Notre Dame girls reach third final four this school year
Tuesday, March 9, 2010 ~ Updated 12:23 AM
Entering their state semifinal game against St. Dominic on Friday at Mizzou Arena in Columbia, Mo., more than half of the players on the Notre Dame girls basketball team are one step ahead of their coach.
"I mean, this is my first final four as a player, coach or anyone," Notre Dame coach Renee Peters said before her team's practice on Monday. "... I think they know it's a big deal."
Then again, big deal or not, Peters doesn't want to complicate the situation.
"It's also some games," she continued. "It's also a tournament. Basically, it's just a very glorified tournament at this point. ... You can't put a price tag on the experience they have."
Although none of her players have participated in the semifinals of the state basketball tournament before, six of them have already participated in Class 3 final fours this school year.
Starters Jane Morrill and Summer Burger both played on Notre Dame's state championship softball team in the fall along with Brianne Sanders and Nicole Blattel.
Two other starters, Meghan Dohogne and Allyson Bradshaw, finished fourth in the state with the school's volleyball team.
"It's a great feeling," Morrill said. "As a senior, especially, it's just, like, to finish my career that way is amazing. It's the best way to go out -- on top."
Morrill, who has signed to play basketball at Arkansas State next season, said that making her first trip to a final four in basketball is different than her three trips to the softball final four, mostly because softball is something she plays to help pass the time until basketball season begins.
"Way different," Morrill said. "I mean I love softball. Softball is amazing, but basketball has always been my sport, and I guess it's that feeling of, 'Hey, this is my career as a basketball player and it's coming to this,' and it's great."
While the softball team entered the season having finished third in the state in 2007 and second in 2008, the basketball team hasn't made an appearance at the final four since winning the state title in 2002.
"This one feels a little bit sweeter because in softball it was kind of like we were expected to go, whereas this year in basketball I don't think people had as much trust in us," sophomore Summer Burger said.
While the expectations may have been a bit lower to the begin the season, the Bulldogs will enter the final four as the second-ranked team in the state. No. 1 Webb City will join them in Columbia, Mo.
The Notre Dame volleyball team had to defeat De Soto, the second-ranked team in the state at the time, just to advance to quarterfinals and earn a surprise trip to the final four.
The Bulldogs won just one game at the state tournament on their way to a fourth-place finish.
Dohogne, a senior, and Bradshaw, a junior, were the two leading attackers on that team and now have a chance for a final four do-over.
"We've talked about it," Dohogne said. "We just say we got to work hard and maybe this will come out a little better than last time."
Not that she has any regrets about leading Notre Dame to the state semifinals in volleyball for the first time since 2003.
"Looking back on it, I just think about how that was what we worked for and we got there and all the time I spent with my friends," Dohogne said. "It was just a unique, awesome experience. There was nothing ever like that. The competition was so great."
And now she gets to live that experience all over again with a new set of teammates.
"People have been telling us not to get used to it," Burger said. "It's not just another day in paradise because you do have to work for it and it's not an opportunity that's just given to you."
Of course, with the boys soccer team also making a state appearance in the fall and the school's baseball team winning the state championship last spring, Notre Dame athletes aren't exactly unfamiliar with the territory.
"At this school it just seems like everybody's always going to state," Morrill said, "but then you think about it and it's like, 'Hey, not very many people get to do this.' I'm lucky."
Morrill said she looked forward to the ritual of ordering blue T-shirts commemorating a trip to state, the upcoming school assembly to wish the team good luck and, of course, the chance to win another championship ring.
"It's a way to go out on top," Morrill said. "We just want to go and play our best and just do everything we can to be the team on top. Of course, everybody is going to try to do that, so we're just going to play hard and do what's right."
Dohogne said she couldn't think of a better way to cap her high school career than to accept a state trophy with a smile on her face rather than tears in her eyes.
"That would make it," she said. "That's what we work for, and that would be the perfect ending to a good season."