One and done at State

Sonja Karp

NLJ file photo

Ally Cass hit the Event Center floor in Casper ready to go on Thursday morning for State competition. Though the Lady Dogies only got to play one game before the state tournament was cancelled, Cass - shown here at the Regional Tournament in Newcastle the week before - took advantage of her limited time. 

Sonja Karp

NLJ Sports Reporter


The Lady Dogies left Newcastle for Casper amid boisterous cheering of Dogie fans last Wednesday afternoon. Head coach Chad Ostenson’s crew were excitedly anticipating tipping off the 3A State Basketball Tournament at 9:00 on Thursday, but no one could imagine what would transpire the next morning as the tournament got underway.

The WHSAA, in conjunction with the Natrona County Health Organization, were monitoring the COVID-19 situation with the announcement of a confirmed case in Sheridan on Wednesday morning, and making decisions that would decide the fate of the culminating event for 3A and 4A teams.

As of tip-off time of the 9:00 game on Thursday morning, the tournament was continuing as scheduled, but that was about to change.

“We got the news at half-time that they were closing the tournament off from spectators after our game,” Ostenson stated. “Then of course, we found out that the whole tournament was done.”

Fortunately, the Lady Dogies had the opportunity to take the court and play their first game in the Event Center. 

“I’ve got mixed emotions, but I am just really grateful we got the opportunity to play,” Ostenson admitted. “It was just so valuable for the future of the program that the girls had that experience and to play on that big floor in that venue.”

As the number three seed from the east, the Dogies were pitted against the second seeded Lyman Lady Eagles who lost to Mountain View in the 3A West Regional Tournament last week. Lyman brought with them a senior heavy team with depth and a variety of weapons.

The Lady Dogies arrived at the Event Center an hour and a half early to take advantage of the time they had to try to acclimate to the environment of the EC. The huge venue, the longer court, and the vast distance behind each backboard takes a bit of getting used to, so Ostenson wanted his team - who can be deadly from beyond the arc - to get out and shoot and take it all in. 

Despite the added time on the court, the Lady Dogies were a bit wide-eyed as the game got underway. The squad struggled a bit to zero in on the hoop from the perimeter and were a little short on opportunities at the rack, and as such, were outscored 14-6 in the first quarter and 12-6 in the second to go into the locker room down 26-12. 

“Early, there were three of four wide open layups that we missed, which we usually don’t,” Ostenson began. “If we had been able to get those to fall, then our basket would have gotten a little bigger and we could have started to do what we do a little earlier in the game.”

When Newcastle took the court to start the second half, it was easy to see that the early game nerves had settled and the squad got down to work. However, though they outscored the Lady Eagles 22-20 in the final two quarters of play, it wasn’t enough to climb out of the hole they had dug for themselves, so they dropped their one and only state contest 34-46.

“You could see in the stretch during the third quarter where we got on a roll, that it was just contagious,” Ostenson nodded. “Mercedes [Voelker] hit a couple of threes and when one starts getting them to fall, the rest feed into it.”

Freshman Ally Cass appeared to have suffered none of the early game jitters as she had one of her best performances of the year across the board. 

“Ally hit three threes and got in there and rebounded,” Ostenson exclaimed. “I think she just kind of let loose and her abilities took over. She played good defense as well and didn’t come out of the game much.”

Cass ended the game tied with Jaylen Ostenson in scoring as the two freshmen led their team with 12 points each. Voelker scored six with her two three-pointers, while Shelby Tidyman and MacKenzie Conzelman each added two points for the Lady Dogies. 

“This will be something the kids will never forget, especially given how things worked out,” Ostenson predicted. “We got everyone in the game on that big floor so they all got to feel what that was like, which will be great going forward.”

With the season ended a little prematurely, Ostenson reflected on the tournament, the
year past, and the years yet to come with this young crew.

“I haven’t thought about it as much as I probably will in the next few days,” he began. “I would have liked to bring the Consolation Championship trophy home, which I think would have been pretty doable, but the kids got their T-shirts, they got to play a game, and a few even stood on the stage for a photo-op claiming we took second place.”

“I feel bad for all the kids, the seniors especially who had no idea they were playing their last game, but at least ours did get to play a game,” he continued. “It was a good experience for the kids and for Coleton [Willard], Noelle [Yonke] and I. It was my first time as a head coach and their first time as a coach so we all got a little experience and hopefully we can make an appointment there next year.”

After a bit of a shaky start with only one returning player (Voelker) with much 3A varsity experience, Ostenson admitted his confidence started to slip a little early in the season. However, his young and inexperienced crew showed tremendous growth from the first contest to the last as they became accustomed to the speed and physicality of the game.

“I started out with some fairly lofty goals,” Ostenson admitted. “I thought our schedule was solid, and I did start to worry that maybe we weren’t going to be as good as I thought we’d be.”

“But we kept building throughout the year, and we picked up a win here and there to keep us going,” he continued. “It was about the Chadron game where we really started making strides, and then when we beat Buffalo at home, things really took off.”

The goal from the beginning of the season was to be playing their best basketball by the Regional Tournament, and the team left little doubt that they achieved just that.

“Both offensively and defensively, the games we played at Regionals were by far, our best of the season,” Ostenson nodded. “Our rebounding, how we took care of the basketball, just everything came together.”

Ostenson also attributed the schedule down the stretch and the fact that Regionals was in the Dome as playing to his team’s advantage. In addition, though the Lady Dogies suffered some injuries to key players mid-season, their absence actually presented the opportunity to build the team’s depth.

“We played between 8 and 10 kids a lot of nights, and that doesn’t happen a lot in varsity ball,” he declared. “The kids that were coming in off the bench contributed and I was really happy about that.”

“The kids who didn’t play that much throughout the season, gave us really good looks in practice and that is so very important for the growth of our program,” Ostenson stressed. “We have 10-11 kids who give us those good looks in practice and that helped so much.”

With the season ended, the Lady Dogies say goodbye to Madi Pearson and Sara Sweet, the two seniors on the squad. Unfortunately, Pearson suffered a dislocated shoulder, so was sidelined for most of the last half of the season, but her leadership on the court early was invaluable for the team.

Sweet, as a 5’6” post, really came on in the latter part of the season, and both were a big part of the glue that held the whole team together throughout.

“We’re going to miss Madi and Sara,” Ostenson sighed. “I don’t know if we’ll ever have a team dynamic like that again as far as relationships go. They got along so well, and it really was a ‘Team before Me’ type of mentality, and their leadership really made that happen.”

The good news for the future of the Lady Dogie program is that the squad will return the bulk of their weapons to the floor next season. Voelker, who became deadly from beyond the arc this season, has one more year left to play while most of the team has two to three years to go. 

As such the future looks bright for Newcastle.


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