MAPLETON, Iowa – After posing for the celebratory team photo, the Ar-We-Va girls let everyone know that their former coach wasn't far from their thoughts.
They huddled near the free-throw line and chanted, “If it is to be, it's up to we!”
That was a favorite saying of Davey Kock, who died less than five months ago at 53 of a rare degenerative brain disorder. It was spelled out on T-shirts worn by some of Kock's family members attending the game.
The fourth-rated Rockets continue to play in his honor, and Monday earned their third straight trip to the state tournament with a 58-45 Class 1-A regional final win over No. 12 Le Mars Gehlen at MVAO High School.
“He's always here with us. He's always watching over us,” Ar-We-Va junior Paige Danner said. “He definitely helped us win the game tonight.”
With the win, Ar-We-Va (21-3) advances to a 1-A state quarterfinal at 11:45 a.m. on Monday against No. 13 Bellevue Marquette (16-6). Gehlen, also a state qualifier last year, closes at 16-6.
Danner, a 5-foot-7 junior, and 5-10 senior Amy Hinners led the Rockets to a seemingly comfortable 32-13 lead with under a minute remaining in the first half.
Danner had nine points, five steals and three assists before the break — she finished with 18 points, seven steals and five assists. She also passed the 1,000-point milestone for her career on a layup with 1:55 left in the opening period. Hinners scored 10 of her 17 points before the intermission and ended with 17 points and 12 rebounds.
Trailing by 18 at the half, 5-10 senior Katelin Langel almost singlehandedly orchestrated a Jays comeback. She scored six straight to start the third, and when Bailey Wiltgen converted a three-point play with 4:42 still left in the period, Gehlen had ripped off a 15-2 run to trail 34-28.
Ar-We-Va responded. Brittany Stoelk scored a tough bucket in the lane and Danner followed with a steal and layup. The Rockets were leading by nine late in the third when Danner retrieved a loose ball and swished a 27-footer just before the horn, pushing the lead back to 12. It didn't fall below 10 the rest of the way.
“All five starters have been in the state tournament before,” Danner said. “We know what it feels like and we all wanted to go back.”
Foul trouble plagued both teams. Rocket reserves Kyrsten Lampman, Alyssa Buren, Katie Grothe and Haley Wieland all played more minutes than usual. Lampman, who didn't even play in the Rockets' semifinal win over Exira-EHK, contributed eight key points and a pair of steals.
Langel was sensational in the second half, scoring 20 of her game-high 29. She finished with nine rebounds and five steals. Langel made 13 field goals for the Jays, but no one else made more than one.
They beat us up and down the floor early, and got off to that big lead,” Gehlen coach Marty Kurth said.
The Jays were again without their second-leading scorer and their top reserve, who have been sidelined due to a violation of the school's good-conduct policy.
“It made us a totally different ballclub, but we're not making excuses,'' Kurth said. “A lot of teams would have folded under the circumstances we were in. We didn't do that, but hopefully it's a life lesson.''
When the final horn sounded, Ar-We-Va coach Larry Siebert immediately walked to the scorer's bench and shared an emotional hug with Janine Kock, the wife of the former coach who was keeping the official book.
“Dave really thought this would be the team that we could win it with,'' Siebert said. “We've got to get there to begin with. Our kids play so hard, they do. Dave instilled that in them.''
Le Mars Gehlen (16-6) ................. 3 11 17 14—45
Ar-We-Va (21-3) ................. 15 17 11 15—58
G: Emily Holtgrewe 1-5 1-2 4, Abigail Krienert 15 0-0 2, Katelin Langel 13-18 3-8 29, Bailey Wiltgen 1-4 3-5 5, Alison Schnepf 0-2 1-2 1, Morgan Whitehead 1-9 2-5 4, Taylor Peters 0-0 0-0 0, Elizabeth Bates 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 17-43 10-22 45.
AWV: Paige Danner 7-14 2-8 18, Brittany Stoelk 2-9 2-2 6, Megan Ehlers 1-5 0-1 2, Lexie Vande Hoef 2-3 2-2 6, Amy Hinners 7-9 3-9 17, Kyrsten Lampman 3-3 2-3 8, Jenna Hausman 0-0 1-2 1, Alyssa Buren 0-1 0-0 0, Haley Wieland 0-0 0-0 0, Katie Grothe 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 22-44 12-27 58.
3-point goals: G 1-7 (Holtgrewe 1-5, Krienert 0-2), AWV 2-9 (Danner 2-4, Stoelk 0-5). Total fouls: G 21, AWV 20. Fouled out: none. Technical fouls: none. Rebounds: G 27 (Langel 9), AWV 34 (Hinners 12). Assists: G 5 (Holtgrewe 2, Krienert 2), AWV 12 (Danner 5). Steals: G 16 (Krienert 5, Langel 5), AWV 15 (Danner 7). Turnovers: G 24, AWV 21.
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