The Norris Titans came into the season as the favorites to win it all in Class B.
The girls program has never won a state championship, but with a talented roster of players like seniors Brianna Stai, Madison Collier, Kalli Kroeker and junior Delaney White, the Titans seemed destined to be playing on championship Saturday.
And with a 43-36 win over the No. 5 York Dukes, the top-seed Titans are one win away from achieving something they haven’t ever done.
It wasn’t easy, though. What’s a state tournament without a little bit of drama, anyway?
Behind yet another tough and gritty outing from head coach Matt Kern’s Dukes, Norris was tied at 19 heading into halftime and needed a buzzer-beating 3 from Stai to lead 30-29 at the end of the third.
The smaller Dukes couldn’t handle Stai in the fourth, though, especially in the post. The Central Missouri basketball commit drew multiple fouls on the Dukes who tried to get around Stai’s post seal to no avail. She wound up scoring 16 points in the game, with seven coming in the fourth.
Stai knows that in order to accomplish the team’s goal of winning a championship, a strong post presence is needed.
“All the teams we play know we can shoot, so we have to rely on our inside game and driving,” Stai said. “I’ve been a post my whole life, so I just have to know I’m stronger and then outwork them.
“Those fouls gave me a lot of confidence because I didn’t think the refs were going to call anything, but once they started calling them it was big, especially because it came against their two best players to get them out of the game, which was huge.”
It’s been a season of adversity for Stai, who has had to deal with an injury to her knee. She’s subluxed her kneecap four times, which is when the kneecap pops out without dislocating and needs to be put back in.
After her first game of this season on a Saturday, Stai dislocated her knee two days later at practice on Monday. She missed five games.
“It hurts when it goes out, but not when it comes back in,” she said. “My trainer just pops it back in, and it’s just a big sigh of relief.”
If she gets hurt, she gets hurt, Stai said. A perfect ending to the season — and her prep career — is so close, and the injury hasn’t been a problem recently. That means it’s time to ball out one more time.
“I love this sport and I love my team,” she said. “I’m a senior and I want to end on a high note. I just have all the confidence in the world right now. I’m just trying to do whatever I can right now for my team.”