By Rob Kiser
Call Sports Editor
COLUMBUS — Some things are better than winning a state championship.
Versailles girls basketball coach Jacki Stonebraker would know.
She coached the 2007-08 Lady Tigers to a 28-0 record and a state championship — and understands everything that went into winning that title with her sister Justine leading the team and brother Joe on the bench as an assistant coach.
And she also knows that there are far worse things than Saturday’s 49-37 loss to Africentric in the D-III state championship game — namely, not having the opportunity to coach this group of Lady Tigers, particularly seniors Emily Harman, Katie Heckman, Rachel Kremer, Brooke Pothast, Courtney Prenger, Olivia Schlater, Kayla McEldowney, Chloe Warvel and Amanda Winner.
Stonebraker said so the other day after the Lady Tigers semifinal win.
“In my mind, you can’t go wrong with nine seniors,” she had stated.
Stonebraker was even more clear after Saturday’s loss.
“I wouldn’t trade my team for any team in the state,” she said. “The seniors are all special in their own way. Some are vocal leaders, some are patient — some are quiet leaders, girls that the underclassmen could just sit and talk to when they had questions.”
Which is why being on the floor Saturday was as important as the final outcome.
“We are like sisters, we are so close,” Harman said with emotion after the game. “We all did things together. We just want to keep this season going to the final game, so we could play together for as long as possible.”
As for the game itself, the Lady Tigers ran into an extremely athletic, talented Nubians team — a team that started three Division I signees and was in the state championship game for the third straight year.
Things had to go well for Versailles to come out on top — and they didn’t from the start.
Versailles got down 14-3 in the early going — a hole that went nearly to China against a team of Africentric’s caliber.
“We knew we had to handle the ball,” Stonebraker said. “We got ourselves in a deep hole against a team like that (Africentric). They were (bad matchups). Because we rely on our athletic ability too and they were just so quick.”
To, no surprise — the Lady Tigers never went away — scratching and clawing to the very end.
Versailles got back within 29-20 at halftime and when Christa Puthoff scored early in the second half it was 29-22.
“It was frustrating (the defense of Africentric),” Puthoff said. “But, it seems like there are always hands in your face.”
After falling behind 41-26 going to the fourth quarter, Versailles closed within 10 several times — they were still battling in the final minute like champions.
Harman was the perfect choice to give the video board speech about sportsmanship before the game — hustling all over the court to play beyond her 5-foot-9 frame — but, then again you could say that about all nine seniors.
This was a team that had to overcome two ACL injuries (to Warvel and Schlater) last season and another MCL injury to Warvel this pre-season.
They posted a perfect 9-0 record in the MAC, arguable the toughest small school conference in the state.
They had to beat one of the three teams that had beaten during the season (Miami East), to reach the state tournament after not making it out of a loaded Tippecanoe sectional the last three years.
“This group of seniors just all came together this year — they had been split up between freshman, JV and varsity),” Stonebraker said. “I feel so fortunate to have coached them.”
Puthoff had nine points and six rebounds for the Lady Tigers, while Harman added nine points in a balanced attack.
Winner and Lauren Bruns both grabbed five rebounds.
Sierra Hartley had 14 points for the Nubians, while Alexis Parks scored 12 and Kyrah Jones grabbed nine rebounds.
Alexa Hart, the D-III Co-Player of the Year, had nine points and six blocked shots in 16 minutes.
“I thought we did a good job on their big (6-2 Alexa Hart),” Stonebraker said. “We just couldn’t take advantage when she was out. They were too athletic.”
Versailles made 11 of 40 shots from the floor for 28 percent, missing both 3-point attempts.
The Lady Tigers were 15 of 19 from the line for 79 percent.
Africentric was 17 of 49 from the floor for 35 percent, including three of nine from behind the arc for 33 percent.
The Lady Nubians made 12 of 18 free throws for 67 percent.
Versailles won the battle of the boards 34-32, but had 24 turnovers to Africentric’s 14.
And while it may seen important to them now, one day the Versailles players will realize the color of the trophy doesn’t really matter.
“No, they don’t get it now,” Stonebraker said. “They won’t get it until they are at least seniors in college — or maybe when they have kids playing and talk about it with them.”
And what they will come to realize is they had something truly special — far better than a state championship.
Amanda Winner 0-0-0, Lauren Bruns 0-2-2, Brooke Pothast 2-3-7, Christa Puthoff 4-1-9, Emily Harman 3-3-9, Rachel Kremer 1-0-2, Chloe Warvel 1-2-4, Olivia Schlater 0-0-0, Courtney Prenger 0-0-0, Kayla McEldowney 0-0-0, Katie Heckman 0-4-4. Totals: 11-15-37.
Kyrah Jones 1-2-4, Darianne Seward 1-0-2, Alexis Parks 4-3-12, Ayrielle Stith 2-0-4, Alexa Hart 4-1-9, Dayuna Johnson 0-2-2, Renee Waters 0-0-0, Taylor Nixon 0-0-0, Kennedy Azubike 0-0-0, Sierra Harley 4-4-14, Dejanique Franks 1-0-2, De’jae Denham 0-0-0, Leah Morrow 0-0-0. Totals: 17-12-49.
3-point field goals — Africentric: Parks, Harley (2).
Score By Quarters
Versailles6 20 26 37
Africentric 16 29 41 49
Records: Versailles 24-4, Africentric 27-2.