CASPER — In the first two games of the state basketball championships, the Arvada-Clearmont High School girls basketball team rallied for comeback wins. The Lady Panthers couldn’t make it three straight games, however, as their season came to a disappointing end against Cokeville Saturday evening in the 1A championship game at the Casper Events Center.
AC allowed Cokeville to score the game’s opening 14 points and could never cut the lead to single digits in a 64-40 loss. Arvada-Clearmont finished the year 22-6 overall and advanced to the championship game for the first time since 2008.
“I couldn’t be prouder of this team,” AC head coach Sarah Walker said.
AC struggled from the field and only hit 26 percent of its shots, compared to 54 percent for Cokeville. Brooke Worman led Arvada-Clearmont with 13 points.
Cokeville scored nearly at will, repeatedly getting close looks near the rim. Cokeville’s Kamille Nate scored a game-high 24 points, only missing two of her 12 shots. Nate also grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds.
Cokeville moved the ball well and had no trouble breaking the AC full-court press.
Cokeville tallied 19 assists, while AC had one. Cokeville had a distinct rebounding advantage as well, grabbing 48 boards compared to 25 for AC.
Walker said Cokeville showed itself to be the best team that AC faced all season. Cokeville was well-coached and disciplined, and it showed Saturday, as it led by as many as 29 points.
“We didn’t quite figure out how to play with Cokeville, and that’s OK,” Walker said. “It was a learning experience. We return a lot of the girls. We have some seniors we’re definitely going to miss next year, but overall I couldn’t asked the girls to do anything different. They did exactly what we asked them to do all year long.”
Arvada-Clearmont trailed 36-16 at halftime, as Cokeville’s pressure defense and long arms gave Arvada-Clearmont trouble throughout the first two frames.
Walker said the team came out a bit nervous on the biggest stage.
“We had a lot more jitters than I think any of us expected to have,” Walker said. “It took us a while to kind of settle in … (In) the first half, the nerves were pretty tense.”
After catching its breath at halftime, AC played Cokeville nearly to a draw in the second half. It wasn’t enough to put the result in doubt, but it showed the head coach that the team would not quit.
“I couldn’t be more proud of every girl on this team,” Walker said. “They really have done just about everything that they were asked to do every day. They had a great season.”
Kristin Klaahsen said AC made it as far as it did largely due to the support and belief in each other.
“We were a really close bunch of girls, and I think that’s the thing that got us to where we are right now,” Klaahsen said. “… We knew we were small, but we knew we were mighty.”
After senior and leading scorer Ashlynn Fennema went down Jan. 12 with a torn ACL in a loss to Meeteetse, the team’s record dropped to 5-5 overall. AC tallied 17 straight wins after that game before ending one win short of its ultimate goal.
After knee surgery, Fennema struggled to put on regular socks and shoes. One of her only options was a pair of Crocs shoes. In support of the injured senior, the entire team wore light blue Crocs to and from games for the final month of the season.
“It just kind of become a thing and we all kind of ran with it and it’s been so much fun,” Klaahsen said. “We get complimented on it everywhere we go.”
With 35 seconds left against Cokeville, seniors Worman and Klaahsen came out of the game, embracing Fennema in a group hug before sitting down.
The three players, along with senior Taz Smith, led the group to its best finish in the more than a decade.
Klaahsen said the players didn’t say any words to each other during the emotional moment, but the strong bond they shared was unspoken.
“There were no words in that,” Klaahsen said. “It was just a hug. I think there were silent words, saying like, ‘We love you and we’re here for you, and we had a great year and it’s been a great ride.’”
Cokeville……….….18 18 18 10 — 64
Arvada-Clearmont…6 10 13 11 — 40
Cokeville — Nate 24, Barnes 10, E. Teichert 8, J. Teichert 6, Dayton 4, Richardson 4, R. Teichert 2, T. Teichert 2, D. Harmon 2, H. Harmon 2
Arvada-Clearmont — Worman 13, Klaahsen 9, Auzqui 7, Malli 5, Troll 3, Smith 2, Beam 1