That’s all I could think about as the final seconds ticked off the clock at Conseco Fieldhouse. Our 5th State Championship title! Winning never gets old. That championship feeling never leaves you. But it might feel even sweeter after waiting 4 years! I am so full of Luers Spirit. I am overwhelmed with Bishop Luers pride! But, I was most happy for the girls. JV Coach Denny Renier and I have been around for all 5 championships. But this was the very first for each and every girl! And clearly the most improbable. But we’ll get back to that.
First the story line of the game and the incredible season!
Evansville Memorial has 3 starting seniors. We’ve got only one on the entire team, with only 2 juniors. Five sophomores and 4 freshman make for a very young team. Would playing at Conseco for the state basketball championship, in the state known for basketball, with all glitz of the cameras and press everywhere, in front of 7400 people, and probably a million more fans watching them on TV all over the state ——- would that totally freak out our Kiddie-corp Lady Knights? The answer came early and often in the 1st quarter, as Luers carved out a 24-10 lead. Vinnie “The Microwave” Dawson, sick as a dog the night before the game, started out hot as a firecracker. She had 2 threes and 8 total points in the 1st stanza, 14 in the game.
Meanwhile, Markee Martin, who’s probably the best pure point guard in N.E. Indiana for quite some time, was slowly, quietly and methodically carving up Memorials’ full court press until it seemed almost non-existent. She had 7 assists and 7 points. Plus, she and Amanda Pedro each grabbed 14 rebounds, tying a state finals record. I sense that no one wanted it more than Amanda, who also had 13 points. From the time she first walked into our Luers open gym as a 6th grader, I was impressed with this kid. That very night, I taught her the jump shot, only the second 6th grader I ever attempted that with, Stefanie Gerardot being the first. It took Amanda all of 5 minutes to get it! I don’t think I ever coached a kid in AAU as mentally tough as Amanda. She still is. In fact, trying to calm her young teammates down in the locker room before the game, Amanda proclaimed, “Don’t worry about it (the outcome) girls, I won’t let us lose!” That’s Amanda, God love her. She’s just always that confident. In fact, I feel that she just willed us through game after game in the tournament with sheer determination, desire and downright hustle! She was a very good All-SAC first team player all year. Starting with the sectionals though, she elevated her game to greatness. I’ll bet she averaged a dozen boards a game. She was racking up double-doubles. And she became Luers’ go-to player. This was never in more evidence than in the sectional championship game vs. state ranked Concordia. Trailing the entire 4th quarter, we had one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel! Time was of the essence late in the 4th quarter. Amanda simply scored 7 of our team’s last 9 points including a 3 point play, and 2 vital offensive rebounds. The last shot was the killer, a 17-foot jumper from the right baseline to erase Concordia’s 1 point lead, and give Luers the victory! Without that clutch shot, there would have been no state championship title game for us at all! And I really feel that no one enjoys or appreciates winning state as much as her. Amanda says, “I’ve been dreaming of winning a state championship at Bishop Luers since I was in the 6th grade!”
And don’t forget 14-year old freshman Kelsey Wyss. She simply saved the best 2 games of her young life for the semi-state game vs. South Bend St. Joe and the state title game. The SAC’s best free throw shooter during the regular season had 13 points vs. St Joe with an array of incredible shots. Then she hit 2 clutch nail in the coffin-free throws with 40-some seconds to go, just as she did a week earlier in the Regional final. Then against Evansville, she repeatedly stopped Memorials’ rallies with one dagger in the heart-momentum stopping-long range “J” after another. This fiercely competitive blonde long-range bomber finished with 2 treys, 5 of 6 from the line, and a game high of 21 points. WOW! Plus she slashes to the bucket even better than she rains threes.
Now let’s get to the part about this title being the most improbable!
Some were concerned that our young kids could start the season either winless or have maybe 1 win in the first 6 brutal games. Yeah, I admit I was one. But we got through that stretch with a 4 & 2 record. Going into the SAC Holiday tournament at the Coliseum (where we were seeded 5th), we were 7 & 4 —— and delighted. But the best was yet to come. We ran the tables in both the SAC holiday tourney, and SAC regular season, as well. The girls defeated early-season state ranked Bishop Dwenger 3 times. We knocked off top 5 ranked Concordia 3 times by a total of 8 measly points. South Side was a top 3 ranked team in 4A. They went 18 & 2 during the regular season. Their two close losses were both to BL. Then we stopped 2A early season #1 ranked Harding 52-42. We went 9 & 0 in those crucial games. All were close games. It truly could have been 0 & 9. Overall, including the IHSAA tournament run, Luers’ ‘Diaper Dandies’ played in 16 close games, not decided until the last minute or two. They lost the 1st to Warsaw, then, won the last 15! I firmly believe this experience in cliffhangers was key in our girls pulling out one game after another. In the 2nd half of the season, it seemed that almost every game was a nail-biter. I believe it became second nature to the girls. Those freshman & sophomores really became like juniors and seniors in terms of experience in close game situations. They expected to win each one. Someone would always pull them through. This was set-up by the brutal schedule that Coach Teri Rosinski set up. Playing a schedule like that toughens a team up for post-season. Then you won’t see anything in the tournament that you haven’t experienced already.
By the way, Teri is getting a well deserved reputation of being a master of breaking down her next opponent on film, and figuring a way to beat them (ie, see Concordia Regional 2002). I believe she is the most obvious choice for Coach of the Year in years, since…well, since Gary Andrews! You know, there’s been so many newspaper comments about Coach being so demanding and tough. But what they don’t know is that Teri made it fun to be a Luers varsity player. And, it always needs to be fun for the girls. They’ll be loose and play with more confidence in a positive atmosphere. And it certainly was that. No one ever said you can’t work hard and still have fun! Oh yeah, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that this year she has the finest support group of assistants yet. Denny Renier, Mike Lamborne, Tim Pedro, and Doug Brown provide years of coaching experience and a great sounding board for ideas and advice.
Back to the Knights incredible run.
After outplaying Northwood in the Regional final (the team that knocked us out last year in the same game), we faced the scary task of facing the 3A number one ranked and defending state champions South Bend St. Joseph in Semi-State. USA Today had them ranked #24 in the nation! But Coach kept our girls’ noses to the ground, totally focused. Luers 56 – 49. Huge upset! The 2nd half comeback included huge plays from Mary Hathaway, Monica Lohmuller, Megan Pedro, Amanda Pedro, Dawson and Wyss. But nobody was more instrumental down the stretch than Markee Martin, Luers Most Valuable Player, this season. The Lil’ General scored on a great slashing drive late to give Luers the lead for good. Then she and Kelsey nailed free throws to preserve the victory, and a state championship berth. Markee had 19 points in all. St. Joseph has 3 upper class division one players, but Luers had the best TEAM. That showed too in the state game as Natalie Henry gave her team some solid minutes, spelling Martin at point.
After the game…
Sara Freiburger, who started at center, remarked how “close this team has been all year.” She also said, “This has always been my dream, ever since playing at St. Therese.” Amber Gottfried, a great leaper who seemingly ripped some rebounds out of the sky vs. Memorial, said, “It was so awesome to be introduced with a huge spotlight on each of us while the entire Conseco Fieldhouse was totally dark!” And it was a big thrill for Melanie Huhn (St. Therese) and Kiara Burnett to play there, too.
That’s the best part for me.
You see, when we had these girls in AAU and open gyms, we’d often talk to them about how great it is to win state championships, and what it feels like. I sometimes even showed excerpts of a video hi-lite film of all the state championships. And now they themselves have earned their OWN medal and their OWN blue ring. They feel like they are now on top of the world! Good for them. And now each will be a state champion for the rest of their life.
And God bless all the coaches who have been with me in the past few years. They have been instrumental in helping to develop these girls in our 8th, 7th, and 6th grade AAU teams and Open Gyms, as well. These hardworking and talented volunteer coaches include my right hand man Terry Giese, Neal Schaab, Mike Lamborne, Phil and Dave Schulthesis, Allan Alphin, Dan Wyss, Stu Oberley, Mike Stoffel, and St. Therese’s own Tom Rehm. Thank you all!