Haedyn Rhoades leaped into the arms of teammate Allyson Fertig, threw up the number one on her hand and let out an emphatic scream for everyone in the Casper Events Center to hear. Riley Seeds looked on from directly behind Fertig, a wide smile stretched across her face as she watched Rhoades bask in the moment of pure elation. Spread from one end of the court to the other, Bearcat players wiped away tears and wrapped their arms around one another in celebration of their second state championship in as many years.
Two years have passed and only one team has found a way to achieve what many have viewed as inconceivable. Each time they take the court, they find new ways to stand out from the pack. This is the Douglas Lady Cats’ world and everyone else is seemingly just along for the ride.
“It’s surreal,” Douglas head coach Cody Helenbolt said following his team’s 56-41 win over Lyman in the 3A State Championship last Saturday. “You work so hard and to end up this proud of your kids is a great feeling. It’s incredible.”
After a season in which it ran the table and won its first state title since 2014, it was clear early on that Douglas could do everything well. Minus one player, the Lady Cats returned the entirety of its team this season and set the tone from the outset that they were once again going to be one of 3A’s preeminent teams.
An undefeated season and a core group of players that came into their own in just their freshman season was truly a spectacle for Douglas last season. But to return those same players with more confidence, experience and a drive to become even better, all while helping their teammates, there was never meant to be a limit to the Lady Cats’ success.
“I’m so glad to have spent the last two years with these girls,” Rhoades said. “We go out there and we work as hard as we can every single game. We’re so dedicated to the game and that’s really helped put us over the top.”
If there is a theme to this team it’s one that many other coaches would use to describe their own: Play for each other. Born of a generation accustomed to instant gratification and selfish instincts, Douglas is old school in the nature by which it carries itself.
Take the Lady Cats’ 6-foot-4 sophomore for example. Fertig was a leading force for Douglas this season on both offense and defense, often attracting double and sometimes even triple teams from the opposition. But even so, she made it a point this season to put herself out there in a way that meant helping the team even if her point or rebound totals lagged behind.
“As the season went on I knew I had to be tougher and for us to win I had to finish strong and do the extra things,” Fertig said. “The entire team contributed their part and that’s why we won.”
In a championship game in which one of the state’s top offensive players took over early, Douglas found its shooting stroke in the form of a familiar face. Sophomore Kamdynn Townsend hit back-to-back 3-pointers in the first quarter and was the spark that the Lady Cats needed in order to discover their offensive rhythm.
On the defensive side of things, Seeds and freshman Allison Olsen slowed down McKinley Bradshaw and prevented her from establishing any sort of momentum in the second half. They held the University of Wyoming signee to just 14 points on 4-of-21 shooting.
“It’s definitely a crazy feeling going out there knowing that I’m a freshman and can make all of these mistakes but that everyone will help me,” Olsen said. “We knew we had to get going and build some momentum. The pressure was really on.”
“We knew we needed to stop (her) and it was a little scary at first,” Townsend added about Bradshaw. “It shows that we put in a lot of hard work and that it all paid off.”
What Douglas has achieved over the last two seasons – winning back-to-back 3A titles for the first time since Jackson Hole in 2008 and 2009, winning 53 of 54 games and going undefeated against 3A competition – should be both improbable and impossible. It’s a feat that will be long remembered, and for great reason.
Shockingly enough, this is just the beginning. The Douglas Lady Cats are here to stay. The question is for how long.
“It’s just amazing to play another year with this team and know that we have a bright future still ahead,” Fertig said. “It’s amazing to know that we can only get better.”
Helenbolt jokingly added: “This is uncharted territory for me. When it’s time for next season we’ll start to think about that, but for now we’re going to enjoy this one for a while.”