Lady Irish have just one more thing to do
The Falls City Sacred Heart Lady Irish girls’ basketball team has individually and collectively won just about every trophy, honor and milestone out there, from MUDECAS and Pioneer Conference trophies to all-state honors and state records to a 200th coaching victory, and all the nylon that comes with district titles, not to mention the long-lasting and bittersweet aftertaste of — not one, but two — consolation game wins.
The Lady Irish again left with the nets Friday at Norris Middle School, beating Hampton like a drum and winning a Class D2-1 District they didn’t even need to bother themselves with. That’s because FCSH, 25-2 and winners of 20 in a row, were this weekend’s top state seed regardless of what they did in districts. Yet they went about their business and did so in, depending on your perspective, methodical or horrifying and ruthless fashion. If you’re FCSH, which has missed the state tournament twice in 20 years, it was business as usual. If you’re one of the other seven teams in the 2015 Class D2 field, you’re scared out of your wits.
Sacred Heart won three postseason games by a combined score of 168-63, capped by a 53-23 dismantling of a 20-win Hampton team that wound up qualifying for state regardless.
That’s just how it’s been for the Irish ever since Christmas. No game during its winning streak was decided by single digits, yet it was against arguably the toughest slate FCSH has seen in years. There was a 16-point win over then-unbeaten and current Class C2 No. 4 and 24-3 state qualifier Freeman, and a 17-point win in a rematch with Class D-1 No. 9 Friend, 21-5 and, too, a state qualifier, in the Pioneer Conference Tourney Championship last month. The team has won 12 times against teams with 15 or more victories – not just won, but dominated. Since a 39-31 loss to Class C2 Sutton on Dec. 30 at Adams, the Irish have held teams to about 27 ppg.
“We’re just locked in defensively,” FCSH Coach Luke Santo, who captured career win No. 200 in that aforementioned conference title game, in this just his ninth season.
“In December I thought we were an OK team, but it’s pretty amazing how far we’ve come,” Santo said. “Some of it, we didn’t know our roles yet. But it all just clicked right before MUDECAS and I don’t really know why,” he sort of joked. “We’re focused and on a mission, I guess.
“I really like how we’re playing right now, our schedule has actually been tougher than in the past and I think we’re ready, but I’ve thought that before. The bottom line is we gotta show up and make plays,” Santo said.
Yes, FCSH has done it all — like make 12 trips to Lincoln — since the glory days of the ‘90s, but this month, oddly only because of their unmatched consistency, marks the 15th anniversary of the Lady Irish’s last state basketball championship. One year, FCSH found itself in the All-Class Top 10 after winning MUDECAS, yet couldn’t string together three-straight against Class D2 come March. It was just three years ago when the Lady Irish took an 18-game winning streak into a “meaningless” District Final only to lose back-to-back games against Deshler. Since the “threepeat” of 98-99-00, FCSH has finished runner-up three times and won the consolation game in each of its three appearances.
“These girls have done just about everything, but they haven’t played in a championship game,” Santo said. “I have a good feeling, but I had it last year, too. Hopefully we show up with a sense of urgency.”
For three seniors (Kelsi Fouraker and the Magdanz twins – Abby and Elizabeth), whose state tournament careers started with a loss to four-time champion Wynot, there will likely be both a sense of urgency and sense of relief. All three have played hundreds of basketball games and been on the winning side, at least during the winter months, 75 times to just 10 defeats, and at least twice have come within a mere handful of possessions shy of the winner’s circle. The twins have started every game for four years and compiled epic high school basketball careers. They have the individual records, and chronic aches (Abby, 61 threes at a 42-percent clip, 94 assists and 54 steals – all with an arthritic back) and pains (Elizabeth, 9.9 ppg. on a broken leg) to prove it. Fouraker, furthermore, is coming off major knee surgery, junior all-stater Maggie Goltz, who scored 30 in her state debut two years ago, has been hindered by a mysterious leg injury for more than a year now, playing three or four minutes at a time yet averaging nearly 10 ppg., and Haylee Heits, perhaps the best athlete of the bunch, has been forced to miss her entire sophomore volleyball, basketball and track seasons due to a knee injury. Their coach wants each to have more than a pair of third place D2 trophies and a mountain of regular season triumphs to show for their troubles.
“I’d love to send the seniors out with a championship,” Santo said. “And I know they want to get it done. There have been a lot of great years, but no championships.”
That’s expected to change. At 10:45 a.m. Thursday at Lincoln North Star, a 21-3 Crawford team is likely in for a rude awakening and 450 miles from home. FCSH, with Goltz at 6-1, a pair of 6-foot freshmen post players in Sara Wertenberger and Lauren Parrish, and 5-10 sophomore Jade Hill, is a match-up nightmare for the Rams, who don’t boast a single player over 5-8.
“We’re longer and taller than most teams,” Santo said. “The girls play hard and play smart. We’re good at guarding the ball and we’ve really done a better job of communicating as the season has progressed.”
Against Hampton at Norris, Goltz hit 6-of-8 shots and scored 12, adding six rebounds and a couple blocks, while sophomore guard Alexis Barnes drained 3-of-6 threes and scored nine. Hill hit the boards for seven rebounds, four of which were offensive.
FCSH, after missing six layups and leading by two, 10-8, after one quarter, used a 14-2 second quarter run to turn this into a yawner. The Irish owned a 31-20 rebounding edge and harrassed Hampton into 8-of-41 shooting.
Stuart, which came within a point of Wynot in the District Final, will likely be waiting in Friday’s 2 p.m. semifinal at the Devaney Center. The third-ranked Broncos have the size, but not the pedigree – it’s been 22 years since Stuart won a state tourney game. No way they’re getting two in a row this time.
That leaves a 4:30 p.m. title game with No. 1 FCSH vs. No. 2 Wynot. The Blue Devils will be seeking a 15th straight state tournament win and fifth title in five years.
But minus all-stater Maggie Schulte, this isn’t your big sister’s Blue Devils. Nor, perhaps, is this your big sister’s Lady Irish.
“I seems like its our time now – but somebody has to been them when it matters.
“It’s time we finally get this done,” he said.