The Merrill basketball girls regularly lined up and doled out quality play this season that pushed them to third place in the Valley and ultimately to a close loss in the sectional semi-final game. 
Thus it’s no surprise that not only did three senior members of the team earn All-Conference honors, but First Team unanimous pick Renee Sladek also found her way to the WBCA Division 2 All-State squad.
The squad features only an All-State team and an Honorable Mention group. Sladek – who averaged 16.4 points and 8.4 rebounds per game – was picked to the main squad.
“Renee is just the complete package” MHS coach Melissa Yuska said. “She is a force inside and can score outside. She has great penetration. She takes it to the basket strong. She did well at blocking shots and she rebounds well. I think she led us in almost every statistical category, except Dawn (Leland) tied her in blocks. Renee’s done that the last three years.
“All-State is just phenomenal. When you think of the number of girls basketball players throughout the state, to be voted in speaks volumes of the respect she’s earned from coaches and other teams. Sometimes we get missed up here in central Wisconsin. It’s a very talented group of young ladies, but she’s very deserving. It’s exciting for her to see her hard work pay off. 
“She’s been a really strong representative of Merrill basketball and we’re really proud of her accomplishments. The bonus is she’s a nice kid. She works very hard and she has strong character. She has a real bright future in basketball and in life. You could say that about Dawn, too. She really carried her game to the next level. She has a bright future, too. So does Reegan (Byer).”
Sladek also gave 2.7 assists, 2.8 steals and 1.8 blocks per game. Sladek was also just the second Bluejay girl and seventh Merrill player overall to score 1,000 career points. She is in the fourth position with 1,105 for her career, behind Paul Jesperson (1,696), Yuska (1,126) and Jordan Stine (1,124), but ahead of Jim Langenkamp (1,074), Rory Osness (1,068) and David Jesperson (1,051).
Sladek connected on 48% of her field goals and 70% of her free throws.
The press release for the All-State team called Sladek “A versatile 6-1 player,” noting “she was on pace for an All-State junior campaign last year before a leg injury cut her season short, and has certainly come back strong as a senior.”
Yuska was also impressed with Sladek’s return from a severe knee injury.
“She was very deserving after all she’s gone through and all the hard work she did to get back,” she said. “I don’t think she totally got back to herself, but she was at her best at the end.”
Sladek has picked up First Team recognition the past three years after being named to the Second Team as a freshman. She was a unanimous selection as a sophomore and senior.
Sladek will play basketball for NCAA D1 Northern Illinois University starting next season.
Another player with post-prep basketball intentions – Dawn Leland – was named to the Second Team. Leland will play for the NCAA D2 U. of Minnesota-Crookston beginning in the fall of 2014.
Leland offered 10.6 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.8 blocks to the Bluejays. She hit 42% of her field goals, 66% of her foul shots and 32% of her three-point attempts.
“Dawn really carried her game to the next level,” Yuska said. “Really, she probably was the most improved player of anybody on the team. 
“She stepped up as a consistent scoring threat. She could shoot from behind the three-point line, and she could also drive to the basket and score or dish to the open person. She averaged double-digit scoring and she was one of our top people for assists. She was also a great shot blocker. For her to be that tall and be at the guard position really helped us. Her length helped her get a lot of deflections and steals. She had some nice passes in transition, too.”
Byer picked up HM to the Valley squad. She gave 2.7 points, 2.5 assists, 2 rebounds and 1.1 steals per game. Byer hit 53% of her field goals. 
“It was really great to see Reegan get Honorable Mention,” Yuska said. “She was more of a defensive player for us and sometimes those players get overlooked. She was a fun player to watch. We tended to match her up with the opponent’s best player, if they were a guard-type player. 
“She knows her role offensively. She did a nice job passing this year, finding the open person. She was a great player for us for two years. She doesn’t get huge stats, but she did a lot of the little things.”