With 20 seconds left in the game, the starters came off the court. Tears of joy welled up in the eyes of athletes and coaching staff.
There was no way for Buffalo to earn the 11 points no matter who Douglas left on the court. It was all over.
The starters watched the clock from the bench counting down those long remaining seconds to the final buzzer, the signal that the Lady Cats were indeed the state champions.
Then it happened.
The buzzer sounded, and Douglas had 63, Buffalo, 52.
The team erupted into a mass of cheers, hugs and tears, all drowned out by the roar of the Lady Cats’ devoted fans.
Douglas was officially the 3A state champions and an undefeated 27-0 season was in the books.
Madison Hoopman’s last game would be the icing on the cake of a dream season. She would earn the championship she spent four years working for.
“It feels great,” she said amidst throngs of friends and family after the game Saturday. “It’s truly the best feeling of high school sports to be on this big of a stage and end up on top.”
As the only senior she lead the girls this season, but despite everything that was riding on the final game, she kept her team calm and confident.
“I told the girls that all the hard work is over. It’s time to play and to have fun. Let’s show this state what we’ve got and that we deserve to be here,” Hoopman said.
Underneath the lean athletic exterior Hoopman’s humble heart peeks out as she talks about all the competitors they beat this season.
“I say thank you to the other teams. They are part of the reason that we are here,” she said with sincerity after the game. “They pushed us all season to work at practice and be better. Being scared of Buffalo made us hungrier. They are a great team and deserved to be on this court tonight. I truly believe they are one of the best teams in the state. So I say thank you to them. They are the reason we are here.”
There is no doubt that Buffalo was the Lady Cats’ closest competitor, but after four attempts the Lady Bison couldn’t best the unstoppable Douglas girls.
THE HIGH SCORER
When it came to sinking the shot during the most crucial game of the season, Haedyn Rhoades was simply, on fire.
She dropped 24 of the girls’ 63 points, 15 of those from the three-point line.
Her focus on the game showed when afterward she was unaware of how many points she had scored, despite it being displayed in two-foot tall lights on the Casper Event Centers scoreboard.
Rhoades, known for her broad grin on the court was wearing a giant smile and tears of joy filled her eyes after the win.
“I can’t even explain it,” she said. “I am just so excited that I got to go out there on that court and play with my team and get a win. Everyone contributed so much to that win. I am just so happy.”
Despite having just logged 31 minutes of intense championship game time, the win had her buzzing with renewed energy.
“It feels amazing,” she said. “Every single game we came out playing hard. We worked so hard all season to come out and get those wins. I am just so happy that all the hard work paid off.”
The hard work set the ladies solidly on top of the pack with no losses, 27 victories and both a regional and state championship. Looking forward they have a young team with loads of varsity experience.
“This summer we are going to come out and work hard,” Rhoades said. “It’s going to hurt us losing Madee Hoopman. She is such a great player, but we have younger kids that are going to work hard and step up to try and fill her shoes. It will be a great season next year as well.”
With that Rhoades bounced off into the sea of fan, family and friends crowding around to congratulate her on the floor of the event center.
The first thing head coach Cody Helenbolt said through nearly uncontainable excitement was,“It can’t get better than that.”
He was right. A flawless record, championship season, or a very young talented team would be any coach’s dream season. But Helenbolt’s Lady Cats had all three.
“It’s just a whirlwind,” he said. “Mostly I’m just proud. . . just so proud of them. I love these kids, and I love to see them succeed and meet their goals. I am glad I can be part of it and that they took me along with them. They did all the hard work.”
He is looking forward to the team bringing him along again next year as well.
“We got a good group coming back,” he said. “Every season is a little bit different; I’m just excited to be a part of it.”