Through adversity came strength for the Moundridge girls basketball team.
The Wildcats, who were thought to be in a rebuilding year before the first ball was tossed up in December, came within one victory of winning the Class 2A state title, losing 46-33 Saturday afternoon to Central Plains.
The Wildcats, who went into this season having to replace their twin heartbeats Brooke Holloway and MacKenzie Suderman, finished the year 23-3, two of the losses coming to Central Plains.
“This group of young ladies exceeded everyone's expectations except theirs and mine,” Moundridge coach Vicky Kessler said. “I remember telling some fans that I believed that this team would be at state in the upcoming year and I think they thought I was dreaming.”
It was the Wildcats’ two earlier losses that perhaps made them better, according to Kessler.
“There were some bumps along the way, sickness and injuries, but the girls pressed on through the adversity,” Kessler said. “There were two turning points in the season and they both came with our losses. In the (Moundridge) preseason tournament when we played Lyons, the girls came out and played scared and then all of sudden they realized they could play with a high-caliber team. Although we lost that game, there was a change in the team's mental toughness. When we lost in the Hilltop Classic to Central Plains in the finals by two, that left no doubt in what they were capable of accomplishing. There was a shift in the determination and intensity levels picked up.”
The Wildcats survived a difficult sub-state, and then defeated Chase County and Valley Falls in the first two state rounds at Manhattan to set up the rematch with Central Plains, a team they had led by 17 points in the fourth quarter in the first meeting only to lose 61-59.
This time, the Wildcats were the ones who got down in the fourth quarter, but they ran out of magic as the Oilers outscored them 20-11 in the final 8 minutes for the 13-point victory.
“During postseason play, there was a focus that was undeniable,” Kessler said. “Every player raised their level of play, especially on the defensive end. Of course defense is the Moundridge tradition, but the level in which they played throughout the postseason even surprised me.”
What made this year so special is that Kessler couldn’t remember a season where the class was so stocked with good teams.
“2A was tough this year,” she said. “There were no blowouts and every team had to fight tooth and nail to get a win. What a huge accomplishment for this group of young ladies to finish as the runner-up team in Class 2A. I can't say enough about this group of young ladies on and off the court. They are a class act. The seniors (Michelle Morrison, Michelle Schrag, Cassidy Siemens and Anna Stucky) led the team by example and have left a legacy to follow.”
The Wildcats do return all-everything Ashley Holler, who’s certain to achieve some high honors after an outstanding season. Seven other underclassmen return, so Kessler has the potential to take another team back to Bramlage Coliseum.