Algoma junior Meg Ryan (23) dribbles the ball against Colfax during the WIAA Division 4 state girls basketball championship game at the Resch Center in Ashwaubenon on Saturday. / Lukas Keapproth/Press-Gazette Me
ASHWAUBENON — It took 27 years, but the gold ball is finally heading back to Algoma.
After enough close calls and white-knuckle finishes to last a lifetime, the Wolves’ girls basketball team cleared its final hurdle in capturing that elusive WIAA Division 4 state championship with a 46-30 win over Colfax at the Resch Center on Saturday afternoon.
Since Mark Zastrow took over the program seven years ago, Algoma (26-2) has lost only 16 of its 171 games, but never was able to take that final step.
The teams traded the lead nine times in the first half, but the Wolves’ relentless defense held the Vikings (26-2) to 30 points – which tied the D4 record for fewest points in a title game – and only one basket over the last 12 minutes, 19 seconds of the game.
More than 30 years after her mother, Terri, played on Algoma’s 1981 girls state championship team, junior Kennedy Blahnik scored a game-high 17 points to lead the Wolves to the program’s third state title and first since 1986.
Zastrow has had plenty of state-championship caliber teams over the past seven years – including the 2011 squad that finished as D4 runner-up – but the meaning of this title resonated at multiple levels.
“Our kids have worked hard and I can tell you this – this is our first state championship but I’ve never been disappointed at the end of any season,” Zastrow said.
“This team works hard, these kids work hard and we ask a lot of them. They give it to us daily. There’s not once I’ve been anywhere close to disappointed at the end of a season because of the fact I know they’ve given it everything they’ve had.”
Before the WIAA moved to five divisions three years ago, Zastrow’s daughter, Sam, led Algoma to the brink of state multiple times, but couldn’t break through.
When the Wolves finally advanced in 2011, they fell to Eau Claire Regis 56-42 in the D4 title game before seeing their 2012 hopes dashed when starting point guard Taylor Schmidt tore her anterior cruciate ligament weeks before regionals.
This year, the fortunes changed. Schmidt returned healthy and motivated as Algoma trounced Cuba City in the D4 semifinals on Thursday.
On Saturday, the Wolves absorbed Colfax’s best shots early with Blahnik and freshman Anna Dier sitting out for a majority of the second quarter after picking up two quick fouls.
Algoma still clung to a 22-20 lead at halftime, which was a small victory given the team was playing without its second and third leading scorers.
Coming out of the break, Colfax got off to a frigid start. With Blahnik and Dier back into the fold, Algoma went on a 12-3 run to seize control. The Vikings finished 1-for-16 from 3-point range and scored only 10 second-half points with Wolves freshman Baleigh Delorit providing a needed lift with nine points in 18 minutes and two 3-pointers off the bench.
“I told them when we got into the locker room … ‘If we play as hard as we can the next two quarters, we’re going to come out victorious,’” said Schmidt, who finished with seven points and four steals. “I think we really stepped it up in the third quarter and that’s what got us the win.”
The meticulous pace of the game almost lent itself to being the lowest scoring D4 state championship game in history, but late fouls pushed it ahead of the 73-point encounter between Pecatonica’s 43-30 win over Wausau Newman in 2001.
Still, it was enough to win the Algoma’s first state championship in any sport since that 1986 girls team squeezed past Fall Creek 49-48 to win the Class C title.
Along with Blahnik, Schmidt was the only current Wolves player to see significant minutes in the state runner-up finish in 2011. It was the ACL injury last season that made this moment all the more special.
“That was my goal ever since that day,” Schmidt said. “We had one thing to do and it was to get the gold. It was hard to watch last year, so my goal needed to come true this year and it did.”
Algoma11 11 8 16 — 46
Colfax13 7 3 7 — 30
A: Blahnik 17, Dier 4, Schmidt 7, Mueller 1, Ryan 6, Delorit 9, Blazkovec 2. 3-pt: Delorit 2, Ryan 1. FT: 13-20. F: 19.
C: Doucette 4, Prochnow 4, Steen 12, Hover 5, Shipman 4, Wait 1. 3-pt: Hover 1. FT: 9-17. F: 18. Fouled out: Doucette.
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @WesHod.