As the game clock counted down last Saturday afternoon, Lutheran High North senior guard Kinsie Kim couldn’t celebrate with her teammates fast enough as a roller coaster basketball season ended in triumph.
“Once the clock hit zero and we saw the scoreboard, we all just looked at each other and knew that was our moment,” she said.
Kim and the Lady Lions captured the TAPPS 3A state championship with a 62-34 victory over McKinney Cornerstone Christian. It was the Lady Lions’ second state championship in the last five seasons after winning the TAPPS 4A crown in 2017.
“It probably hit me when we were on the bus on the way home (that we won),” sophomore guard Dalanna Carter said.
And while it may have been the first taste of a title game for Carter and Kim, the ending was even sweeter for senior Victoria Noack.
Noack was a four-year player for head coach John Slomcheck, and was on the other end of the scoreboard when LHN lost the title game in 2019.
“It was difficult in 2019 when we didn’t win – because you never know what’s going to happen. Then especially this senior year with everything that was happening (with COVID), we didn’t even know if we were going to have a season,” Noack said. “Just getting the opportunity to have a season made us want to work harder, because just around the world some people didn’t even get that opportunity.”
The Lady Lions cashed in, finishing the season on a 12-game winning streak and ending up with a 22-3 overall record. Noack and Kim both said such a run was enabled by the tight-knit team bond that was further strengthened when the Lady Lions missed about two weeks in late December and early January due to COVID-related postponements.
“In our head, we didn’t know if we were even going to come back from it. It opened our eyes. Especially with this team, I enjoy every single person on this team,” Noack said. “We mesh very well, and it was always a fun time.”
Kim echoed the sentiment, referencing the Lady Lions’ final practice of the season prior to the title game as the epitome of their camaraderie. She said Slomcheck brought a challenge to the team – make a half-court shot within a minute, and the entire team’s lunch was on him.
“On the first shot (Victoria) made it,” Kim recalled with a laugh. “Then after the first one he doubled up, saying we’d get lunch on Tuesday, too, if we made another one. Within 10 seconds we made it again.”
With such a close bond, it didn’t come as much of a surprise that the Lady Lions’ season featured very little in the way of drama. The Lady Lions began the season as TAPPS 3A’s top-ranked team and never relinquished their hold on that spot all season, leaving no doubt who the champion was on their way to the top.
LHN outscored opponents by an average of more than 30 points per game, and won all four playoff games by at least 22 points on their way to a title.
And when the clock hit zero, Noack said the emotion was intense for her and her fellow seniors, and that this championship had just a little extra meaning. The same was true for Kim.
“Yeah we won the championship, but we also had fun doing it and all just enjoyed it," said Noack, who is undecided on playing in college. "It was a nice way to round out our senior year. Before the game, we knew it was quite possibly the last basketball game in life that we will ever play. “Not everybody gets the chance to do this – it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Both Noack and Kim said this year’s team will be forever linked due to its abnormal nature. And through it all, Kim said one mantra will live on in basketball and in life – for her, anyway.
“Keep your head down and work, but also have fun while doing it,” she said. “Make those half-court shots count.”