Richfield gets it first welcome to tourney

  • Article by: AARON PAITICH , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 9, 2012 - 4:45 PM

Sixth-year head coach LeeAnn Wise and junior guard Jessica January led the Spartans to the first state tournament in school history.

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In LeeAnn Wise's first couple of years at Richfield, she emphasized building a winning attitude. The culture changed.

Now in her sixth year as head coach, the Spartans are rolling on five consecutive seasons with 20-plus victories, none bigger than the 72-61 win over Holy Family in Thursday night's Class 3A Section 6 final that punched Richfield's first ticket ever to the state tournament.

"They're winning the close games, they're doing little things right -- they're starting to get it," said Wise, as nearly every Richfield fan, parent and alum came down to celebrate on the court at Minnetonka.

And in the program's biggest game, the Spartans' most electric player stood like a giant. Junior guard Jessica January scored 36 points to lead the offensive effort. She altered the game on all areas of the floor.

"She's just the complete package," Wise said.

Third-ranked and No. 1-seeded Richfield had its hands full with Holy Family, which upset then-fourth ranked Benilde-St. Margaret's 55-53 last Saturday in the semifinals.

Shots were dropping for both teams early in the first half. A Michaela Rasmussen skyhook put Holy Family up 25-19 before Richfield went on a 9-0 run to pull ahead. January's bucket ended the half with the Spartans down 33-32, and she began the second half with a range three pointer.

Rasmussen led the Fire with 20 points and Emily Bauer was close behind with 18.

Richfield inched ahead midway through the second half, but never held a really comfortable lead until the final minute. Sierra Ford-Washington scored 12 and Hannah Wise added 10 points for Richfield.

Behind the coach's emphatic fist pumps, the Spartans have now won eight consecutive contests.

"I'm going to celebrate. We've never been there before," LeeAnn Wise said. "For the program, it's just incredible."

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