A Dream Made Reality: The Fight for a State Championship

Leanna Farley, Sports Editor

Since fourth grade, the 2016-17, Lady Thunderbirds varsity basketball seniors have been working towards a state championship. They’ve spent endless hours training and playing together to work towards their dream and, on Saturday, that dream was finally fulfilled. The Lady Thunderbirds were going up against their fiercest competition, the Gillette Lady Camels. The East girls hadn’t had a single win against Gillette in season and had lost to them again in regionals. This was their last chance to beat the Camels, their last chance at a championship title.

At halftime, it seemed the Lady Camels were ready to pull ahead, leading the Lady T-Birds 29-19. East had already committed 14 turnovers which allowed Gillette to score 16 points, things didn’t look good for the T-Birds. The girls didn’t let the score get to their heads though, halftime was all about refocusing and preparing to fix their previous mistakes.

“It was all about motivation,” said senior Katie Loken. “Our half time speech was that we’re in it, they’re going to go on runs, we just have to be there and weather the storm. We were going to fight till the end. If there was any way we could pull off a win then that’s how it was going to be.”

But, with 6 minutes, 8 seconds left in the third quarter, Gillette pulled ahead to gain its biggest lead of the game with a score of 38-23. It was time for the Lady T-Birds to kick things into high gear, it was time to win. With 3:52 left in the third, Makenzee Fagenbush stepped up to shoot an NBA-range three that bumped the score to 38-32. Mackenzie Painter put up both a three and an inside score with 1:17 left to bring the Lady-Birds within one point of the Camels, 38-37.

“It was a group effort,” said senior Mackenzie Painter. “It wasn’t just a personal score. We came together as a team to get those points.”

The start of the fourth quarter saw a score of 41-39 in favor of the Camels. With the help of a three by Jessie Erickson and an offensive putback by Jadyn Kanzler though, East was able to secure a 49-48 lead with 4:14 left in the fourth. It was a lead that they had no intention of losing.

It was the final minute of the championship game, Gillette’s Kalina Smith had the ball, East was leading 53-50. The hopes of every senior on East’s team rested on this final shot.

“I knew she was going to come around and try to shoot the three so I was just trying to be in her face,” said Loken. “I couldn’t touch her so it was getting there before she could get the ball.”

Smith went up with the ball 30 feet from the hoop, it didn’t even hit the rim, the Lady T-Birds had just won their first state championship since 2010. As players and fans alike stormed the court emotions were running high in the bittersweet moment. For the seniors on the team this would be their last ever state basketball tournament, but they’d managed to end the season with one of their biggest wins yet.

“There were so many emotions going through my head,” said Paintner. “I couldn’t really process it at first. It was amazing.”

“This win [against Gillette] goes for the team and the school,” said Loken, “but also for everyone who’s supported us. This win is for them too.”

“Now that [the season] is done it’s a little sad,” said Painter. “I’m just glad we ended on a good note.”