There is a lot of recent girls' basketball history between the Providence Academy Lions and Albany Huskies.
The Huskies claimed Class AA championship rights above their heads when they defeated the Lions in the final game of the season almost a year ago, and the Lions, the top-ranked team in the class entering this year’s state tournament, took down the Huskies at the Granite City Classic in December.
A third game under the bright lights of “The Barn” felt right. And in a showdown full of lead changes and clutch players not wanting their seasons to go away, Providence Academy moved on to the Class AA championship with a 55-48 win over the Huskies March 18 at Williams Arena in Minneapolis.
“I was really proud of our girls,” said Aaron Boyum, head coach. “Going in, I thought we played with a good level of confidence, I thought we shared the ball and we had some good individual efforts.”
Albany picked up the first points of the game with excellent play design, scheming sophomore forward Alyssa Sand open from long distance for a 3-pointer. This started a back-and-forth contest that saw seven lead changes and four tied scores.
The first half showed what both teams could do well: play lockdown defense. Providence Academy rallied to the ball and oftentimes snatched the ball right out of a Huskie’s hands, with the Lions logging eight steals in the opening 18 minutes alone. Albany, meanwhile, played aggressive yet discipline in its handy zone look, forcing Providence Academy to defeat them from longer range.
“I think we did a good job as the game went on extending on shooters,” Boyum said. “That’s one of the situations where out of our zone, give them (Providence Academy) credit. They had to hit the 3-point shots.”
When Sand, named to the All-State team earlier in the day, banked in a 2-pointer six minutes into the game, the Huskies led 9-4 in a confident start to the game. The Lions eventually tied the game at nine and pulled ahead for good with 1:19 to play in the first, when Miss Basketball candidate Maria Counts gave Providence Academy an 18-17 lead.
Albany kept afloat in the semifinals standoff a below-average 40.9% shooting percentage behind hustle plays and rebounding. The Huskies grabbed 34 rebounds compared to Providence Academy’s 29.
“Rebounding was our main struggle throughout the year, so we just kept practicing at it,” Sand said. “We knew they had two big posts, so we really focused don them the whole game and made it our main priority to beat their rebounding game.”
Sand collected 11 points and seven boards, while fellow sophomore forward Kylan Gerads totaled 13 points and 12 rebounds. Contributions, however, were not limited to that duo. Senior guard Bailey Keske connected on a floater for a huge and-one play early in the second half, part of a nine-point performance, while senior center Madi Herkenhoff logged nine points and five rebounds.
“Every game is different, there’s a lot of different matchups, so when we play and someone is getting hot, we try and feed them and keep it going while giving looks to everyone on the team,” Keske said. “We all play as a team really well.”
The Huskies never went away in the rousing rematch, staying within two possessions for a majority of the game. However, the team could not prevent unforced errors, committing more than double Providence Academy’s turnover total with 20.
Albany had a shot to cut into a four-point margin with a minute left, but a turnover forced the Huskies to start fouling the Lions. Providence Academy scorers Maddyn Greenway and Brooke Hohenecker made important free throws to seal the game.
“We just stuck together,” Greenway said. “We came in well prepared and I think we did well together as a team and if we stay together, we can come back against anyone.”
The Huskies will play in the Class AA third-place match at 1 p.m. Saturday, March 19, at Gangelhoff Center at Concordia University in St. Paul.
“To end third at state would be awesome to close out the season and close out the career,” Herkenhoff said.
ALB 17 31 48
PA 21 34 55
Gerads 13 points (11 rebounds), Sand 11 (7R), Keske 9 (6R, 8 assists), Herkenhoff 9 (5R), Savanna Pelzer 4 and Tatum Findley 2.