In back-to-back years, the Blair girls basketball team traveled to a district final as the underdog and battled.
Last year, the Bears pushed Sidney and lost by six.
Saturday, coach Matt Aschoff's No. 12 squad fell to No. 5 York by just five, 57-52. BHS closed its season 13-9 and another win shy of its first state tourney since 1998.
Still, the Bears' coach couldn't have asked for a better effort in the final game of the season against the 20-3 Dukes.
“There is a lot of pride in it,” he said. “Does it stink to lose, yes. But as we told the girls, it is better to feel pain than nothing at all.”
Back-to-back district losses still sting, though.
“It hurts losing by a total of 11 points in the last two district finals,” Aschoff said. “But we wouldn't have wanted to do it with any other team than what we have. We love these girls and the effort they brought every day. They allow us to push them, but more importantly, they push each other.”
On Saturday, Blair pushed York, too. The Dukes led 47-42 with 4 minutes to go before Ella Ross' 3-pointer pulled the Bears within two.
A minute later, Makayla Baughman's long range make evened the ballgame at 48-all. Then, though, the junior standout fouled out.
“When Makayla fouled out, that hurt,” Aschoff said. “But the girls still battled and had a chance to tie it at 51. We gave up some offensive rebounds, and didn't rotate defensively on a few possessions in the end and that ended up getting us.”
York won by five and earned a state tournament berth, but BHS left the 2021 season with a championship-level effort. Mya Larson led the Bears with 17 points, while Ross scored 13 and Baughman had nine.
“I think our girls did a great job executing the game plan, but more importantly, they worked their butts off,” Aschoff said. “The team has worked hard all year and their effort today was wonderful. We made mistakes, but their next-play mentality and playing together was great today.”
That approach has helped Blair notch back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 2003-2004. The players have provided the key qualities to make that happen, Aschoff said.
“We love how they play hard for each other and for the program,” he said. “We love how it means something to each and every one of them to play for Blair and put on that jersey. We love that when one girls get injured, sick or in foul trouble — the next one is ready to step up.”
The coach continued.
“We love the energy our bench brings to each game,” Aschoff said. “We love that this is more than just about the season, but the effort they put into the summer. We love the seniors in Ella and Maicy (Lourens) and the leaders they were. We loved many things about this team and are proud of them.”