By Kai Raymer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
The Lakeland Lady Vikings got knocked down Friday night.
Their 30-game winning streak ended with a lopsided loss to Walnut Grove in the state semifinals.
“When you haven’t experienced a loss, you don’t know how you’re going to come back from that first one,” said Lakeland coach Justen Cooper. “Especially the way we experienced it yesterday.”
But Saturday afternoon, they got up again, ready to compete.
Lakeland returned with a spirited effort, but fell short 56-49 against Community in the Show-Me Showdown Class 1 third-place game at JQH Arena.
“It felt much more like us,” said Lakeland senior Tracy Munsterman. “We weren’t ourselves yesterday. We were scared, I think, because (the final four) was so new to us.”
Lakeland trailed by six-to-10 points for much of the game. Courtny Walters’ layup with 1:14 remaining got the Lady Vikings as close as 51-45.
Community went ahead 13-12 late in the first quarter and never trailed again.
“We kept getting back to within eight or seven, just never could quite push it over the hump,” Cooper said. “It was a fun game to coach. I felt like we just stayed focus and kept our cool throughout.”
This weekend marked Lakeland’s first final four appearance in program history. The Lady Vikings finish 30-2 overall.
“I don’t think we ever saw this coming,” Walters said. “We always thought we would build up to maybe a district championship. This has blown, I think, all of our minds.”
Community, which was also making its first-ever final appearance, got a game-high 19 points from junior Dalaney Bowers. She finished 5-for-10 from 3-point range.
“That was one of our problems (Friday night): we could only score inside and were struggling to shoot from deep,” said Community coach Bob Curtis. “Dalaney Bowers hit some big, big 3s. It gave us that good inside-outside presence.”
Bowers’ fifth 3-pointer of the game put Community ahead 51-41 with just over three minutes remaining. She would foul out moments later.
Sophomore Madison Thompson led three Lakeland players in double figures with 12 points and a team-high nine rebounds.
Senior Annie Swaters added 11 points, six rebounds. At the podium, her teammates called the 5’11” Swaters “Annie-mal.”
“I’m OK with that nickname,” Swaters said, with a smile.
Both teams finished with over 20 turnovers. Community shot 53 percent from the field in the second half to pull away.
“Even though we lost, it was a good way to end our season: with a lot of heart,” Cooper said. “And we showed people who we are.”
Lakeland graduates a four-player senior class that’s set a new standard for the program.
“My dream in life as a player and as coach was always to go to the final four,” Cooper said. “They’re responsible in a great, big way for that. That means so much to me. I’ll never forget that.”
Over the last four seasons, Lakeland’s won 80 games.
“We’ve been building up this to for years,” Walters said. “We keep getting better every year. This is what we were going for. It feels great to be here.”
Lakeland returns two of its top three scorers next season in juniors-to-be Ryan Landes and Thompson.
Community 56, Lakeland 49
Community 13 15 18 10 — 56
Lakeland 12 9 17 11 — 49
Community (27-3 overall) – Dalaney Bowers 19, Natalie Thomas 11, Deann Brooks 8, Brianna Beamer 7, Sadie Hoyt 4, Taren Clark 4, Alexis Welch 2, Lauryn Robnett 1
Lakeland (30-2 overall) – Madison Thompson 12, Annie Swaters 11, Ryan Landes 10, Stella Cordrey 7, Tracy Munsterman 5, Courtny Walters 2, Shelbi Bergschneider 2