HURON-During the early stages of the season, Ethan head coach Tom Young claimed winning the Class B girls basketball championship was not the most important accomplishment his team could achieve.
Young wanted his team to focus on creating long-lasting memories throughout the journey of the season. Still, the Rustlers rolled into the championship game against De Smet on Saturday at Huron Arena with an undefeated record and a shot at winning the state title.
Top-seeded Ethan was not able to get that final win, as the No. 2 Bulldogs pulled away in the fourth quarter for 49-39 for the first state championship in school history. For the 24-1 Rustlers, winning a state title would have been a wonderful memory, but Young stands by his beliefs.
"The joy, the journey and relationships you build are life-lasting," Young said. "My teams have won a couple state championships and the day after you might feel a little better, but down the road it's just the special moments you have with a group of youngsters. I'm at the age where those moments are more cherished."
During the first two rounds of the tournament-the fifth-straight for the program-various role players stepped into a prominent spot when Ethan needed it most.
When No. 8 Waverly-South Shore gave the Rustlers a run for their money in the quarterfinals, Jessica Bartscher connected on four 3-pointers in the third quarter to help pad a lead. In the semifinals, standout Karly Gustafson was held to 10 points, but sophomore Cameryn Logan scored a team-high 12 points to help beat Freeman.
Early in the championship game, Ethan suffered a major blow when senior point guard Maddie Miiller injured her knee in the first quarter and could not return. While Miiller did not fill up the scoring column, she had seven assists and four steals against Freeman in the semifinals.
With the De Smet defense honing in on Gustafson-to the tune of 5-for-16 shooting-Ethan needed someone to step up to the challenge, but already being down another starter proved too much to ask at both ends of the court.
"There's no doubt losing Maddie affected us," Young said. "So many nights this season, she was our most valuable player. I know Karly scored a lot of points, but Maddie did it on the defensive end, she ran every play for us and the whole rest of the game Jessica ran the point for us, but she was our shooting guard.
"So, all of a sudden, all of the roles got changed and there's nothing you can do," Young continued. "That's not an excuse, that's a credit to De Smet for taking away what they needed to take away."
Miiller's impact was felt in Ethan's trusted 2-3 zone, where rotations to open shooters weren't as crisp and timely, resulting in De Smet making eight of its 16 field goals from beyond the 3-point arc.
Youthful Corsica-Stickney squad gains valuable experience for the future
Corsica-Stickney was a buzzer-beating basket away from competing for the Class B state championship.
Instead, De Smet went on to defeat Ethan for the state title, while the No. 3 Jaguars met No. 5 Freeman in the third place game, preceding the finals.
Rathering than wilting in the disappointment, Corsica-Stickney (22-3) was able to blow open the game in the second half en route to a 55-45 win. Perhaps more importantly, it returns multiple key players next season that gained valuable experience for the future.
"That was a great experience and you hope those younger players learn from that and learn how to play in that big environment," Corsica-Stickney head coach Lorisa Broughton said. "(The De Smet) game was a big time game. The intensity was real, it was physical, back and forth-it says a lot for young kids to experience that."
The Jaguars lose point guard and 1,000-point scorer Courtney Menning to graduation, but they also return three starters that stand 5-foot-10 and score in double-digits each night.
Eighth-grader Avery Broughton (17.3 points and 9.7 rebounds), freshman Rachel Gerlach (10.6 points) and sophomore Raven Barse (10.2 points and seven rebounds) are set to return, giving Corsica-Stickney reason to believe a return to the state tournament is in the cards for next season.
"I hope it creates a hunger in them," Broughton said. "I hope they want to come back and be playing in (the finals), instead of the third and fourth place game. I hope it creates that hunger."
Eberts takes big defensive assignments in stride
Freeman made its first trip to the Class B semifinals in school history, before falling in its next two games to finish in fourth place.
Senior Hannah Eberts had been waiting to play on the big stage for five seasons, and she made the most of it. Not only did she average 12.3 points per game, but Eberts also took on the task of guarding the opponent's top player in each game.
All three of those opponents had a size advantage, but displayed different skill sets. Eberts drew Warner's Laurie Rogers in the quarterfinals, and the 6-foot-1 post player scored 17 points, two below her season average.
In the semifinals, the 5-8 Eberts guarded Ethan's Karly Gustafson (6-0) and limited the near 20-point scorer to 10 points on 4 of 12 shooting. Eberts held Corsica-Stickney's Avery Broughton (5-10) to four points in the first half of the third place game, before exploding for 17 of her 21 in the second half, although she shot 40 percent and six of those points came in transition.
"I just do whatever I can for my team and I try to limit what (opponents) can do," Eberts said. "Then I hope for the best."