The AAAA state tournament renewed its drama before even starting, with heavy favorite Hopkins getting knocked out in a section playoff game, ending their hopes of winning a fourth straight state championship.
South Suburban Conference rivals Bloomington Kennedy and Eastview provided a refreshing duel to an audience weary of the previous champion’s domination. Eastview’s perseverance paid off, as the top seed rallied to defeat No. 2 seed Kennedy 64-61 at Williams Arena Saturday night, earning Eastview its first state championship in girls basketball.
Junior guard Madison Guebert paced Eastview (31-1) with 29 points, making 10 of 16 shots from the floor, including 4 of 6 three-pointers. The daughter of head coach Melissa Guebert, Madison’s sharp-shooting skills could guide her to a spot on a college roster. Madison finished the season with an impeccable field goal percentage of 52.5 and free throw percentage of 88.7. Senior guard Kari Opatz, headed to Concordia University on a golf scholarship, added 13 points.
Kennedy (25-7) senior guard Kenisha Bell, who will play for Marquette next season, led her squad with 24 points. Sophomore forward Lashayla Wright-Ponder had a double-double, earning 11 points and 11 rebounds.
The two schools split their regular season series, with Kennedy the only team to defeat Eastview prior to the tournament. In a battle of speed versus marksmanship, the Eagles got the first jump, led by the agile Bell. Complimented by long-distance support from St. John’s (New York) recruit Tonoia Wade, Kennedy led 37-32 at halftime and padded their margin to 57-45 with 7:03 remaining in the second half.
Eastview then initiated its game-winning 19-4 run to close the period, making 12 of 14 free throw attempts in that span. Guebert scored a layup to give the Lightning their first lead of the game with 48 seconds left, attacking from the right side.
Kennedy had one chance to force overtime following a pair of Opatz free throws, but Wade’s three-point attempt from the right wing fell short.
Credit is also due for Eastview’s adjustments to contain Kennedy’s imminent threats. Bell managed just six points in the second half, and Wade did not score a field goal after hitting 3 of 4 shots in the first.
The Lightning reached the class AAAA state tournament in the last two years, but were eliminated in the semifinal round both times, with the Eagles knocking them off last year. Eastview had not reached the final since 2003.
Fans hoping for a continuation of the intense rivalry will have to lobby for a non-conference meeting. Next year, Kennedy will move to the Metro West Conference while Eastview will remain in the South Suburban.