Regional loss can't obscure huge season for Chargers
The Hamilton girls basketball team was staring at an ugly truth at the end of its conference championship season. After all the work, all the big wins and tremendous successes, it takes just a bad break and a bad quarter to bring the season to an end.
The Chargers (21-3) had a late lead on Arrowhead in the regional final before the Warhawks tied the game, and when Chargers junior leader Mackenzie Latt sustained a knee injury that forced her to the bench, the Warhawks saw an opportunity and scored a 46-40 victory. Arrowhead, red-hot to end the year, rode its momentum all the way to the state tournament, and Hamilton was one of many state-ranked teams left in its wake.
"It just shows the importance of valuing every possession, what you talk about as a coach all season long," coach Dan Carey said. "Against a high-quality team, you have to be locked in … your margin for error once you get into the tournament is so small. Good teams will make you pay for mistakes you make, especially when that team has momentum."
Though Latt's injury looked bad and will sideline her for up to two months, the fear of ligament damage was allayed by the MRI results, a silver lining on a bad situation. With 3:14 to play in a tie game following Latt's injury, the Chargers simply couldn't stop Arrowhead's offensive attack.
"We were trying to withstand that and get our poise back a little bit, when she goes down it's just another setback," Carey said. "Arrowhead just out-executed us and made the plays down the stretch. Mackenzie is so underrated in her defense; she did a really good job taking care of the lane and making (Arrowhead's) Kelly Smith take tough shots. We lost that element of defensive presence."
Carey said it was validating to see Arrowhead run all the way to state, upsetting Kimberly in the sectional final on a buzzer beater. The only other losses this year came against state-bound Algoma (24-2) and Divine Savior Holy Angels (21-4) in overtime after the Chargers defeated DSHA in overtime earlier in the year.
"I'm just really proud of how my kids played this year," Carey said. "We played some high-level basketball. It's frustrating when the end of the year when one game can take away a full season of really incredible memories. They took us on a ride that I'll never forget and put a product on the floor that I know the Sussex community is proud of. It's a tough, passionate group, and it was a lot of fun coaching this team, and I'll really look back on a ton of great memories."
For one thing, the Chargers repeated as Greater Metro Conference champion, finishing one game ahead of DSHA with a 13-1 league mark. After recording its first conference title in school history last year, the Chargers now have another banner to hang.
For another, the team knows it's not going anywhere next year. Latt (19.2 points per game) will be looked upon as one of the state's top seniors in 2013-14, with guard Hannah Menzia entering her senior year, as well, after three years of piloting the offense. Freshman Taylor Klug became a huge addition to the team's starting lineup, and other returnees include Emily Kneer, Katie Baker and Sammy Hagenow.
The team will have to bid adieu to Robyn Elliott, one of the team's top defenders, and Jenny Shernell, a rebounding machine who tore her ACL midway through the year and missed the season's second half. In her absence, seniors Tristen Hayes and Sarah Thompson provided huge contributions, and the Chargers barely lost a step. Hayes, who became a starter, became particularly adept and providing contributions in a number of categories.
Nikki Fuerstenberg rounded out the senior class. Everyone played a role for a team that had to combat its share of injuries throughout the season.
"A lot of players stepped up; it was such a team effort," Carey said. "Everybody chipped in and contributed to the success we had."
Carey also pointed to strong seasons from the underclass teams equating to a rebuilt varsity roster next year.
"We're going to have some really hungry players chomping at the bit to play for us, really good competition," Carey said. "They want to get out there and contribute and be the next ones to step in. Plus, it's nice knowing we have experience coming back."
The freshman team finished 17-1 even without Klug, whose profile will only get bigger as one of the state's premier class of 2016 prospects.
"We knew we were getting a really good athlete, and we were pretty confident her defense would fit right in with what we do, but her offense was outstanding. She said in her exit interview meeting, 'I never shot so many threes before.' She turned into a reliable 3-point shooter, which I think our team really needed. She has a really high ceiling that isn't even close to being reached yet."
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