In one of her last nights wearing a Fort Calhoun uniform, senior Abbie Anderson was able to experience what's made her high school basketball career memorable.
“I just love it when my teammates are cheering me on, and the crowd is chanting 'defense!'” the guard said after a barnburner in Wahoo. “It just gets me so excited. It's just a really fun time.”
Anderson sunk the winning free throws of a 50-47 win against Omaha Concordia on Monday, advancing the Pioneers into the Class C1 Subdistrict 4 Tournament semifinals against the host Warriors. That's where it all came to an end for the 5-foot-6 point and her senior teammates — Kenzie Hansen, Jessyka Winterberg, Rianna Wells, Hannah Fitzgerald and Abigail Ryan. Wahoo ended their careers at the 8-16 height, 59-20. The eight wins were the most Calhoun's senior class had won in any single season.
“What I will remember most is the character of this group,” said first-year FCHS coach Marty Plum. “They always chose the difficult rather than the shortcut. They have established a standard and culture that will lead to championships, and you have to have a championship standard and culture before you can win a championship.”
He was complimentary of the Pioneers' effort all season long.
“They came to work every day and gave it all they had,” Plum said. “Just a terrific group of kids.”
Junior Tess Skelton led FCHS with nine points during her team's season-ending loss. Anderson and Bria Bench added four apiece, while Maddy Tinkham notched three.
Against Concordia, though, Fort Calhoun proved its mettle and won. The Pioneers led from Tinkham's second-period 3 until just 1:12 remained in the fourth. At that moment, the Mustangs' Isabella Hess hit her own 3-pointer, tying the postseason opener at 47-all.
Indomitable, Anderson made three of her next four foul shots, helping FCHS to a three-point postseason victory.
“We actually work on it in practice, those kinds of pressure situations,” Anderson said. “I think we were just prepared.”
In the end, the Pioneers answered every Concordia challenge and pulled out the win. They trailed 10-9 after one period, but shot their way to a five-point halftime lead.
Hansen was the spark plug, scoring 14 of her team-best 16 points during the first 16 minutes. The senior scored 12 of those 14 first-half points from beyond the arc.
“I haven't scored the past few games, so it was nice to start making some points,” she said.
Hansen stepped into her first 3-pointer of the second quarter, set up in the corner on the second and knocked down the third on an Anderson kick-out pass from inside the lane.
Still, the Mustangs hung tough, knocking down their own long-range shots to stay in the game.
“It was kind of crazy,” Hansen said. “I was like, 'If (Concordia's) No. 2 or No. 3 gets it, they're putting it up. And if I get it, I'm putting it up.'”
The result was a tight second half that took everything the Pioneers had even though they'd beaten Concordia by 17 earlier this season.
“It kind of threw me off a little bit,” Tinkham said. “Coach was saying that they got better, but I wasn't expecting by that much.”
FCHS built leads as big as nine during the second half, but the Mustangs kept on firing back into the ballgame.
“It was really frustrating,” Skelton said. “We'd get up and just relax, or even if we didn't relax, they just would swish a 3 or something.”
Fortunately, coach Plum's team answered the challenge and earned another game.
“I feel like it pushed us to get better, too,” added Skelton, who finished the win with 15 points, including 11 after halftime. She said the game proved what the Pioneers were all about in 2020-21.
“We stay playing together,” the junior said. “Even when it gets hard.”