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No. 5: Ingalls girls perfect

Published 12/27/2013

Editor's Note:This is the sixth in a series of 10 stories counting down the top sports stories of 2013 as voted on by The Telegram staff.

By KEVIN THOMPSON

sports@gctelegram.com

Bulldogs are known for their tenacity.

The Ingalls Lady Bulldogs were living proof of that in March.

For most teams, a trip to the state basketball tournament would be satisfaction enough.

But a fourth-place finish at state in 2011 only whetted the Ingalls' team's drive for better.

Third place a year later meant they were just a game away from playing in the title game.

Finally, in their 2012-13 season, they did what most teams can only dream of, capturing the title of the Class 1A-Division II state tournament at Gross Memorial Coliseum in Hays.

And when the final buzzer sounded in the 37-22 win over Norwich, the Lady Bulldogs hoisted the championship plaque with pride — and with a perfect 26-0 record — making the Lady Bulldogs' state title run the No. 5 sports story of 2013 as voted on by The Telegram staff.

It was a fairy tale ending for a memorable year.

This was Ingalls' first time in the finals since 1984, and the first girls' title in school history.

The screams of joy and the flashes of smiles afterwards from both team and crowd made it apparent that everybody knew just how big of a win this was.

"This is awesome. It's a great feeling," said coach Roger Thurlow following the game. "This doesn't even feel real right now. It's mind-boggling."

Ingalls looked destined to run away with the game early, posting a 14-1 lead early into the second quarter, but then the Lady Eagles mounted a comeback.

Norwich inched close at the 2:17 point of the second period to get within 16-13, but the tough-minded Ingalls defense rose to the challenge and ran off with the win.

It wasn't until the final 50 seconds that Thurlow was able to relax and applaud his team as they accomplished the final goal of the season.

"Those girls are so tough," he said. "They run and they run and they run. They may not always look pretty on offense, but on defense, they just allowed 22 points in a championship game."

Ingalls had lost three starters and a top sub from the previous year, so to be in this position with such a squad was quite a feat.

Senior Deisy Estrada said three years of experience gave her team the sense of what it would take to win a title. Freshmen worked with upperclassmen, and bought into a system that worked.

"We came together as a team," she said. "Our freshmen helped us a whole bunch. Since the first day of practice, they've come out with the attitude that we're taking this."

Senior point guard and four-year starter Tara Whipple said defense was the key.

"Holding a team to 22 point in a state, that's a statement in itself right there," she said.

Whipple started every game for Ingalls since she was in sixth grade.

"I wasn't expecting to go to state this year with all the freshmen coming in," she said. "But it's been a great ride with how hard they've worked, and how big of a role they stepped into."

Rebecca Wyatt played in all three state tournaments. The 5-foot-10 junior averaged 13.3 points and 10.4 rebounds a game.

The three freshmen who played a key role in that magical season were Hope Beach, Kaisha Batman and Bulma Galaviz. That trio combined for 26 points in the sub-state title game.

Batman went on to score 22 points in the state semifinal game, as well.

The famous "sixth man" for the Bulldogs' run was the Dog Pound, a student spirit group that decked out in odd costumes and face paint.

They filled the gym with lively, synchronized chants and cheers.

Thurlow said his team had hit a "lull" after the Christmas break, still winning but with little fanfare.

"But when this crowd started coming and getting behind them, they've just taken it to another level," he said at the time. "Our girls are playing even better than ever."

Thurlow said the entire school came together during the girls' run, even the boys' team.

"At some schools, there seems to be some jealousy (between programs), but they want these girls to go and do well, and the girls appreciate it," he said.

This was a team that didn't rely on superstars, Thurlow added.

"Only if you measure superstars by scoring," he said. "But if you measure by defense, passing and rebounding, we've got a lot of superstars."

Defense is Ingalls' signature, Thurlow said. His teams used to press full court, but that was an all-or-nothing venture. When he switched to the half-court trap, it forced a lot of turnovers, but when it didn't, players could get back on defense quickly.

His upperclassmen knew the system so well that they taught it to the younger players, indicative of both the players' basketball IQ and willingness to share.

"Every team can say they have very talented athletes," Thurlow said. "But athletes don't win games; effort does. That's what these girls do — they work hard."

And Bulldogs don't give up.

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