Mill Valley girls’ run ends in sub-state final against St. Thomas Aquinas
Overland Park The Mill Valley community was ready for the girls basketball team to take the next step.
The pep band filled an entire column of seating. One member flaunted a sign that read “Lady Jags #statebound.”
Parents and students alike stood up and cheered for a majority of the game, attempting to will their Jaguars to the first state tournament appearance since the school opened in 2000.
But instead of holding up the trophy at the end of the game on Saturday night, Mill Valley stood on the sidelines as Saint Thomas Aquinas celebrated its 18th consecutive sub-state title in a 34-26 defensive battle.
For the Jaguars, it was a tough way to end one of the more successful seasons in program history, which included a Kaw Valley League championship and an 18-game winning streak.
“I’m just proud of my girls that they were in this position and played well,” Mill Valley coach John McFall said.
From the beginning of the contest, both teams seemed relatively cautious about attacking each other on offense.
The scoreboard only read 4-4 after the first eight minutes.
Defense proved to be the main theme during this matchup, and rightfully so. The Saints and Jaguars each played aggressive, suffocating defense throughout.
In the second quarter, the shots began to fall a little more, and a familiar face led the Jaguars.
After going scoreless in the first quarter, junior Tanner Tripp turned up her game, nailing two 3-pointers and racking up 11 of her game-high 15 points in the second period.
Known mainly as shooter, Tripp also showed off her defensive skills that sparked Mill Valley to take a 20-14 lead into halftime.
In the fourth minute, Tripp forced jump on a ball in pile to give possession back to the Jaguars.
Then with 2:49 remaining, Tripp picked the pocket of an Aquinas defender and drove the ball all the way to the basket for a layup.
She ended up drawing the foul for the and one. She sank the free throw giving the Jaguars their biggest lead of the night at 18-9.
“Tanner has a knack for getting her hands on a lot of balls and getting a number of steals,” McFall said.
Mill Valley’s junior Stephanie Lichtenauer was the only other offensive factor with eight points.
After halftime, the Saints came roaring out of the locker room scoring the first six points.
Throughout the night Saint Thomas Aquinas’ sophomore Kendra Weledji led her team with aggressive rebounding and clutch shooting. She finished with 13 points.
Instead of settling for outside shots, the Saints attacked the basket more leading to more high percentage baskets.
“They made a nice adjustment at halftime and changed the way they attacked us a little bit,” McFall said. “We tried to adjust to and we didn’t as well as we might have been able to, but it was a heck of sub-state basketball game.”
The Saints also had three tall forwards in junior Hunter Thomas (6-foot-1), junior Haleigh Cindrich (6-foot-3) and freshman Claire Ferguson (6-foot-1), who all gave some problems to the somewhat undersized lineup for the Jaguars.
Still, for most of the game Mill Valley held them in check. The three combined for 13 points.
“It’s our job not to let it affect us and we talked about it that they might block a few shots and so on, but we did a pretty good job of taking away their high-low,” McFall said.
“You can’t win every trip against their length.”
The Saints took a 25-24 advantage into the final quarter.
Although the Jaguars tried to fight back they just couldn’t make the necessary shots to claw back into tying it up.
McFall said Mill Valley probably had at least five chances inside, but couldn’t convert whether it was a no call from the officials or bad bounces off the rim.
Regardless of this disheartening result, McFall remains pleased with his girls’ performance.
And with only two players graduating there’s a good chance this experience will make them ambitious for the 2012-13 campaign.
“They’ve had the feel. They’ve been right on the brink of a state tournament and I think it’ll make them a little more hungry,” McFall said. “Not that they weren’t hungry now.”
McFall is a veteran of the state tournament and has seen it all from the boys’ side. A proud owner of two state titles as the coach of Olathe South, McFall’s main goal now to get this group of girls to experience the same thrill of being at the highest tournament in Kansas.
“I’ve had my times,” McFall said. “What I tell them all the time is I’m going to take you as far as I can possible take you.”