Remsen St. Mary’s girls basketball makes state for first time

Friday, February 24, 2023
(Sentinel Photo By Allen Hamil) The Remsen St. Mary’s girls basketball team poses with their state qualifying banner after winning their Class 1A regional final game 51-43 over Exira/Elk Horn-Kimballton on Thursday in Mapleton. The win secures the first trip to the state tournament in school history in girls basketball.

MAPLETON — Remsen St. Mary’s can add another sport to their list of teams qualifying for the state tournament. The No. 4 ranked RSM girls basketball team earned a state qualifying banner with a 51-43 win over Exira/Elk Horn-Kimballton in a Class 1A regional final on Thursday. The win advances the school to the girls state basketball tournament for the first time in program history.

“It’s so awesome, it’s so incredible to be able to do this,” junior Carmindee Ricke said.

Many of the same players who will be going to state in basketball have accomplished the feat in softball the last two years, but junior Mya Bunkers said this one has its own unique feeling.

“We’ve had it in softball, but this feels different,” Bunkers said. “During basketball it’s all fast-paced, you have to trust each other during the whole game and we do have that.”

It’s been a goal for this group for a few years. Two years ago, when most of the roster was comprised of freshmen, the Hawks fell in the regional semifinal round. A year later the team took a step further to make it to a regional final where they fell to top-ranked and three-time defending champion Newell-Fonda. The team took one more step this year to be able to advance to state.

“We’ve been working on this since freshman year,” junior Whitney Jensen said. “This was our goal all season. We talked about it every single day at practice so it feels really good.”

Solid start, sluggish second stanza

The Hawks jumped out to an 8-2 advantage in the first two minutes of play which prompted a timeout from Spartans Head Coach Tom Petersen, who has coached his teams to eight state tournaments including the previous two seasons.

Ricke opened the scoring with a 3-pointer and Claire Schroeder tacked on a bucket. Shay Burmeister responded for a basket, the first of her team-leading 19 points in the contest, before Halle Galles knocked down a triple.

The Hawks held a 14-10 advantage after a quarter, but struggled to find the hoop in the second quarter. A free throw from Galles, who ended with four points, and a basket from Claire Schroeder, who finished with eight points, were the only times the ball made it to the bottom of the net for the Hawks.

A 10-3 advantage in the second quarter for the Spartans allowed them to hold a 20-17 halftime advantage. Burmeister capped off the scoring with a pair of layups to put Exira/EHK in front.

“We weren’t talking on defense and that was what was allowing them to score and we just needed to fix that,” Jensen said. “In our halftime, that’s what we talked about.”

The Hawks knew they had to make some changes to not let a chance at a state tournament berth slip away.

“We struggled finishing, we struggled talking and then we came out in the second half and knew that we needed to push right then, otherwise the game was over,” Bunkers said.

17-0 run sends Hawks flying past Spartans

Whatever was said in the locker room at halftime lit a fire under the Hawks in the second half as they returned to the court and scored the first 17 points of the frame.

“They were a little bit lost, a little bit unfocused and then finally brought it together. It started with a simple word as talk,” RSM Head Coach Scott Willman said. “Our girls are really, really good at responding, desiring and so we knew that they would engage, which they didn’t in the first half.”

Jensen, the team’s leading scorer this season averaging nearly 15 points per game, had been going through a slump. The junior was held to six points in the team’s regional win over George-Little Rock, went scoreless against Kingsley-Pierson in the regional semifinals, and had just two points in the first half against the Spartans. She knew now was her time to take charge.

“Coming out of halftime, I just thought in my head we need this confidence and I just need to take over so then we could just win as a team,” Jensen said.

Jensen did just that as she started off the scoring rally for the Hawks with a two followed by a three.

(Sentinel Photo By Allen Hamil) Whitney Jensen pulls up for a shot in the regional final win. She scored 13 of her team-leading 15 points in the third quarter, including 10 during the team’s 17-0 run to start the frame.

Mya Bunkers followed suit after a quiet first half of her own. She got the team’s next bucket to make it a 24-20 RSM lead and force a timeout from the Spartans.

The timeout didn’t slow down the Hawks as they continued their run. Ricke got a layup as the run stretched to nine points.

“We definitely feed off each other, that’s for sure. Once one thing gets going it just seems like it just clicks for us,” Ricke said.

Bunkers followed with the hoop and the harm and converted the free throw for a three point play. It was part of her 11 points in the game, all of which came in the second half.

(Sentinel Photo By Allen Hamil) Mya Bunkers takes the ball to the hoop for a layup in the second half of Thursday’s game against Exira/EHK. She scored all 11 of her points after halftime, including five during the team’s 17-0 run.

Jensen capped off the run scoring the final five points with a layup, free throw and shot in the lane to make it a 34-20 advantage as the Spartans had to use another timeout.

She finished the game with 15 points. Ten of those came during the 17-0 run and she added a subsequent 3-pointer to have 13 of her 15 points in the game find the bottom of the net in the third quarter.

“That run in the third quarter was fun. The defense was there, the offense was moving and we were the team we were supposed to be,” Willman said.

Exira/EHK finally got on the scoreboard in the second half with less than two minutes to go in the third quarter. They were able to put up a flurry of eight points in the final two minutes to make it a 39-28 game entering the fourth quarter.

RSM extended their lead out to double digits again in the fourth quarter before the Spartans had one more rally in them. Quinn Grubbs hit a 3-pointer with under a minute to play to make it a 49-43 game. The Hawks did a good job of limiting the leading scorer for the Spartans as she finished with nine points, half of her season scoring average of 18 points per game.

“They were such prolific scorers on the outside we knew we had to take that away. I think it wore on them throughout the game,” Willman said.

Ricke put the final touches on the win with a pair of free throws to finish off a 13 point performance.

Turn attention to state

The Hawks now turn their attention to the state tournament where they enter as the No. 4 seed in the Class 1A bracket with a 23-1 record.

While securing the blue banner and cutting down the nets in Mapleton were a great accomplishment, Willman said it’s just one goal checked off the list.

“This is an incredible feeling. We’ve got girls who really have the desire, the passion and the love for each other to get this done. I know just getting to state is such a big thing, but I know they want to get there and achieve, too,” Willman said. “We have girls that are determined to not just be one-and-done down there.”

The Hawks will open the state tournament with a Class 1A quarterfinal round game against fifth-seeded West Fork (24-0) at Wells Fargo Arena on Wednesday at 3:15 p.m.

It will be the second state tournament appearance for West Fork who last made it in 2011 in Class 2A.

Bunkers can’t wait to get to Des Moines for the state tournament.

“We’ve never experienced this. This is going to be so fun. I’m so excited,” Bunkers said.

(Sentinel Photo By Allen Hamil) The Remsen St. Mary’s girls basketball team celebrates their regional final victory over Exira/Elk Horn-Kimballton on Thursday. The 51-43 win advances the team to the state tournament for the first time in school history. The Hawks will open the state tournament as the No. 4 seed. They will face fifth-seeded West Fork in the Class 1A quarterfinal round Wednesday at 3:15 p.m. at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.
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