After her team lost in the Class 4A semifinals in each of the past two seasons, Eastview coach Molly Kasper acknowledged that it was nice to finally get the chance to play for the state championship.
“It feels good to get past the second round,” Kasper said as the postgame news conference was wrapping up.
“And now we have a day to just watch,” she added, referring to Friday’s day off between games.
She then caught herself. “Well, not a day off. We’ll still have to practice.”
The Lightning prides itself on its desire to be together, be it at practices or games.
“We had one day this year when they pepper-sprayed our locker room, so we couldn’t go in and change,” Kasper recalled. “I told them we weren’t going to have practice. Megan [Walstad] looked at me and said, ‘What do you mean, we’re not going to practice?’ So we ran through drills and screens just wearing what we had on, clothes and high boots and everything.”
Practicing against her team this season taught Cooper coach and former Gophers’ standout Kiara Buford to appreciate the skills of senior Ty’Neecia Longs.
She can score — Longs averages about 10 points per game — and grabs more rebounds than any other Hawks guard. Great hands are the secret, and the inspiration for her nickname: the basketball vampire.
“When she gets her hands in there, there’s no letting go,” Buford said. “It’s like sticking fangs in the ball and then the ball is hers.”
Longs drained the life from Willmar in the second half with a steal and fast-break layup, followed by a three-pointer on the Hawks’ next possession. That three gave Cooper a 49-38 lead.
DAVID LA VAQUE
After finishing fourth in the 2015 Class 1A tournament, the Lyle/Pacelli team returned to Lyle for a welcome-home rally. At the rally, Athletics coach Justin Morris was interviewed by a local television reporter. Later this year, Morris and the reporter, Megan Stewart, will be married.
Last year, Stewart accepted a job in Omaha, Neb., and Morris found a job with a banking company in Omaha. So during this season, Morris has been commuting from Omaha to Lyle to coach the Athletics.
Morris has missed several Athletics games this season. He will resign as coach after the state tournament.