Hard work, senior leadership helps Florence land school's first girls' basketball state titleJen. Corn. Molls. Heiman. Jenny Fagg, Krista Cornish, Molly Round and Heather Heiman set out to make history at Florence - and that's exactly what they did. They moved up the ranks through four years of varsity basketball competition and reached the pinnacle Saturday night, defeating District 5-B rival Frenchtown 45-37 for the state Class B championship.
The state championship, which capped a 25-1 season, was the first for a Florence girls' basketball team, as was its appearance in the title game. It also marked the Falcons' third state trip in four years.
It didn't happen by accident.
"Those four seniors, they're our heart and soul," said Florence coach Sam Baerlocher. "They got this started as freshmen, playing with Jennie Kendall and Anita Zabel. And they just kept going.
"They've always done everything we've asked. They've put in so much work, through the years, to reach this point. Working out, lifting weights, going to camps. It's great to see what they've achieved."
The foursome talked about winning the state title as far back as seventh grade.
"We were on the bus coming back from some game, I don't remember where," Round said. "We were undefeated, and we kind of thought we were studs. We planned it out. We'd go to state as juniors, then win it as seniors."
Which, of course, is exactly what happened.
"We've seen other girls who had a lot of promise, but for one reason or another, it didn't work out," Cornish said. "We felt if we stuck together, it was possible."
To do it, the four basically spent their summers in gyms, as well as curtailing their social calendar. They didn't, however, neglect academics: All four are honor students.
"I don't know if I'd call them sacrifices," Round said. "Basketball means more to us than going to a school dance, or going to the river in the summer. If you want to be a state champ, you have to be willing to work for it."
They each played their roles, with Heiman and Round at the guards, and Cornish and Fagg at the forwards.
"We weren't all-stars, but we knew how to work together for a common goal," Cornish said.
As it turned out, the final piece of the puzzle was junior Ember Harberts, an athletic, 6-foot-1 junior whose desire and drive matched the seniors.
"We were real fortunate," Round said. "A lot of younger players don't realize how important it is. That normally comes your senior year. But Ember wanted it as much we we did."
The championship game was also a celebration of western basketball in an enrollment class that has traditionally been dominated by teams from the Hi-Line or eastern Montana. It marked the first time that two Western B teams had met for the title.
Frenchtown, led by seniors Heidi Cox, Laura Kruschke and Kristina O'Neill, went 24-4 en route to the most successful season in school history. All four losses came against Florence.
The teams showed their mutual respect by playing a hard, clean game. When Heiman fouled out, Cox and Jessie Williams showed their sportsmanship by trotting down the court to congratulate her. The same generosity was extended by Florence players to Kruschke when she fouled out.
"We know them real well, just because we've played them 14 times the last four years," Round said. "I know they're disappointed, but I hope not too much. They're a heck of a team. They deserved to win as much as we did."
Sunday afternoon, the Florence team bus arrived home to the Bitterroot. It was escorted from Lolo to Florence by a convoy of cars, with a fire truck leading the way. The bus pulled into a special spot in the school parking lot. It had been spray painted: STATE CHAMPIONSHIP PARKING ONLY.
"That was so cool," Cornish said. "I think we're all blown away by this. We set out to win the title, and we actually did it."