NEWARK – Ursuline displayed an efficient offense and its usual smothering defense and was never threatened in capturing the school’s 17th state girls basketball championship on March 10 at the Bob Carpenter Center. A 15-0 run spanning nearly five minutes in the first quarter gave the Raiders the cushion they needed on the way to a 54-32 win in front of 1,454 fans, many of them wearing red and black.
It was the Raiders’ third-straight championship. They also defeated Caravel for the 2015 title.
“It never gets old. I’m really, really happy for the kids and our community as a whole. It’s just amazing,” said coach John Noonan, who has piloted the Raiders to four titles in the last six seasons.
The top-seeded Raiders completed a 23-1 season, with the only loss coming to Rufus King High School of Milwaukee at the She Got Game Classic during the season’s first weekend. King was 25-0 heading into a Wisconsin state tournament semifinal game on Friday, and the Lady Generals were ranked in the top five in the country most of the season. King also defeated Caravel at She Got Game.
Caravel, the third seed, took an early 5-3 lead before Ursuline cranked up both its offense and defense. Alisha Lewis got the run started offensively with a jump shot to tie it up. Maggie Connolly drained a pair of free throws following a steal by Kryshell Gordy, and Olivia Mason followed with a short field goal. Mason picked up an offensive rebound the next time down and fed Yanni Hendley for a three-pointer, and the Raiders scored six more points on two buckets by Connolly sandwiched around one by Hendley to make it 18-5.
Caravel scored with a second to go when Grace Lange found Kaylee Otlowski with an 80-foot inbound pass, but by then the damage was done, and the Buccaneers were fighting uphill all night. Ursuline, who defeated the Bucs, 40-36, three weeks ago, made seven of nine shots in the first, and the defense forced six Bucs turnovers. Connolly said an emphasis on pushing the tempo has helped.
“Our coaches really prepared us this postseason. Our first game against Caravel was a little sloppy, so they definitely pushed taking care of the ball. When we pushed the tempo tonight, I think that helped us be efficient and take the right shots,” she said.
Noonan said his team’s defensive play made a big difference in the postseason, which included wins over Milford, Sussex Tech and Sanford leading up to Caravel.
“The defense is really improved,” he said. “We’ve gotten better with our rotations. Our post defense has really improved. And to have someone like Kryshell Gordy back there … she’s an amzing shot blocker. That gives us a chance to extend a little bit. We can challenge the three-point shooters. And we’re really athletic.”
Connolly said seeing how Ursuline played in the postseason made the drive for the title a lot of fun.
“When Lish (Lewis) is pushing the ball, and Yanni’s running, and Kryshell’s blocking shots like that and Olivia’s rebounding, together it’s a pretty well-oiled machine. It was really fun tonight,” she said, neglecting to mention her own contributions.
The Raiders’ shooting cooled off after that first quarter, but they were able to hold Caravel to one field goal – a three-point shot by Maia Bryson – in the second quarter. The Buccaneers struggled against the Raiders’ pressure defense, and when they did get their offense set, a 2-3 zone often prevented Caravel from penetrating the key. The Bucs often shot with hands in their faces. Caravel shot just 26 percent from the field for the night, and Ursuline blocked eight shots, seven of those by Gordy.
The senior, playing in her last high school game, said it was important to deny Lange and Otlowski, the Buccaneers’ inside weapons.
“We practice post defense all the time, and we just knew what to do,” she said.
Ursuline made just one of 10 shots in the third, but the closest Caravel could get was 12 points, which happened on two occasions, the last at 34-22. The Raiders then went on a 10-2 run to make it a 22-point margin with 3:40 remaining.
Connolly, the junior guard, led the way with 17 points, including an impressive step-back three-pointer at the end of the first half. Lewis joined her in double figures with 10. Gordy had six points and seven rebounds to go along with her blocks. Everyone on the roster got into the game, and 10 Raiders scored.
Noonan said the coaches knew they had a talented bunch, but motivating them was more challenging than in past seasons. As the Raiders picked up wins against several quality out-of-state foes, they knew they had something special.
“You start to kind of believe a little bit. Then you stop and think about who we play in state – St. Elizabeth twice, Sanford twice and now Caravel twice – it just doesn’t get any tougher than that. It’s all about the kids. They’re awesome,” he said.
For Caravel, which finished the season 17-7, Sasha Marvel had 10 points, while Bryson and Lange each added eight.