Anoka girls earn OT triumph over Bluejackets in section finals

Greg Hunt

C-I senior Deandra Vavra looked inside for a first-half opening against Anoka; Vavra finished with 10 points.

Right out of a crazy sports movie script, a No. 9 seed team– entering the playoffs with a 2-24 record– believes in itself enough to reach State. That plot line played out for the amazing Anoka girls who kept their season alive with a 77-66 overtime win over Cambridge-Isanti in the Section 7AAAA championship, held March 11 at North Branch.

“I think this team just has the heart to win,” said freshman Kyrah Fredenburg who banked home a big three-pointer in OT and later slashed to the bucket to give Anoka a 73-66 lead. “We just had confidence. If our shots were open, we were going to shoot it. Coach keeps telling us all the time, ‘Keep attacking! Keep attacking!’”

The young Tornadoes led 16-8 in the first half after senior Shauni Payeur finished off a three-point play. She then followed with consecutive three-pointers, and Claire Lundberg and Hailee Gifford joined in swishing shots from the arc. For the half, the Tornadoes drained 6 ‘3s’ and went into the break with a 32-22 advantage. Darah Olson was active inside for C-I, scoring 8 points with Natalie Larson scoring 6.

Bluejacket senior Darah Olson played an overall strong game with her inside presence on offense and her defense.

“Going into the game, we were hoping to contain their penetration, knowing we were going to give up some open looks from the three. After they hit the first couple, I kept thinking, they can’t continue to shoot like this,” said C-I Coach Jody Ledahl.

Gifford drained another ‘3’ and scooped a high shot off the board as Anoka built its biggest lead at 39-24 early in the second half. Soon after, Cambridge-Isanti launched its full-court press, and the tide began turning.

Larson scored four straight points, and Whitney Olson hit a jumper to make it 41-31. Deandra Vavra drilled a three-pointer, followed by W. Olson stepping back for a ‘3’ which cut the lead to 42-37. D. Olson scored off another steal, then W. Olson hit two free throws followed by another ‘3’ which tied the game at 48-48. Larson’s inside hoop and her pass to W. Olson for another three-pointer kept the score tied at 53-53.

C-I junior Whitney Olson found enough openings to hit four three-pointers during the Jackets’ second-half rally amid her 21 points.

The final two minutes of regulation was a frenetic back-and-forth affair; Anoka’s Amber Bray delivered two big shots inside, each time putting her team back in the lead by one. C-I countered with inside buckets by D. Olson and Vavra. Then with 0.3 on the clock, W. Olson sunk two free throws to force OT.

Vavra’s last bucket cut the Tornadoes’ lead to 69-66 30 second into overtime. Fredenburg’s slasher soon made it 73-66, then Anoka increased its lead at the line. One thing which ultimately hurt the Bluejackets were points left at the free throw line (18-of-30 for the game).

“I was very proud of the heart we showed to fight back from the 15-point deficit. We were at a point were I told the kids we needed to give one more big push to get ourselves back in this, and the kids responded with a heck of an effort. Paige Muehlhauser had a few big steals, and Whitney hit some big shots for us in that run,” said Coach Ledahl whose team finished 20-9.

Lundberg led all scorers with 22 points, with Fredenburg scoring 19. W. Olson led the Jackets with 21 points, and Larson doubled up with 15 points and 10 rebounds. D. Olson scored 14, and Vavra had 10 points and 8 assists. Muehlhauser (4 points) and Vavra both had 3 steals for the game.

“Deandra and Darah have been such a big part in the success we’ve had these last three years,” said Coach Ledahl about his two senior starters. “They have brought their best effort every day, whether it’s a practice or a game.  It was very hard to see them walk out of the locker room for their final time.”

• Anoka (6-24) opens the Class 4A State tournament against defending champ Lakeville North March 16 (4 p.m.) at the Target Center. Mississippi 8 champ Buffalo (25-3), the Section 8AAAA winner, gets No. 1 seed Hopkins (27-2) in the 10 a.m. tourney opener.

Also representing the M-8 in the Class 3A tourney is Rogers (15-14) who takes on DeLaSalle (24-4) March 16 at Williams Arena (4 p.m.).