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'Blessed with exceptional talent': Star-studded Waupun eager for another chance at a state title

The Warriors girls basketball team features three future NCAA Division I players. Led by that trio, Waupun is aiming for its second state title in the last three seasons.
Posted at 5:30 PM, Feb 06, 2024

WAUPUN, Wis. (NBC 26) — With an enrollment of 573, Waupun High School is churning out basketball talent at an incredible rate.

The Warriors girls basketball team features three players who have committed to play NCAA Division I basketball. Now as March approaches, that trio is eyeing the program's second state title.

  • The Warriors won a state championship in 2022. That squad was led by Abbie Aalsma, who is now playing college basketball at Illinois St.
  • Kayl Petersen (Marquette), Gracie Gopalan (Quinnipiac) and Abbie's sister, Lydia, (St. Thomas) were also on that state title team.
  • The trio of Division I commits is eager for a shot at another state title after bowing out in the state semifinals last season.
  • The Warriors are coached by Tim Aalsma, the father of Abbie, Lydia and Naomi Aalsma, who also played on the 2022 championship team.
  • Petersen is one of four local players nominated for this year's Ms. Basketball award, given annually to the top high school senior girls basketball player in the state. She also was a nominee for the McDonald's All-America Game.

Warriors head coach Tim Aalsma knows he's surrounded by players with ability rarely seen in their small town.
"We've been blessed with exceptional talent in Waupun," Aalsma said. "We've had some players here that have done things that have never been done in our town before."

It all started more than a decade ago. The trio of stars have been friends since childhood.

"I've been here my entire life," Kayl Petersen said. "My parents grew up here. My grandparents grew up here."

"Me and Lydia would just sit in the driveway when we were younger and just battle," Petersen added. "With Abbie and with Naomi, her sisters."

"We've always kind of known it in the back of our heads that we just wanted to work hard and we did that together," Petersen said. "And I think that's why we have three of us (going to play in college)."

In a basketball-crazed town, these players have reached small-town celebrity status.

"You just know everybody," Gracie Gopalan said. "You'll be walking in town and people just know your name. It's super cool."

"Little girls come up to you and want your signature and want a picture with you," Petersen said. "That's just super cool to me because it shows that my hard work is paying off."

Two years ago, the Warriors won the program's first state title.

"It was just a magical moment," Aalsma said, reflecting on the championship. "An extremely fun ride."

"The excitement of that, along with some of maybe the disappointment of last year - letting the community down - is something that we kind of hold close to us," he added.

Last season - with Abbie Aalsma graduated and playing in college - a younger Warriors team bowed out in the state semifinal round.

This trio is eager to learn from those mistakes and finish their prolific high school careers with another gold ball.

"After that loss we were in the hotel room and it's like - alright, we've got one more year," Gopalan said. "This isn't going to happen next year."

"Being a senior you don't know when your last game is going to be," Gopalan added. "And I don't want it to be my last."

"We're a veteran group," Petersen added. "We're seasoned, we've been through it. So now that we've been through it, there should be no reason that we can't win it."

Waupun is currently ranked No. 2 in WIAA Division 3. The Warriors have only two losses: One to Kettle Moraine Lutheran, the No. 5 team in Division 3. The other to Verona, the No. 1 team in Division 1.