Royals crowned champs
By Mike Kobs
WISCONSIN RAPIDS – The Assumption Royals are the champions of the Division 5 girls basketball world once again, and they didn’t have to beat Barneveld to do it.
The Royals defeated the Three Lakes Bluejays 55-48 in the title game Feb. 25 at the La Crosse Center, after beating Chippewa Falls McDonell 46-43 earlier in the day in the state semifinal round.
The moral of this story? It’s not how you start; it’s how you finish. And the Royals did not start out looking like a championship team. They lost six of their first nine games, including four in a row. But they lost five of those games by a combined 26 points, and three of them by just three points each. Assumption would go on to finish the season with a 13-2 run, and the school’s third WIAA championship, after closing out the 90s with consecutive WISAA championships in 1998 and 1999.
The road to the state tournament was a relatively easy one for the Royals. They scored double-digit wins in each of their regional games with Greenwood and Loyal, then beat Independence and Wauzeka-Steuben by 14 and 21 respectively in the sectionals. The state tournament was a different story.
In one of the closest games of the entire state tournament, Assumption held off the McDonell Macks, who came in with a 12-3 record, and double-digit wins in 10 of those games, including all four regional and sectional contests.
The Royals held a seven-point lead with three minutes left in the first half, but an 8-4 run by the Macks cut Assumption’s lead to three at halftime. In the second half, the Royals stretched their lead to 14 with 10:14 remaining. But the Macks used an 18-5 run to cut the Wisconsin Rapids lead to just one with 2:09 left in regulation.
Back-to-back layups by Jessie Grundhoffer and Sam Nelson put the Royals up by five with 1:33 remaining. McDonell cut that lead back down to two with a free throw and a jump shot with 42 seconds left.
Four straight free throws from Ainara Sainz de Rozas put the Royals back up by six with 20 seconds left. After a three-pointer by the Macks with six seconds remaining, the Royals ran out the clock.
Sainz de Rozas led the Royals with 16 points. Emily Bohn added 13. Grundhoffer had eleven.
In the state championship contest, Assumption beat a Three Lakes team that came in averaging 60.9 points per game, and won their regional and sectional by a combined 293-146. But after a back-and-forth start to the title tilt, the Royals grabbed a lead just over five minutes into the game that they would not surrender. The Bluejays, however, would tie the game late.
Assumption led by as many as 13 in the first half, and took a 33-25 lead into the locker room.
The Royals kept that lead at 11 in the early stages of the second half, only to see it slowly slip away. Three Lakes went on a 14-3 run to tie the game at 44 with 5:46 left. But timely free throws by Grundhoffer and Sainz de Rozas, plus an “and-one” by Bohn, helped seal the 55-48 win down the stretch.
Bohn led Rapids with 16 points in the championship game. Grundhoffer added 15, and Sainz de Rozas had 13.
The Royals were back in the state title game for the first time since 2016, when they defeated Barneveld 62-45, after losing to the Eagles in the state final in each of the previous two seasons. Assumption also defeated Barneveld for the 2013 championship, after getting beat by the Eagles in the state semifinal round in 2005.
The Royals end their 2020-21 season with a record of 16-8, and with another gold ball to add to the trophy case at Assumption High School.