Stars stop Eagles hopes for state return

Jason Olson
Sports Editor

Reigning girls’ basketball state champs clinch section crown, 48-33

Thursday’s Section 3AAA girls basketball final wasn’t exactly the nail-biter from last year that helped spark Holy Angels (25-3) to the Class AAA state title.

Bloomington Kennedy came up short against the Class 3A third-ranked Stars by a 48-33 final score in the final, played at Bloomington Jefferson.

Kennedy senior guard Ameera Sa'eed-El defends against Holy Angels during the section final at Jefferson High School (Sun Current staff photo by Jason Olson)
Kennedy senior guard Ameera Sa’eed-El defends against Holy Angels during the section final at Jefferson High School (Sun Current staff photo by Jason Olson)

Stars junior guard Megan Meyer and sophomore post Destinee Oberg each contributed 13 points, with nine points from Megan Thompson and seven points from Riley Thalhuber.

Kennedy countered with 11 points from sophomore Zaraya March, eight points each from senior Honour Finley and sophomore Sam Husting, and three points each from senior Alyssa Bryan-Jeffries and sophomore Amaya Graf.

Holy Angels coach Dan Woods said this meeting was different in many ways from the earlier meet, including the significance of what was on the line for the win – a trip to state.

Kennedy senior captain Honour Finley, fourth from left, holds the Section 3AAA runner-up trophy after losing to Holy Angles 48-33 Thursday’s final at Jefferson. (Sun Current photo by Jason Olson)
Kennedy senior captain Honour Finley, fourth from left, holds the Section 3AAA runner-up trophy after losing to Holy Angles 48-33 Thursday’s final at Jefferson. (Sun Current photo by Jason Olson)

“Styles were different and the importance of the game was much different,” he said as he noticed nerves were completely different at the start. “Normally our girls move better than you saw but I could tell there was a huge difference from the atmosphere and nerves.”

Oberg anticipated another strong effort from Kennedy.

“Coming in we were expecting a tough game and it was because they always bring it and they’ve got a really good team with a lot of talent and a lot of heart,” she said about the second-seeded Eagles.

The two teams met in early December with Holy Angels coming out ahead 61-49 in what was the fourth game of the season for the Eagles.

On Thursday, Kennedy limited the Stars but conversely, the offense struggled.

“Defensively, that worked, we just didn’t score,” Kennedy coach Quintin Johnson said. “We’ve got to put the ball in the basket. Give up 48-49 (points), I expect us to win the game.”

“We prepared for it,” Johnson added, noticing Holy Angles didn’t expect Kennedy to stay with them into the second half like they did. “We were right there with a lead in the first half and if we made a few more shots maybe it was a different story.”

To counter Oberg’s inside game, Johnson made sure the Eagles had two bodies on the sophomore at all times.

Meyer’s outside shot was what kept the Stars an arms-length ahead on the scoreboard.

“Megan’s hitting 3s in the second half was the key to the game because we made a few runs with them but she answered which took them up to four (points ahead) which made us extend more (defensively) which took us out of our double-team and then (Oberg) went to work,” Johnson said.

To get back to the section final for fourth time in five seasons under Johnson is a big accomplishment. He noted how not many expected them to be in the running, yet again, “Not a lot of people thought we’d be here.”

Woods said this year’s group is deeper than last season’s state championship team.

Those back played somewhat of a different role after Laura Bagwell-Katalinich graduated in 2016. She had 27 points in the section final last season, while Kennedy’s Lashayla Wright-Ponder countered with 18 points and Tyrah Spencer had 13 points.

“You didn’t see it today but we are deeper than last year,” Woods added.

He shortened the bench to put more veterans on the floor to match Kennedy’s game plan adding, “We matched more of their style, a slower game, which we felt we could beat them at with our size and went with something different. We said hey, if they want to go slower, we can go slower also, but there is a mismatch every single time and we just needed to take our time and calm down a bit.”

To contain Finley, Woods wanted to keep a defender in front of her to limit the explosive plays either in transition or cutting through the lane.

“She’s good at slashing and getting to the basket,” he said. “So we wanted to stay in front, no dribble penetration and then give them a chance.”

As for denying Kennedy the ball inside, Oberg said the key was coming out to meet them at the top of the key instead of in the paint, “because they finish so well.”

As a result, Kennedy had more open looks at jump shots, which Woods said played into their favor. “That way there are no free throws for them to make and allowed us to cover the entire post, where we’re been bigger, size-wise,” Woods said.

Holy Angels enjoyed an 8-0 start to the season before compiling an 11-game winning streak during the regular season that included a 6-0 mark to win the Tri-Metro Conference title.

Seeing the group develop and mature over the winter was one highlight that stuck out for Oberg. “And during this game they really matured and grew up,” she said, culminating with the top prize and a return trip to state.

To get to the section final, Holy Angels topped Richfield on the Stars’ home court by an 86-57 margin March 1, with a season-high 20 points from Meyer, a junior. Oberg had 15 points and Thalhuber and Rachel Kawiecki each added 10 points.

The Stars’ defense limited Visitation in a 70-29 semifinal March 4 at Jefferson. Oberg led the way with 17 points, while eighth-grader Frankie Vascellaro had 11 points and Megan Thompson had 10 points.

Kennedy started sections with a 73-47 home win over St. Paul Harding on March 1 before a 52-42 win over Simley at Jefferson on March 4.

Johnson noted how Simley played man-to-man defense, a rarity since he’s coached at Kennedy.

“I didn’t think that bothered us and we converted early and they had to get out of it,” he said as Bryan-Jeffries led the way with 27 points and 12 points from Finley. March had 17 points against Harding and six points against Simley.

Johnson reiterated the point that losing in a section or state final is never easy after losing two state title games, “but I’m not afraid to lose. I’m up to the challenge.”

Contact Jason Olson at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @SunSportsJason