Tigers rally to win first state title

by Greg Ceilley
of The Review staff


OLIVIA STAUSS of Howards Grove shoots over Kyah Steiner (24) of Aquinas in Saturday’s D-4 state basketball finals. – Photo by Terry Schaller OLIVIA STAUSS of Howards Grove shoots over Kyah Steiner (24) of Aquinas in Saturday’s D-4 state basketball finals. – Photo by Terry Schaller GREEN BAY – Never count out the Howards Grove girls basketball team. Fueled by tenacity and desire the Tigers rallied late to stun Aquinas (La Crosse), 44-43, in the Division 4 state championship game Saturday afternoon at the Resch Center.

The state title is the first in the history of the HG program. The Tigers finished 27-1 and won their last 26 games in a row. The Blugolds, ranked No. 1 in D-4, ended the season at 27-1.

The Tigers stormed back from a 40-32 deficit with a 12-3 run in the final 3:32. Senior guard Olivia Stauss sparked the comeback with six points, including two clutch free throws with 10.2 seconds left which gave HG a 44-41 lead.

Kyah Steiner hit a shot from near the three-point line as time expired which made it 44-43. The Tigers’ ensuing celebration was halted briefly until the referees reviewed the shot on a monitor.


BRITTANY SCHALLER of Howards Grove drives to the hoop against Madessa Collins of Aquinas in Saturday’s D-4 state basketball championship game. On the front cover the Tigers celebrate their 44-43 win over Aquinas. – Photos by Terry Schaller BRITTANY SCHALLER of Howards Grove drives to the hoop against Madessa Collins of Aquinas in Saturday’s D-4 state basketball championship game. On the front cover the Tigers celebrate their 44-43 win over Aquinas. – Photos by Terry Schaller The review clearly showed that Steiner’s feet were over the line when she attempted the shot. Once the review was announced, Tiger players and coaches hugged each other in a joyous celebration which was shared by their huge following.

Kaitlynn Near started the Tigers’ rally with a short jumper which made it 40-34. Addi Gerber’s basket from the perimeter shaved the Blugolds’ lead to 40-36.

On the Blugolds’ next possession the Tigers’ Sam Yancy came up with a steal after a wild scramble on the floor for a loose ball. Yancy was fouled on the steal and sank both double bonus free throws which brought HG to within 40-38 with 1:32 remaining.


THE HOWARDS GROVE fans celebrate the Tigers winning the D-4 state basketball championship on Saturday. – Photo by Terry Schaller THE HOWARDS GROVE fans celebrate the Tigers winning the D-4 state basketball championship on Saturday. – Photo by Terry Schaller Lexi Donarski of Aquinas then missed the front end of a one-and-one at the foul line with 1:09 left.

On the Tigers’ next trip, Stauss converted a three-point play on a drive to the hoop which gave the Tigers a 41-40 lead.

HG’s Ashley Reinemann made a steal on the Blugolds’ next possession with 32 seconds showing. Stauss was fouled and made 1 of 2 free throws to make it 42-40 with 30 seconds remaining.

Aquinas called a timeout with 23 seconds left. Kayla Bahr was fouled with 15.3 seconds left and she made 1 of 2 double-bonus free throws, bringing her team to within 42-41.

“We knew this was our last time together and that we needed to to give it our all, and our hearts came through,” said Brittany Schaller, a point guard and one of seven seniors on her team.

“Us being seniors we wanted to leave a mark on our last season and our last game,” said Stauss. “We always dreamed of this since we started playing and it’s amazing that we came through now.”

The Tigers got off to a slow start and found themselves trailing 8-0 at the 14:38 mark in the first half. Aquinas ended the run with two straight fastbreak layups by Donarski. HG missed its first seven shots, including two that were blocked, and had three turnovers during the stretch.

Yancy gave the Tigers their first basket on a layup with 13:44 left until halftime, making the score 8-2.

The first half was a struggle for the Tigers’ offense which forced several tough shots against the Blugolds’ aggressive man-to-man defense. HG, which trailed 22-17 at halftime, shot only 26 percent (7 of 27) in the fi rst half.

HG scored five unanswered points to tie the game, 12-12, with 7:25 left. Stauss buried a three-pointer and Kaitlynn Near canned a short jumper.

Aquinas responded with a 9-0 tear to go up 21-12. Madessa

Collins scored two baskets and Jessa Peterson drained a triple to lead the spurt.

Both teams played good, hard-nose defense – contesting most shots.

“We felt if we could keep the game close, it would be in our favor. We are used to battling through these close games. Once it got close near the end we were confident things were going our way,” said Tiger head coach Heidi Georgeff.

“A winner’s biggest muscle is its heart and I thought that would make the difference in the end.”

Georgeff said her girls played like there was no tomorrow.

“I’m pretty proud of our defense,” she said.

Stauss sparked the Tigers’ offense with 16 points. Yancy led in rebounding with 11 and Schaller had six. Schaller led in assists with three, followed by Reinemann and Stauss with two each.

“All of our hard work has paid off. Whether we’re down 20 or two, we’re going to give it our all. Everyone on the team contributed,” said Yancy, a senior forward.

“It’s very exciting [winning the state title]. We’re experienced in close games and they aren’t and that helped a lot,” said Reinemann, a senior guard.

“It’s very exciting [winning the state crown]. I was extremely confident we cold come back,” said Near, a senior guard/forward.

Donarski, a freshman guard, led Aquinas in scoring with 23. Collins and Steiner had a team-high eight boards apiece. Collins, Steiner and Donarski led in assists with four each.

Collins and Donarski paced the Blugolds in steals with four each.

“Hats off to them [Tigers]. They made a lot of free throws when they mattered and they got the touches into the right kids’ hands,” said Aquinas head coach Dave Donarski (Lexi’s father).

“To Howards Grove’s credit they know how to grind it out. We had a lot of empty possessions in the last four minutes.”


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