The mighty Bomber girls climbed the ladder this 2011 season and made the leap to being a State champion after downing Minnehaha Academy 68-61 in the Class AA title battle at Target Center the afternoon of March 19. The victory reversed the result from last year’s final game, and gave Braham its first State championship in any girls sport.
The Bombers played a patient and smart first half, limiting their fouls and going into the break with a 24-20 edge over the taller Redhawks. Liz Anderson, who played despite spraining an ankle just 16 hours earlier in the semifinals, knocked down a three-pointer to start the second half, and the good karma kept flowing.
Free throws by Kelsey Sorenson-Giffrow and Becca Dahlman opened up a 10-point lead soon after. KSG then knocked down a three-pointer, and after a Braham lull, followed with another ‘3.’ Then freshman Kayla Nickles spelled Anderson and sunk consecutive three-point shots from the left baseline to help maintain the lead.
Katie Nickles came through with a huge offensive board, put-back and added an ensuing free throw to get the lead out to 11 points, then Hannah Dahlman attacked the middle of the Hawk zone again with a jumper. Katie Nickles found Becca Dahlman on a sweet backdoor cut, and the lead was back out to 11 points.
But nothing comes easy, and Minnehaha’s Sarina Baker kept driving to keep her team in the game. Sorenson-Giffrow’s last bucket, which gave her 20 points in the game, kept Braham up 55-48.
Anderson added one more assist to her long career at point guard when she found Katie Nickles for a lay-in, then Becca finished off the Hawks by going 10-for-10 at the line down the last three minutes.
“Words can’t explain this. All the years, all the hours, all the time we’ve put into this. All the hearts and desires. All the hardships. It all came together tonight. To go out like this is unexplainable,” said Hannah Dahlman after her final game with the Bombers to close down a stellar five-year career. “Tonight, we are the best in ‘AA’ basketball.”
Becca Dahlman finished with 23 points and 12 rebounds, KSG had her 20 points, and Katie Nickles finished with 10. More Bomber point totals were: Hannah Dahlman 6, Kayla Nickles 6, and Liz Anderson 4. Austyn Eng filled in great again as a defensive guard, and Dani Braund spelled Nickles defensively inside in the first half.
More numbers to chew on: the Bombers went 21-of-23 at the line (Becca alone was 17-of-18). Braham out-rebounded the Redhawks 38 to 32 (unreal considering the height disadvantage between the lineups). And the Bombers only committed 13 turnovers, also unreal since the semifinal game got over around 10:30 p.m. the night before.
From red medals to blue medals
“Last year was a struggle for me inside against Katelyn because she was so much bigger and stronger than me. So I knew this year was going to be a battle, but I’ve grown and we’re both better players,” said Nickles, who provided strong interior defense all season. “She tried her hardest to get around me, but I had to box out like my life depended on it because there was no way I wanted to go home wearing that red medal again.”
Bomber Assistant Coach Nate Dahlman was overcome with emotions during the post-game celebration. But he had a distinct clarity to that afternoon a year ago when Braham finished as runners-up to the Redhawks.
“Remember last year and we were standing right in this same spot, and I said ‘Look up there at that target– those banners hanging in the Target Center?’ And we had the target on our backs ranked No. 1 all season. We finished the whole season with that No. 1 ranking,” he spoke. “We got beat two times, but that was good for us. On our final time-out, I said ‘Coach Malone, talk to them about Mounds View and Minnetonka.’ And Coach got them in the huddle, and he says to them, “Do you remember Minnetonka? Do you remember Mounds View?’ That was part of the growth process. We needed to understand how to finish the game and not celebrate too soon. So we held that target quite well.”
Coach Malone shared another memory from this season.
“Way back when Bob (Vaughan) was in the hospital the first time, we hadn’t heard anything from him for some time. All of a sudden I got a text message from him that said ‘I had a vision that you’re going to be 31-2 State champs.’ Bob called that about six weeks ago, and I give just a ton of credit to Bob for everything he’s done for me when I was his assistant. All the patience he’s had with me and obviously Nate here, too.”
The Bomber girls’ State championship banner will hang in the Target Center for a year, then it will come home for good to BHS.
“Every girl that walks in that gymnasium for as long as our school is around will be able to look up there and see that banner. We’ve been looking at the boys’ banners, and we’re sick of it,” Coach Dahlman laughed. “We’re going to get a girls’ banner up there, too.”
Class AA Championship
Braham 68, Minnehaha Academy 61
Sorenson-Giffrow 20 3
B. Dahlman 23 12
H. Dahlman 6 6
Anderson 3 4
K. Nickles 10 6
Eng 0 2
Kay.Nickles 6 0
Braund 0 1
Free Throws: 21/23. Three-pointers: 7/22. Total FG%: 36.4.
Minnehaha– FTs: 7/11. Three-pointers: 4/13. Total FG%: 45.5.