Four years ago, players like Ivy Haines and Jazmyn Hinker were adversaries of Mary Kroupa and Brooklyn Donald on the basketball court.
Haines and Hinker are both from White Lake and played against Donald and Kroupa, both from Kimball.
But Saturday, all four players chipped in to help the Kimball/White Lake girls’ basketball team earn its first bid to the Class B state tournament since becoming a co-op in 2011.
The WiLdKats, led by their strong defense, beat Burke/South Central 53-33 in the Region 6B championship at the Corn Palace in Mitchell.
It is the first time White Lake has qualified for a state girls’ basketball tournament, while Kimball qualified in 2008 and 1997. This year’s WiLdKat squad features seven girls from Kimball and seven from White Lake.
“I am pretty psyched,” Haines said. “We went in volleyball too this year and now we get to do it again.”
Haines did her part to get the WiLdKats to the state tournament by scoring 15 points and grabbing seven rebounds. Hinker led KWL in scoring with 16 points and pulled in six rebounds.
Kelli Steffen added nine points and five assists, while Kroupa tallied five assists.
With the help of Haines, who scored six points early, KWL jumped out to an early 10-4 lead. Despite being on top, the WiLdKats suffered some early jitters and were turnover prone, which allowed Burke/South Central to climb back in the game. The WiLdKats finished the game with 17 turnovers, while BSC had 16.
After trailing by six, the Cougars went on a 12-6 run to tie the game at 16 midway through the second quarter. After first-year KWL coach Tacey Nielsen called a timeout, the WiLdKats responded with an 11-3 run to take a 27-19 lead into halftime.
“We knew they were going to come out and be a scrappy team,” Nielsen said of Burke/South Central. “They made a run at us, but we knew that we had to end it. We had to put the hammer down, take care of the basketball, be patient on offense and look for good, open shots instead of forcing things.”
KWL continued its offensive onslaught in the second half with an 8-0 run right out of the break. But BSC did not go easily, and answered with its own 6-0 run to come within 10 points. Still, the WiLdKats ended all hopes the Cougars had of coming back, building a comfortable 20-point lead.
KWL shot 53 percent from the field and made 14 of 17 free throws.
The Cougar offense had a hard time getting going and managed to shoot 11-of-42 from the field and 2-of-3 from the free-throw line. Chloe Kenzy led the way for BSC with 11 points and four steals. Sierra Votaw added eight points and five assists.
“We didn’t play all that well,” BSC coach Ron Determan said. “They didn’t do everything that we expected them to do. They did a good job of making shots and we did not shoot particularly well.”
The Cougars end the season 13-10, while KWL heads to the Class B state tournament. The No. 6 WiLdKats meet No. 3 Sanborn Central/Woonsocket in the first round at 7:45 p.m. Thursday at the Huron Arena.