Cougars clinch state berth

T-R PHOTO BY ADAM RING • AGWSR players gather on the court in Conrad after downing Lynnville-Sully on Monday in their Class 1A Region 3 final to qualify for the state tournament.

CONRAD — AGWSR knew the Hawks would go on runs. They key was when Lynnville-Sully did make a move, the Cougars didn’t let it define the whole game.

The AGWSR girls’ basketball team built as big of a lead as 11 two minutes into the second quarter of Monday night’s Class 1A Region 3 final. The Hawks were able to trim the margin to two by halftime. The eighth-ranked Cougars came out firing with a 13-2 run to begin the second half, and the Hawks never got back within more than eight as AGWSR held on for the 53-45 victory, securing a spot at the state tournament.

“I felt like we could defend,” said AGWSR coach Laurie Gann, “and control our turnovers, and not throw the ball away, not get into their style of wanting to run at you and force it inside.

“I told the kids (the Hawks) are going to make runs. We’ve got to hold steady and control ourselves so they don’t take the lead.”

It’s AGWSR’s (21-2) first trip to the state tournament since the Cougars won it all in 2009, capping off a run of four-straight years of making it to Des Moines.

T-R PHOTO BY ADAM RING

The Cougars never trailed against Lynnville-Sully (18-7), but it wasn’t without it nervous moments. AGWSR leading scorer, Mandy Willems, went down in the first quarter fighting for a loose ball, and stayed down for a couple seconds after turning her ankle. She eventually got up and hobbled to the other end of the court but exited the game at the next stoppage. She missed only a minute of game action, but had to deal with it all game long. Willems still managed to finish with 17 points, three assists, four steals and two blocks.

Playing the regional final inside of BCLUW High School, Willems said she coincidentally turned the same ankle in a conference game against BCLUW in the same gym earlier this season.

“I knew had to get up and keep pushing for my team,” Willems said of the physical toll Monday brought. “I just got through.”

So, what fueled Willems and the Cougars to fight through the adversity they faced against the Hawks? The memories of being in the same situation a year prior. AGWSR was one game away from the state tournament last year, but came up short against Turkey Valley, 47-33.

Now a year older, a year wiser, the Cougars find themselves in the tournament of eight.

T-R PHOTO BY ADAM RING

“Last year we came into the game with a bunch nerves,” Willems said. “Not as confident in ourselves as we were this year. That helped out a lot that a lot of us had experience in the regional final. We knew what to expect, and that helped.”

Carson Fisk did what she could to keep the Hawks in the game, including sinking a 3-pointer before half as part of her 22 points. But Willems scored seven of the 13 points in the 13-2 run, including drawing a hoop and the harm, completing the and-one. She also scored on a breakaway during the run that also saw points from Ally Finger and Rachel Sicard.

“We thought we did a pretty decent job of trying to keep Fisk out,” Gann said. “Most of her points are usually (inside), but she killed us on the outside tonight. She’s just a whale of a player.”

From there, the Cougars controlled the tempo. Willems found Taryan Barrick unguarded inside from the baseline for two with about five minutes to play, and McKenna Kuper put the game on ice with a bucket for an 11-point lead with 59 seconds to play.

AGWSR 53, Lynnville-Sully 45

T-R PHOTO BY ADAM RING

At Conrad

LYNNVILLE-SULLY (18-7) — Jataya Meyer 2 0-0 5, Shiloh Cunningham 1 2-7 4, Camryn Russell 0 0-0 0, Carson Fisk 8 3-3 22, Mariah Vos 0 4-6 4, Mallory Loftus 2 1-2 6, Krystal Van Dyke 1 2-4 4. TOTALS — 14 12-22 45.

AGWSR (21-2) — Taryan Barrick 1 0-3 2, Ally Finger 0 2-2 2, Aubrie Fisher 4 1-4 9, Rachel Sicard 5 1-2 11, Mandy Willems 7 2-2 17, McKenna Kuper 2 1-6 5, Alyssa Hames 2 0-0 4, Tori Brandt 1 1-2 3, Whitanie Nederhoff 0 0-0 0. TOTALS 21 8-21 53.

L-S 10 12 8 15 — 45

AGWSR 12 12 17 12 — 53

T-R PHOTO BY ADAM RING

3-Point Goals–L-S 5 (Fisk 3, Loftus, Meyer), AGWSR 1 (Willems). Total Fouls–L-S 15, AGWSR 19. Fouled Out–Finger.