The 2021 girls state basketball tournament concluded on Saturday with all six classes crowning champions. Hail Varsity has you covered with a running recap of all of the day’s action.
No. 2 Weeping Water 40, No. 1 Pleasanton 39
Omaha signee Grace Cave has been one of the best players not only in Class D1, but in the entire state of Nebraska, and she capped off her spectacular career on Saturday morning with a game-winner in the state championship game.
“No other feeling like it,” Cave said. “I’ve been dreaming of this since I was 4 years old, since I started playing basketball. When Coach was in high school they made it, and I was in kindergarten. Growing up I was like ‘I want to be just like him.’ He didn’t get it done, so I got it done for him.”
Saturday’s game was Coach Joel Haveman’s last at Weeping Water. He will join Trent Miller’s men’s coaching staff at Morningside.
Cave’s layup with six seconds left gave Weeping Water (24-5) a one-point win and its first state championship. She finished with a game-high 16 points, five assists, five rebounds, two steals and two blocks. The future Maverick totaled 66 points in three state tournament games and averaged 21.4 points overall this season.
“First off, hats off to Pleasanton,” Haveman said. “Everybody in the state knows how good they are. I’m proud of the girls; they just continue to amaze people. Us coaches aren’t really surprised by it just because we’re fortunate enough to see it every day. But to see the joy on their faces and to see all the hard work pay off makes everything worth it.”
It took a while for the teams to wake up as they shot a combined 5-of-27 from the field with 10 turnovers in the first quarter. Pleasanton hit the offensive glass hard, grabbing nine boards and converting them into seven points to take a 7-5 lead after one.
The squads picked it up a little bit in the second quarter with Cave asserting her will in multiple ways. She hit a pull-up 3 to tie the game at 10-all (giving her Weeping Water’s first 10 points), then found Brooklyn Rathe for a pair of buckets to put the Indians ahead 14-13.
Pleasanton pulled ahead briefly with a bucket by Chelsea Fisher, but Cave took a charge in transition to give Weeping Water the final possession and she found Jamison Twomey in the corner for a 3 at the buzzer.
Weeping Water led 17-15 at halftime behind Cave’s 10 points and three assists. The Indians held the Bulldogs to one offensive rebound in the second quarter.
Cave found Rathe for a three-point play, fed Reagon Aronson for a corner 3 and then stole the ball and took it all the way for a layup to give the Indians their biggest lead at 25-19. Pleasanton rallied to make it 27-26 at the end of three, however, again crashing the glass and getting the ball to Fisher, a 6-foot-1 post.
The first five buckets of the second half all came on put-backs, the last of which came from Cave and put Weeping Water up 33-30. The Indians added a free throw from Reba Wilson and an elbow jumper from Ridge to make it a 7-0 run and a 36-30 lead with less than three minutes to play.
Weeping Water left the door open, however, shooting 1-of-4 from the free-throw line down the stretch, and Kaci Pierce took advantage. After the Bulldogs missed their first 10 3-point attempts, Pierce knocked down two of them in the final two-and-a-half minutes. Pleasanton got the ball inside to Pierce with 15 seconds left and she flipped the ball in over her shoulder to give the Bulldogs the lead at 39-38.
Neither coach called a timeout after the bucket. Weeping Water got the ball to Cave and she took it all the way, splitting two defenders to lay the ball in in with six seconds to go.
What an ending!
— Mike Sautter (@MikeSautter_) March 6, 2021
“After Kaci Pierce made the bucket at the end, I didn’t know how much time was left,” Cave said. “Karley in-bounded it and I just went. No brakes, all gas, I just went. I had a teammate in the corner and at the last couple seconds I was going to pass it and then I saw the girl kind of shade over towards the corner so I kept it and rolled it off my finger tips and thanks gosh it went in.”
Rathe, a junior, checked in off the bench with Wilson in foul trouble and went 3-for-3 from both the field and the free-throw line to finish with nine points, second on the team.
“She was huge,” Haveman said. “At this point of the year, whenever a team wins a state championship, there’s usually somebody that maybe nobody expects that steps up and gives some huge minutes or some huge buckets.”
Pierce led Pleasanton, last year’s state champ, with 15 points on 6-of-11 shooting and six rebounds. Fisher added 10 points on 5-of-7 shooting and seven rebounds. Eighteen of Pleasanton’s 39 were second-chance points as the Bulldogs grabbed 21 offensive rebounds. Pleasanton finished the season 27-2.
Pleasanton: 12- 8-10-11-13—39
Weeping Water: 7- 8-11-10-13—40
P: Kaci Pierce 15, Chelsea Fisher 10, Katelyn Lindner 7, Isabelle Paitz 7
WW: Grace Cave 16, Brooklyn Rathe 9, Karley Ridge 8, Jamison Twomey 3, Reagan Aronson 3, Reba Wilson 1
No. 5 North Bend Central 51, No. 3 Hastings St. Cecilia 49
The Emanuel sisters combined for 17 points in the fourth quarter and 39 in the game to dig North Bend Central out of a double-digit hole and lead the Tigers to their second straight state championship.
“Really proud of the grit they showed there at the end,” Coach Aaron Sterup said. “Eleven points down starting the fourth quarter is not how you draw it up, certainly. We weren’t playing well at the time, but we certainly knew that we had it in us to make a run like that. Again, just super proud. We had some things go our way for sure, but good teams make those things happen. So I was just really proud of the fact that they didn’t quit.”
St. Cecilia trailed for less than 60 seconds the entire game, controlling the action for most of the first three quarters. But North Bend Central dominated the fourth quarter to battle back from an 11-point deficit and Sydney Emanuel knocked down two free throws with six seconds left to give the Tigers the lead.
St. Cecilia got the ball to star guard Bailey Kissinger and she raced up the floor, getting all the way to the rim, but she put the contested layup too strong off the backboard and the buzzer sounded.
Sydney Emanuel made some clutch plays in last year’s championship game, but she said the second title was even more special.
“I think this one’s even more exciting because we were down by 11 going into the fourth quarter,” she said. “You weren’t expecting it that much, so when we finished it off I was so happy.”
Kissinger put the Hawkettes on her back, finishing with 33 points, seven rebounds and three assists.
It wasn’t enough, however, as Sydney Emanuel, a junior, finished with 20 points (including a perfect 12-of-12 from the foul line), eight rebounds and five steals. Kaitlyn Emanuel, a sophomore forward, added 19 points, 10 rebounds and three steals.
St. Cecilia never trailed in the first quarter and pushed its lead to 21-15 on a Kissinger layup midway through the second, but North Bend Central responded with an 8-0 run to take its first lead of the game. Back-to-back Kissinger buckets put the Hawkettes back in front, but Sydney Emanuel followed her own miss to draw a foul as time expired, hitting both free throws to knot the game at 25-all.
St. Cecilia opened the third with a 9-2 spurt, then Kissinger closed the period with a personal 7-2 run including a 3 at the buzzer to put St. Cecilia up 43-32 heading into the fourth.
Knowing they didn’t have long to make a comeback, the Tigers extended their defense and picked up the pressure, and St. Cecilia didn’t handle it well. North Bend Central opened the fourth with a 12-1 run to tie the game at 44-all as the Hawkettes missed their first eight shots and turned the ball over four times.
“The pressure was a lot of it,” Sterup said. “Although we didn’t get steals every time, I certainly think it made them uncomfortable. When you’re sitting on a lead, you get a little bit more passive on offense and I think that worked to our advantage a little bit. They missed a couple close to the basket, which certainly benefitted us a little bit.”
Kissinger broke the tie with a three-point play, but Sydney Emanuel drew a foul on an offensive rebound and hit both bonus free throws. Kissinger scored again to put the Hawkettes up three with 58 seconds to go, but Sydney Emanuel found her sister wide open in the right corner.
“Sydney passed it to me,” Kaitlyn said. “She gave me this look and I saw it in her eyes, and I just shot, threw it up there and I guess it went in.”
The 3 tied the game with 44 seconds left. On the other end, North Bend Central packed the paint against Kissinger and stopped her twice, blocking one shot and forcing a miss on the second attempt, and Sydney Emanuel got fouled while securing the rebound to set up the game-winning free throws.
Adeline Kirkegaard had a double-double with 10 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks, but the only other Hawkette who scored was Shaye Butler with six points.
Hastings St. Cecilia: 15-10-18- 6—49
North Bend Central: 12-13- 7-19—51
HSC: Bailey Kissinger 33, Adeline Kirkegaard 10, Shaye Butler 6
NB: Sydney Emanuel 20, Kaitlyn Emanuel 19, Ally Pojar 5, Cierra Kluthe 4, Hannah Williams 3
No. 2 Elkhorn North 46, No. 1 Norris 33
Elkhorn North led for all but 68 seconds en route to a state championship in the school’s first year of existence. Elkhorn North held Norris to one of its lowest point totals of the season to secure a double-digit win in the rubber match for the top two seeds in Class B.
“I’m just absolutely thrilled with this accomplishment,” Elkhorn North Coach Ann Prince said. “It’s something that you definitely are not expecting in your first year as a school with no seniors. I’m so incredibly proud of our girls. They are the greatest kids and have created such an amazing culture. I think that’s evident in the way that they play; they play together, they play hard. It’s just been an unbelievable season. It’s a dream come true for me personally and I think for our girls as well.”
Elkhorn North finished the season 21-2 without a senior on its roster. Freshman sensation Britt Prince struggled a bit offensively but still stuffed the stat sheet with 13 points, 14 rebounds, six assists and three steals.
Grace Thompson led the Wolves with 14 points plus seven rebounds and three blocks. Hannah Nadgwick added 11 points on 5-of-6 shooting.
“I think the way that our team played together tonight is a really big part of the reason that we won,” Britt Prince said. “Grace stepped up big and Hannah had a pretty big game. We just played really well together tonight and I thin that’s how we got it done.”
The Wolves raced out to a 7-0 lead 47 seconds into the game, drawing a quick timeout form Norris. The Titans settled in during the break and battled back to make it a one-point game before Prince knocked down 3 for her first points of the game.
A free throw pushed North’s lead to five, but the Titans scored five in a row spanning the end of the first and beginning of the second quarters tie it at 13-all. Senior point guard Molly Ramsey picked up her third foul shortly after that and had to take a seat, and Thompson hit a 3 to spark a 6-0 run to finish the half and put the Wolves up 19-13 at the break.
Norris shot 1-of-14 from 3 in the first half. Thompson led all scorers with 10 points for the Wolves, picking up the slack for Prince and second-leading scorer Reilly Palmer who had one bucket apiece.
“We knew we were going to see the junk defense, the triangle-and-2,” Ann Prince said. “They’ve shown that, they’ve shown the 1-3 chaser, so we were prepared. We’ve been working on it and we’re getting a lot better at it because we’ve seen it in multiple games here down the stretch. We’ve just been stressing that we have to get more kids involved, we’ve got to have a lot of ball movement and people movement, and we’ve got to have other players step up and make plays … Grace stepped up in a big way and we’ve had multiple kids step up over the last five or six games.”
Ramsey started the second half and cut the deficit to four with layups on back-to-back possessions, but the Wolves answered with an 8-2 run to stretch the lead to 11. Norris cut the deficit back to six but Prince closed out the third quarter with a jumper from the elbow to make it 32-24 heading into the fourth.
Ramsey picked up her fourth foul on the first possession of the period and spent the next few minutes on the bench. Brianna Stai scored to make it a six-point game, but the Wolves delivered the knockout blow with a 14-3 run to push the lead to 17 with two minutes to go.
Elkhorn North held Norris to 22.2% shooting including 2-of-25 from deep. Ramsey led the Titans with 14 points but shot 6-of-19 from the field. Stay had nine points on 3-of-10 shooting plus 10 rebounds.
“On day one, it was like ‘it’s going to be about hard work, it’s going to be about teamwork,’” Ann Prince said. “We were always going to be about defense. I preached to them from day one you’re going to win games if you play great defense every night, and we proved it today. We started the season off with great defense and then we evolved into a very good offensive team. Then down the stretch, it gets ugly. Everybody has each other scouted out and we went back to our roots of defending really well, and that’s what brought us this championship today.”
Norris: 9- 4-11- 9—33
Elkhorn North: 13- 6-13-14—46
N: Molly Ramsey 14, Brianna Stai 9, Maddie Collier 5, Gracie Kircher 4, Kalli Kroeker 1
EN: Grace Thompson 14, Britt Prince 13, Hannah Nadgwick 11, Molly Bruggeman 4, Reilly Palmer 2, Reese Booth 2
No. 1 Humphrey St. Francis 57, No. 2 Falls City Sacred Heart 48
One year ago, Humphrey St. Francis fell to Wynot 59-51 in the state title game. After the Flyers received their silver medals, Nebraska signee Allison Weidner grabbed teammates Emma and Hannah Baumgart and had a message for them.
“I promised them that this year would be our year,” Weidner said. “They were crying, I was crying. I promised them this would be our year and now we’re undefeated, 25-0, state champs. It feels good.”
St. Francis used a 13-0 run in the fourth quarter to turn a tight game into a comfortable win. Constant defensive pressure eventually wore down the Irish and led to nine fourth-quarter turnovers to fuel the Flyers’ decisive run.
“Just a fantastic game from start to finish,” Coach Bryan Reichmuth said. “Credit Falls City, they played a great game. They had us a bit out of sync early. We stuck with our game plan, though and eventually our defense kind of kicked up, we found a little extra energy and I think we kind of wore them down there in the fourth. We had some huge plays at the right time, and just a fantastic game. Staying undefeated, that’s a tough ticket, but we hung in there and got it done.”
Weidner put up a game-high 21 points, eight rebounds, five steals and three assists. She finishes her career as Nebraska’s all-time third-leading scorer with 2,282 points, and her 208 career points at the state tournament tied her for the eighth-most in tournament history.
“It feels amazing,”Weidner said. “I couldn’t have done it without my coaches, my teammates and my family. They’re always pushing me to be better and to just never settle. A huge credit goes to them because they’re constantly supporting me. It’s just a great feeling.”
Between forcing turnovers (19) and crashing the offensive glass (17), the Flyers attempted 26 more shots, which allowed them to overcome shooting 33.3% from the field.
Sacred Heart took control early, jumping out to a 13-8 lead, but Weidner took over from there. After missing her first three shots, she closed the quarter on a personal 6-1 run to tie it up at 14-all.
A 5-2 start gave the Irish the lead again, but St. Francis countered with a 9-0 run, then after a pair of Sacred Heart free throws Alissa Kosch hit a 3 to give St. Francis a 28-21 lead, and the Flyer took a 30-24 advantage into halftime.
Sacred Heart chipped away at the lead throughout the third quarter until DeLanie Witt tied the game at 39-all with a 3-pointer. Weidner got to the rack late to put St. Francis up two heading into the fourth.
Erison Vonderschmidt scored six of the first eight points of the final quarter to give Sacred Heart a 45-43 lead, but the Irish didn’t score again until a 3-pointer by Ella Simon with 14 seconds to go. Kaylee Stricklin, who played just 14 minutes because of foul trouble, scored eight points in the fourth to finish with 10. Kosch chipped in 13 points and six boards as well.
Weidner got a steal and score with a minute to go to cap the 13-0 run, and the realization of what the Flyers were about to do hit her.
“Tears of joy were starting to fill my eyes,” Weidner said. “It was a relief. People kept texting me good luck, you don’t want a repeat of last year and stuff and just kind of giving me crap before the game. I just wanted to make sure we got it done, to leave St. Francis on a high note.”
Vonderschmidt led the Irish with 17 points on 8-of-11 shooting and 13 rebounds. Olivia Eickhoff added 12 points and four assists. Rachel Magdanz, Sacred Heart’s starting point guard and second-leading scorer, did not play because of injury.
No. 1 Humphrey St. Francis: 14-16-11-16—57
No. 2 Falls City Sacred Heart: 14-10-15- 9—48
HSF: Allison Weidner 21, Alissa Kosch 13, Kaylee Stricklin 10, Kylee Wessel 7, Emma Baumgart 6
FCSH: Erison Vonderschmidt 17, Olivia Eickhoff 12, Jessica Wertenberger 5, Lauren Malone 4, DeLanie Witt 3, Ella Simon 3, Danielle Bippes 2, Emma Littrel 2
No. 1 Lincoln Pius X 56, No. 3 Fremont 52
A few hours after her future teammate completed a 25-0 season with a state title, Alexis Markowski did the same as Pius took down Fremont for the third time this season to repeat as the Class A champion.
Lincoln Pius X fell behind early but battled back to take the lead and control the action throughout much of the second half.
“They’re just so competitive and their will to win is second to none,” Pius coach Ryan Post said. “Fremont is unbelievable. They can shoot it and they’ve gotten much better from the beginning of the year to the end of the year. We knew coming into tonight it was going to be a tough task, but when the chips are on the table I wouldn’t bet against them.”
Markowski finished with 27 points on 12-of-19 from the field and 3-of-5 from the line, 19 rebounds (six offensive), four blocks and two steals. In her six state tournament games over the last two years, she totaled 151 points and 89 rebounds.
“I would have never guessed that I would have been a back-to-back state champion,” Markowski said. “Your whole life you dream about doing it once, and doing it twice with these girls, it’s such an awesome feeling. I’m going to miss the Pius uniform, but I can’t wait to be a Husker.”
Fremont coach Kelly Flynn couldn’t have scripted a better start for the Tigers. Fremont scored the first 10 points of the game and jumped out to a 21-7 lead, hitting seven of their first 10 shots including five 3s.
Pius settled in from there, however, and put together a 12-0 run spanning the end of the first and beginning of the second quarters to cut the deficit to two. McCabe ended the run with a runner, but Pius answered with a bucket from Markowski and a step-back 3 from Jillian Aschoff to take its first lead with just over three minutes to play in the half.
Markowski picked up her second foul shortly after that, however, and took a seat. Fremont scored the last six points as Sarah Shepherd snapped a streak of eight straight Fremont misses from deep, then McCabe knocked one down as well after missing her first five 3s.
Fremont took a 29-24 lead into halftime. The Tigers held Markowski to eight points on 4-of-8 shooting with three turnovers. Fremont shot 7-of-20 from 3 (after starting 5-of-8).
Pius cut the deficit to one twice and Fremont responded both times. The Tigers didn’t have an answer the third time, however, as Pius closed the quarter with a 13-3 run to take a 43-37 lead. Markowski had 11 of those points.
“I’ve played with her for a while and she seems to do that a lot,” Aschoff said. “She’s a great player. We just knew we needed to get her the ball inside, so that was our main plan.”
Pius maintained its lead throughout the fourth quarter, though the Tigers made one last big push, making it a three-point game with 31 seconds left. After trying to to force a turnover initially, Fremont fouled Adison Markowski with 19.9 on the clock. The younger Markowski hadn’t attempted a free throw in the game, but she stepped up to the line and hit both of them.
“Alexis came up to me and said ‘Make these free throws and we’ve got it,’” Adison said. “I just told myself ‘be confident.’ All my teammates were hyping me up, so I knocked ‘em in.”
Fremont missed a 3 and then fouled Alexis Markowski after the rebound, and she hit both shots as well to push Pius’ lead to seven. McCabe hit a 3 from the eastern part of the mid-court Nebraska outline, but it was too little, too late.
As the final horn sounded, Alexis ran to meet her sister at half court for a hug.
“She really is my best friend and I’m really going to miss playing with her,” Alexis said. “It’s been awesome these two years and I wouldn’t change any of it. I’m leaving her with this team and she’s going to do an amazing job.”
The Markowski girls also got to celebrate with their dad, former Husker Andy Markowski, who is an assistant coach for Pius.
Aschoff finished with 10 points on 4-of-7 from the filed (2-of-4 from 3) and eight assists after scoring seven points on 2-of-22 shooting in the first two rounds of the tournament. She is Pius’ all-time assists leader, finishing with 431 in her career.
“Jill’s amazing, honestly one of the best point guards in the state,” Alexis Markowski said. “Her passing is close to none, not a lot of players can make the passes Jill can. I’ve been playing with her since we were little kids, and this is the perfect ending. I’m going to miss playing with her, but I know we’re going to be friends forever and I can’t wait to watch what she does in the future.”
Fremont shot 3-of-10 from deep in the second half. McCabe, an Iowa commit and arguably the best shooter in the state, finished with 18 points but shot just 2-of-11 from 3. Macy Bryant scored 12 points while battling inside with Markowski all day. Charli Earth scored 11 points to finish her career with 1,000 on the dot. Earth is the only senior in Fremont’s rotation.
Lincoln Pius X: 14-10-19-13—56
Fremont: 21- 8- 8-15—56
LPX: Alexis Markowski 27, Jillian Aschoff 10, Miriam Miller 8, Adison Markowski 5, Charlee Hagedorn 3, Lilly Hodge 3
F: Taylor McCabe 18, Macy Bryant 12, Charli Earth 11, McKenna Murphy 6, Sarah Shepherd 5
No. 1 Crofton 46, No. 6 Ponca 42
The final game of the day was one of the most physical and chaotic, featuring 36 fouls, 36 turnovers and 25 offensive rebounds between the two teams. However, Crofton locked down on defense in the fourth to win its ninth state title.
Crofton held a one-point edge after two ties and three lead changes in the first quarter. Ponca used a 13-2 run in the second quarter to pull ahead 26-19, but Crofton responded with a 12-2 run to make it 31-28 Warriors early in the third. The Indians closed out the third with a 10-2 stretch to take a 38-34 lead into the fourth.
The fourth quarter belonged to Crofton as the Warriors held the Indians to just four points on 1-of-12 shooting and three turnovers. Crofton used a 6-0 run to pull ahead 43-40 with Alexis Folkers scoring four of those points. The Indians split on two trips to the free-throw line to pull within one, but they failed to score in the final 70 seconds despite a couple of looks from the perimeter.
Crofton only made one field goal in the fourth as well, but the Warriors also shot 10-of-13 t the foul line. Folkers and Jayden Jordan scored 11 points apiece while Lacey Sprakel added eight points and nine rebounds.
Samantha Ehlers scored a game-high 17 points for Crofton and grabbed nine rebounds. Ashlyn Kingsbury added 13 points while Gracen Evans had a double-double with 10 points, 10 rebounds and a team-high three assists.
Crofton: 12-13- 9-12—46
Ponca: 11-17-10- 4—42
C: Blair Jordan 11, Alexis Folkers 11, Lacey Sprakel 8, Kaley Einrem 8, Ella Wragge 5, Eillie Tramp 3
P: Samantha Ehlers 17, Ashlyn Kingsbury 13, Gracen Evans 10, Alyssa Crosgrove 2
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.