Sure, they want to go up there and win the dang thing.
When you play for Walnut Grove, winning is sort of in your blood; more of an expectation than a thing that just happens.
But as the Lady Tigers’ six seniors — Heather Harman, Miranda Allison, Madisyn Freeze, Lexi Harman, Karsyn Hejna and Megan Shuler — prepare to play their final two games together this weekend in Columbia at the Class 1 state tournament, they understand their place in Walnut Grove’s rich athletic history is secure.
“It’s been a lot of fun, this year especially, but the last four years have been awesome,” Heather Harman said after the Lady Tigers wrapped up one of their final workouts before facing Marion County at 1:40 p.m. Thursday in Mizzou Arena.
“This isn’t something a lot of people can say they’ve done.”
This year is the third consecutive final four appearance for Walnut Grove (26-4). It comes after a one-point win over Chamois for last year’s title and a one-point loss to Eminence in the 2012 championship game.
So if you want to throw around the d-word go right ahead.
“They’re tremendous. Not only athletically with how good they are on the floor; they’re bright, they’re good in the community. They’re never in trouble,” Walnut Grove coach Rory Henry said. “They’ve left a legacy here, absolutely. Even a dynasty if you want to call it that. It’s a pretty special group. No matter what happens this weekend, it’s going to be bittersweet.”
It’s been mostly sweet for the Lady Tigers, who haven’t lost to a Class 1 team since that 36-35 defeat at the hands of Eminence in the 2012 state title game.
Walnut Grove’s only losses this year are to Class 4 district champion Marshfield, Class 3 final four team Ash Grove, defending Class 2 champion Crane and Class 2 semifinalist Skyline. Three of those defeats are by seven points or less.
“No one expects us to lose games, even though we lost four this year,” said Lexi Harman, who will join cousin Heather in the Drury women’s basketball program next season. “We definitely wanted to be in those situations (against larger-school teams) where — I don’t know if we were the underdog — but it would be a real challenge for us.”
There’s pressure for the Lady Tigers this year in trying to continue an already impressive run. But the experience of playing on the big stage each of the last two years certainly doesn’t hurt when the lights come on.
“There’s some pressure, but we just have to play the game the way we’ve been playing,” Hejna said. “If we play as a team, keep up our defensive pressure and play off each other, we’ll be fine.”
And if the Lady Tigers do run into any trouble, all of Walnut Grove will be there to pick them up.
There was a chili feed at the high school Tuesday night to help raise money for the team’s trip to Columbia. Walnut Grove’s players signed autographs for the next generation of Tigers, and probably a few of their parents too.
As a few parents watched practice Tuesday, they discussed plans for making the trip north in between dissecting what the Lady Tigers were doing on the floor.
“I’ve never been in a community that supports its athletes quite like this,” Henry said. “When I showed up here (five years ago) and took these kids to a summer camp, we go and there was a whole section filled with orange. Some of the people there didn’t even have kids playing. They just wanted to watch.
“Now, that means high expectations, but that’s good. Everyone wants to win, and they’ll support this team.”