All-Area Girls Basketball: Wingers' Buck raised on the court
With a school-record 2,402 career points, three state tournament appearances, a Class 3A All-Tournament team nomination and second-team All-State honors, Red Wing's Tesha Buck poured everything she had onto the court since joining the varsity squad as an eighth-grader.
Knowing that she'll no longer play on the hardwood at Larry Sonju Gymnasium is tough to swallow for the 2012-13 Red Wing Republican Eagle's All-Area Player of the Year.
"It's just weird thinking that I'll never be practicing or playing on that court again," Buck said. "It's tough because I've been playing on that court for a while now. It brings a lot of emotion."
There have been good times, like the state trips and the camaraderie with her teammates. There have been the bad times, like "The Punch" that put a dark cloud over her sophomore year.
In five years, Buck has grown up and matured within the purple and white-clad walls of the home gym. And the biggest thing Red Wing basketball gave her was the mental strength she needs as she moves on to Division I Wisconsin-Green Bay to continue her basketball career.
"You can teach people how to be physical; you can lift weights and get people stronger," Buck said, "but mental toughness, not everyone has that. Playing for Coach (Kraig) Ulveling and Coach (Dave) Muelken, the whole coaching staff, they really got me mentally tough. I got room to grow, but they got me to where I am."
Muelken added, "I think she's set up for a lot of success. She made a good decision (committing to Wisconsin-Green Bay). It's all up to her now."
Splitting time between the varsity and junior varsity as an eighth-grader, Buck fully understood the stress of a young player entering the highest level at high school.
"I was nervous, but at the same time, I kind of knew I had to step in and fill some places," Buck said about joining the varsity for the first time. "I was nervous, but at the same time, I knew I was ready."
With a new crop of players coming up for Red Wing, Buck devoted time this summer to bringing the youngsters up to snuff in a hurry.
"When she was with us in the summer, she was really good taking care of the younger kids," Muelken said. "You could just see that she got it. ... That whole senior year thing dawned on all of (the seniors). For Tesha, the leadership was better and her attention to detail was better.
"Her preparation in practice was better than I saw it and it rubbed off on the other kids. Then, as many games as she's played, she was helpful in practice, and we weren't afraid to ask our seniors, 'What are you seeing? What's working? What's not working?' When you have seniors play in as many games as we have, you lean on that."
The key factor for Buck was seeing the chemistry develop between the players. And early on, she had a hunch that the Wingers could go farther than the two previous state teams that lost in the first round.
"We put so much time in the summer, in open gyms, doing fall league and everything," Buck said. "We knew from the first day on that the goal was to not only get to state, but to get further in state. You could see it in the other girls' eyes that we wanted it more than anything."
With Buck averaging 23.4 points, 9.5 rebounds and 4.8 steals per game, the Wingers sat in the Class 3A top 10 all season, finishing the regular season with an 18-7 record. The breadth of ability Buck brought onto the court was just a part of her role.
"Every girl on this team, we had the mindset of, 'Do what you have to do. Don't do anything more, don't do anything less,'" Buck said. "I took on my role as a scorer and rebounder. For us, you just had to get it done."
Then in the Section 1AAA playoffs, top-seeded Red Wing clinched its third straight trip to state with a 62-51 victory over Kasson-Mantorville in Rochester.
Waiting in the first round of the state tournament was a team with plenty of history for Buck and the Wingers: New Prague.
Despite her impressive resume on the court, the one moment that Buck became notorious for occurred Feb. 18, 2011, against New Prague. During the game, Buck, then a sophomore, became frustrated and punched a Trojans player in the head.
Play went on that night, but afterwards, Buck felt the backlash when she was suspended for two games.
The aftermath was overwhelming, but looking back, Buck says that the experience added to her mental toughness.
"Obviously it was a huge mistake, but it helped me grow mentally," Buck said. "The crowd and everything, the things I've heard people chant at me is absolutely crazy, but you learn to block it out. It's harder to do that back in your sophomore year and even last year. ... At that age, things like that get to you; what crowds say, what people say. Even the Internet, when you have things that people can comment on anonymously. You just have so many people bashing you, and not just me, but my family and my team."
It helped Buck to have a support network through the trying time.
"It was easier knowing that what I went through, my team and my family and the community had my back," Buck said.
Buck moved on from "The Punch," but the team couldn't get over the hump against the Trojans, going 1-10 versus New Prague in Buck's varsity career prior to this season.
Then this winter, the Wingers finally found success against the Trojans with a 61-51 road win Jan. 8 and a 57-48 victory at home Feb. 5.
But Buck saved her best New Prague game for last.
With a hostile crowd trying to get under her skin, Buck was unphased, going off for 32 points, 11 rebounds and four assists, pushing Red Wing into the state semifinals with a 63-45 victory.
"Honestly, in a game, the way I play, I don't hear anything from the crowd," Buck said.
Muelken added, "To have it be against New Prague and put an end to that saga, then to be moving on to the Target Center finally, it was great to see the kids' reaction. ... Tesha was able to play three great games against them. She was able to go out and let her play do the talking, and that's pretty special."
One last run
After the first two trips to state ended early, the Wingers were jubilant to leave Williams Arena and play in the state semifinals at the Target Center. But waiting on the court was top-seeded Richfield.
Buck chipped in with 18 points and six rebounds, but she had to watch from the bench after fouling out with over three minutes remaining. Along with fellow seniors Macy Kelly and McKenna Schaffer, the trio saw their teammates carry the load and put the Wingers in the finals with a 61-59 victory.
"When I fouled out, it was fun to watch," Buck said. "The girls just stepped up to the occasion. ... (Richfield's) a great team and they were the No. 1 seed, but it goes to show, just like the NCAA tournament now, seeding doesn't mean anything at all.
"The team that wants it more and fights for it gets it."
In the 3A championship game, the Wingers were stopped by a juggernaut in DeLaSalle, which clinched its third straight state title in a 65-50 victory. A banged-up Buck finished her final high school game with 13 points and a game-high 16 rebounds.
"She's a tough kid," Muelken said. "Between tweaking a knee (against Richfield) and hurting an ankle, it all meant a lot to her. Her knees, she was black and blue after that DeLaSalle game."
On paper, it was a surprise to get to the finals, but Buck didn't expect anything less than a victory.
"I wouldn't really say that it's a game where we're like, 'OK, we got here,'" she said. "I'm never satisfied. I probably wouldn't have been satisfied if we would have won that game. It's a game where you have to look at it as a good learning experience. And you couldn't ask for anything else to play in the very last high school game."
Buck finally got to showcase her talents on the state stage this season and, starting next year, she'll be able to do it on the collegiate stage with Wisconsin-Green Bay. Buck admits she's anxious about leaving the friendly confines of Sonju Gymnasium for college, but she's excited to continue playing the game she's loved through the good and the bad.
"I'm ready for the next step. It's not going to be easy, but nobody said it was going to be," Buck said. "You just play the game, and it's going to be a fun ride."