were able to extend and secure their lead at the foul line. “Kyle does a great job and they’re very well coached,” Wisconsin head coach Marisa Moseley praised the Panthers after the game, calling Rechlicz’s outfit “a really tough Milwaukee team.”
Though they lost, Milwaukee got a pair of particularly encouraging feature performances. Nead, the team’s leading returning scorer from last winter, combined with sophomore Kamy Peppler to score 27 of the Panthers’ points. Peppler, a rising lead guard, played a very complete game. She posted nine points, grabbed six rebounds, and snagged four steals. After struggling with turnovers last season, Peppler kept things manageable with three miscues, and added seven vital assists. Some of those helpers hit Nead, who knew what to do from the land of trey. Milwaukee’s top deep threat tossed in a pair of triples among her team-high 18 points. She added four offensive boards, extending Panther possessions as they attempted to storm back.
“In that first quarter we just needed to calm down and settle in, but our defense started to pick up in the second quarter,” Rechlicz surmised after the game.
Milwaukee struggled at times to contend with the Badgers’ size in the paint, and sophomore post Serah Williams – a Big Ten All-Freshman honoree last year – put up an 18-point, 14-rebound double-double. Milwaukee wasn’t out-worked, though; as a team, the Panthers tracked down 38 boards to the Badgers’ 36. Turnovers were the factor which ultimately doomed Milwaukee’s comeback bid. The Panthers made 17 field goals, but gave away 20 empty possessions. It also hurt to lose both starting forwards, Anna Lutz and Angie Cera, as they fouled out as the contest came to a close.
Prior to that, Lutz had contributed seven points and seven boards, including a triple of her own. Redshirt freshman Jada Williams, playing her first college game, earned eight trips to the charity stripe, a take-notice performance for a Panther side which struggled to consistently earn free points a year ago. Williams also chipped in with tough defense – including a pair of steals – and five rebounds to affirm her reputation for coming up with hustle plays. Speaking of hustle, senior forward Grace Crowley was disruptive all over the court, grabbing a team-high nine rebounds and forcing three steals. Veteran guard Jada Donaldson came off the bench to play 30 minutes – second-most on the team – and help Peppler run the point.
Among the Panthers’ individual performances on Tuesday night, Vanessa Jurewicz’s two points were significant for more than just their clutch timing in cutting the Badgers’ advantage to 56-49. The basket helped Jurewicz, a newly-arrived junior college transfer who hails from Sweden, to cross the threshold of 1,000 career points scored at the collegiate level. The veteran guard is expected to help the Panthers by adding scoring punch off of the bench this winter, and a milestone in her first game in Black & Gold is a great place to start. While her Panthers weren’t able to bring a ‘W’ back to the shore of Lake Michigan, the Panthers’ head coach liked the fight that her team showed in coming back again and again in a road game against their in-state rivals. “We talk about what our identity is going to be as a team, and that toughness and resiliency has to be who we are,” Rechlicz surmised. “I was proud of those moments of resiliency.”
Off the court, the Panthers’ future got brighter on Wednesday. That’s because Milwaukee announced the signing of high school senior Kallie Peppler to play for the Panthers next season. The Hortonville, WI, star is going to be particularly familiar to one of the Panthers’ current stars, as Kallie is the younger sister of Kamy Peppler. The duo helped Hortonville to achieve a #1 ranking and contend for state titles during their prep careers, and they play complimentary styles. While Kamy is a playmaker who thrives with the ball in her hands and the chance to create, Kallie is a bigger wing player who has been largely at home in the lane over the course of her high school career.
Before deciding on MKE, Kallie Peppler had also received scholarship offers from DePaul and Providence, as well as Cleveland State and UW-Green Bay, the Panthers’ Horizon League foes. Unfortunately for Kallie, she suffered a significant injury to her right knee late last season, and will not play her senior year as she rehabilitates and works towards a reunion with her sister in Cream City. Kallie has proven solid on the boards, and will add skill and size to a Milwaukee side which features just two players currently who stand at least six feet tall. Her symbiosis with Kamy’s hard-charging style of creating shots will be an immediate advantage for the Panther offense next year. “Every time she’s coming down the floor and I’m ahead of her, I’m ready for the ball,” Kallie told NBC 26 News of the way her game meshes with that of her sister.
“They definitely have a connection out there on the floor,” Hortonville’s head coach, Celeste Ratka, reflected. “A lot of minutes spent in the driveway and in a lot of gyms playing together. You can see they’re very comfortable with one another.” The Pepplers’ is not the only family bond for Panther Women’s hoops. Though the Panthers will have to wait another year to see all that the sisters can do, next year their coach will also have her daughter, Payton Rechlicz, in the lineup after she finishes the redshirt season she is embarking upon this winter.
Thankfully for Milwaukee, they won’t have to wait long for a chance to get even in the W-L column. The Panthers will host Illinois-Chicago, their former Horizon League rivals, on Sunday. A two-win team just a couple of years ago, new head coach Ashleen Bracey led the Flames to a 19-17 record and two wins in the WBI last year. If the Panthers can win their home opener, they will be off to a good start towards proving that they can contend in their conference.