The state tournament experience never gets old for Clear Lake girls basketball head coach Bart Smith.
This week, Smith’s 22-2 Lions will make the trek down to Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, a trip that never fails to get Smith and his players excited.
“We all have something about that trip that we like. For me, it’s just when you walk in there and you hear the horn, you know you’re in a different spot,” Smith said. “I get goosebumps.”
For the seniors, the chance to fight for a state title in their final year is especially meaningful. Last year, the team wound up just one point short of qualifying for the state tournament, as the Lions lost in the regional finals to Roland-Story, 44-43.
“It’s good to see them bounce back after last year and be a little bit more determined,” Smith said. “That’s what you have to do in life when you have a bit of heartbreak. You can’t just give up or think it’s never going to happen again. You’ve got to keep grinding and you’ve got to keep working, and have that heartbreak fuel you a little bit in whatever you do.”
After feeling that heartbreak, the team is excited to get another chance. They also have an opportunity to make program history with a win. In five previous state trips, the Clear Lake girls team has never made it past the first round.
Some members of the team refer to the Lions' win-less state tournament history as "the curse."
“We think about it a lot,” senior Sara Faber said. “We’re 0-5 down there, which is something that we want to change. I think we can do it with this team.”
Their first game will not be easy. The Lions will play against Davenport Assumption, a team that regularly plays Class 4A and 5A competition, and finished the year with a 16-7 record. Freshman Ava Schubert leads the Knights with 232 points on the season. The team has seven players with at least 134 points.
“They play in a tough conference,” Smith said. “They have no one that is really an outstanding offensive threat, but they’ve got six or seven girls that are at six points per game or above. You’ve got to be concerned because you can’t just take one or two away. If you take them away, one of the other girls might get hot.”
The Knights are also known to be very tough and physical on both sides of the ball, which the Lions were preparing for on Thursday by practicing against a few male players.
“They’re very physical,” junior Chelsey Holck said. “Down in the state tournament, the refs let you play, so we’ve got to be prepared for that. We really have to play our best defense.”
Faber knows that any game could now be the last for her and her fellow seniors. While the nerves haven’t hit her yet, she knows that on Monday, she will probably not be able to focus too much on school.
“I do think about how it could be our last game, but then I think about how I just want to spend it with my team,” Faber said. “It motivates us to go stronger.”
The Lions will play Davenport Assumption at 8:30 p.m. on Monday at Wells Fargo Arena.
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