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1992 team recalls first-ever state championship for Maidens, 1984 first hardware

RONAN — As the 2016 Maiden basketball team prepares to compete for the state championship trophy this weekend, assistant coach Naomi Mock has already savored the sweet flavor of victory.

Mock, whose maiden name was Cook, played on the 1992 Maiden basketball squad that was state champ in Class A — the first and only state win for Maiden basketball, so far.

In 1992, people placed a quarter in a pay phone if they needed to call home. There were no instant messages on social media and friendships didn’t revolve around Facebook. The key seniors on the 1992 Maiden team bonded around basketball, starting in fifth grade.

“We had a good group of girls that played well together,” 1992 Maiden point guard Stephanie Irvine said of her teammates.

Noelle Decker coached their team in seventh grade after helping bring home third-place hardware at state as a Maiden player in 1984.

Tami Skogen coached them through eighth and ninth grades.

“(Noelle and Tami) were the ones that developed us to be winners,” Stephanie said.

Skogen and then-Maiden’s head coach Bob Ventner entered the eighth-grade team into the highly competitive Trinity Lutheran Tournament in Kalispell. The intent was to pit the girls against larger and tougher schools so they could learn from their losses. 

Instead, the girls won the whole tournament.

“We called Coach Ventner collect to tell him we won,” Irvine said.

That night, the competitive middle school girls vowed that when they played in high school, they would bring a state basketball championship to Ronan.

Four years later, they called Ventner again — collect — to tell him they won state.

The road to victory at the state tournament wasn’t easy for the 1992 Maidens, according to their coach Gale Decker, who coached Maiden basketball for a total of 18 years.

First, they had to beat Browning, the reigning champs of Central Montana. Although the Maidens trailed 17-13 at halftime, Angela Sheumaker (now Moss), the Maiden’s top all-state player who averaged 17.5 points a game, chipped in 26 points — 14 in the fourth quarter — to help beat Browning by 10.

In the semi-final game, they faced number-one ranked Hardin. 

As the game progressed, Sheumaker fouled out. 

“We were freaking out because we had to finish the game without her, so we tried harder not to lose it, for her,” Stephanie said. “The whole ‘team’ concept was huge.”

The game was “really close,” Stephanie recalled. Each time she was fouled, she missed her free throws — again and again, except for the one that counted with only 28 seconds left. The Maidens beat favored Hardin by one point in the dramatic finish, 62-61, to put them in the championship game against Colstrip.

As the clock wound down on the championship game with the Maidens in the lead, the Colstrip coach told his players to foul Stephanie, “because I was the one who choked” the night before, she said. Instead, they kept fouling Stephanie’s twin sister Carol. Carol hit all four free throws before the opposing team realized they were fouling the wrong girl. When the fouls were finally directed at Stephanie, she also sank all four free throws when it counted, locking up the 48-39 victory. 

Carol recalled the feeling when the final buzzer rang out.

“It was one of those moments where you worked so hard, and then, boom, it’s final,” she said. “We all ran to the center of the court and slid onto the floor and hugged. The crowd ran onto the court and piled on top of us.”

The 2016 team has been putting in the work on the hardwood all season in hopes of experiencing the same rush. Coach Mock said she learned lessons from her time as a player that she’s passing on to her girls. She said it’s OK to set expectations a bit higher than what a team thinks they can achieve — and then reinforce that with encouragement. 

“We make sure we are listening to them, as well as pushing them,” Mock said. “I tell them, ‘you don’t always have to like each other but you need to play together. You can’t do it alone.’”

While the current team may not have the advantage of long-term friendships that bonded the 1992 squad, this year’s Maidens set similar goals and continue to work toward them every day, Mock said. 

Mock’s advice for her team this weekend: “Stay strong for each other, encourage each other, and have fun.”

Others who walked in state championship shoes also shared advice.

“Be confident, not cocky, and believe in yourself,” Stephanie said. “Go in with confidence and leave it all on the floor.”

Carol said she’d encourage the team to “enjoy every moment.”

And if they lose?

“Enjoy every moment,” she said again.

1984 Third-place team

Thirty-two years ago a group of gals brought home first-ever Maiden state hardware with a third-place finish at state. The boys were state champions in 1960, but this was the first state trophy for the girls.

Lena (Gasser) Baertsch was a junior on the 1984 Maiden team.

“All I remember was, we were very short and quick, and it was kind of one of those last-second shots (that won the game),” Lena said.

Lifelong friendships were made on the team that included Terri Bilile, Holly Cheff, Noelle Decker, Erica Florence, Stacy Hochhalter, Echo Lynch, Lorrie Lynch, Beth Peterson and Katie Voth.

Baersch and Voth were number one and two in scoring in the Western A during regular season, averaging 17 and 13 points per game respectively. Voth started 88 consecutive games and claimed the single-game, high-scoring title with 31 points against Dillon.

“It was awesome playing with her,” Lena said. “If I had a bad game, she had a good game. And everybody looked out for each other.”

Lena made her mark in history as well, scoring 20 points in the fourth quarter against Polson to take the divisional championship that year. She made 13 of her 14 free throws in the game.

“I loved basketball and I still love watching the Maidens do well,” Lena said. She sees that the success for this year’s state-bound squad comes from playing as a team.

“What I love to see is a good athlete with a good heart and a good attitude, and respect for the ref’s and their coaches,” Lena said. “I still bleed orange and black.”

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