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Thursday, 13 March 2014 00:00

Cinderella story: Elkhorn girls won gold slipper

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Coach Jim Henriott gives instructions to his Elkhorn Area High School girls basketball team during the WIAA Division 2 state semifinal contest against Whitefish Bay. The Elks won, 65-56, establishing a state tourney record with 21 of 25 free throws (84 percent). Coach Jim Henriott gives instructions to his Elkhorn Area High School girls basketball team during the WIAA Division 2 state semifinal contest against Whitefish Bay. The Elks won, 65-56, establishing a state tourney record with 21 of 25 free throws (84 percent). Dan Plutchak/staff

WALWORTH COUNTY SUNDAY -- Not many observers expected them to get that far. And nobody expected them to win it all.

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However, the Elkhorn girls basketball team defied those odds, pulling out several games in the final minute, to secure the 1997 WIAA Division 2 state championship.

It’s this kind of Cinderella story that helps define the state tournament, and Jim Henriott’s Elks did just that in knocking off defending champion Kimberly, 51-48, to raise the Gold Ball in the UW Field House that day in Madison.

This year’s tournament, an event that began in 1976, takes place at the Resch Center in Green Bay starting Thursday.

Henriott and the Elks have reached sectionals several times but have not qualified for state since that one magical March run. But what a run it was.

“The thing about that team was its work ethic … they did everything in such a businesslike fashion,” said Henriott, who recently finished his 19th year at the helm. “Whatever anybody threw at them, they came back and had such a never-quit attitude.

“Another thing was that the kids bought into their roles on the team,” he added. “If I said we need three good minutes out of them, we got three good minutes. If somebody was in foul trouble and we needed eight to 10 minutes from our bench players, we usually got it. They did everything that was asked of them without questions or hesitation.”

And it worked. All five starters reached double figures in their 65-56 victory over Whitefish Bay as the Elks pulled away from a 38-37 advantage behind 17 of 19 shooting from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter. Brooke Van Dyke, who had 12 rebounds, led the way with 16 points, while Erin Carroll and Heather Martin added 12, center Bridget Seegers 11 and point guard and the only junior, Katie (Hommen) Quigg, chipped in 10.

Elkhorn ended 21 of 25 at the line to set a state tourney record, but that only set the stage for more heroics.

Elkhorn received 19 points from Van Dyke and 13 from Seegers to upset the top-rated Papermakers. Hommen made five of six charity tosses in the final minute and Seegers’ free throw with 6.8 seconds left made the final margin and snapped Kimberly’s 51-game winning streak.

“I remember that in the last five seconds their star player had the ball and, even though they needed a three-pointer to tie, she dribbled inside the line and took the shot,” said Quigg, who lives in the Phoenix area. “Time ran out and we just all ran together for a big bear hug. We had pulled it off.”

That they did, but it wasn’t an easy road for the Elks, who lost at Jefferson and at home to Wilmot during the regular season before making their spirited playoff charge to finish 24-2.

Elkhorn fell behind Pete Von Allmen’s Fort Atkinson squad, 6-0, in the regional opener but rallied to win at a time when first-round match-ups were predetermined, not seeded like today.

Martin’s barrage of three-pointers lifted them past Jefferson in the regional final. Then standout Leah Hefte drilled two treys to give McFarland a 6-0 start in the sectional semifinal, but the future Wisconsin Badger was injured soon after. Martin’s two free throws with four seconds remaining carried Elkhorn to a 44-41 overtime triumph. And Quigg’s late free throws helped Elkhorn get past host Sauk Prairie to clinch its trip to state.

Henriott said the memories never get old.

“It’s every kid’s dream and every coach’s dream to take a team to Madison,” Henriott said. “It was a program that a couple years before that nobody would have ever dreamed could make it to state. It’s so difficult, to have to win six games to win a title. It takes luck, skill and getting breaks, and we had them all. I guess the rest is history.”

It sure is. Kimberly went on to win its second crown in three years in 1998, but Quigg and her teammates always will be the 1997 champs.

“It definitely was magical,” she said. “When we got past Fort Atkinson in the regional, that was huge … and then McFarland and Sauk Prairie. Our family and crowd support were great all season. It was a dream to play in the Field House; it’s just such a great place. I loved how loud it got, and to see all of that purple and gold from our small town, our hometown.

“It was unbelievable to win that first game (at state) … we were so excited to know we would be bringing home a ball,” Quigg added. “We had a great senior class that stuck together all four years and was incredibly talented. We didn’t go out from Day One with some big plan. We just gave it our all. We figured we had nothing to lose. To win the title, I don’t think it sunk in until a couple of days later.”

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