Notre Dame achieves a three-peat
By Greg Bates
ASHWAUBENON – For the fifth time in the last 11 years, the Notre Dame Academy girls’ basketball team is state champs.
Perhaps even more impressive is the Tritons become only the sixth program in girls’ basketball state history to win three straight state titles.
No. 2-seeded Notre Dame played nearly a flawless first half and built a double-digit lead against No. 1-seeded Pewaukee. The Tritons then cruised in the second half for a 64-49 victory in the Division 2 state title game on Saturday at the Resch Center.
Junior stars Gracie Grzesk and Trista Fayta have now hoisted three gold balls in their first three years at the varsity level.
It never gets old for the girls to win state.
“I’d say, obviously, it’s so special every time holding up a gold ball knowing you’re the best team in the state (in that) division,” Grzesk said. “Honestly, every year it doesn’t get boring. We have a target every year on our backs, and I think just coming in and playing as a team is just, there’s nothing like it. It’s so much fun.”
“Every year we work for this,” added Fayta. “It’s a different experience with a new team every year, but we all have the same goal, so every celebration is special.”
The Tritons are now a combined 86-3 in the last three years. Their one loss this year came in the season opener against Pewaukee. Fayta didn’t play in that game. From that point on, Notre Dame ran off 29 straight wins.
Following a tight 76-70 victory over McFarland in a state semifinal on Friday, Notre Dame coach Sara Rohde called a team meeting the morning of the state title game. The 12 th -year coach laid into her players about their defense — or lack thereof — against McFarland, because she wasn’t happy with the
“I really actually was happy tonight to see how we came out and responded to that,” Rohde said. “I thought we really packed it in, made it hard for them to score. Offensively, I thought we worked the ball and got looks that we wanted to get. I’m just really pleased with overall how we played.”
Notre Dame (29-1) built a comfortable first-half cushion by getting the ball inside for easy looks and driving layups in transition. Despite scoring just two points in the final 7:22, the Tritons led 30-17 at the break.
Of those 30 points, 26 were scored in the paint. Getting the ball inside was an emphasis going into the game.
“We knew that Gracie kind of had an advantage in the post, or whoever our post was had that advantage, and we knew if we got it to that post that they were possibly going to trap, so dives were going to be open,” Fayta said. “I think just emphasizing and getting it to the post, because we don’t always get it to the post, but getting it to the post opens up a lot more for our team.”
Of Notre Dame’s 14 made first-half field goals, 13 came from an assist. Pewaukee (28-2) had just one assist in the opening half.
“We talk a lot about playing as a team, and I think we really emphasized it in the championship game — really just making the extra pass, hitting the open person,” said Grzesk, who scored a team-high 16 points. “I think just our team’s very unselfish and it showed.”
Notre Dame built on its lead to start the second, going on a 14-6 run that was fueled by 3-pointers from Grzesk and Hope Barington.
Up 21, 44-23, Notre Dame maintained a double-digit lead the rest of the way until the final buzzer when the bench rushed the court to celebrate.
Notre Dame had four of its five starters in double figures as Fayta had 13 points, Sydney Whitehouse 12 and Peyton Musial added 10 points, nine rebounds and four assists. Barington, the team’s other starter, had nine points in her final high school game.
When Rohde was given the gold ball after winning the title, she handed it off to her senior, Barington. It was a special moment for the coach and her player.
“Hope just pours her heart and soul really into our program, into the game of basketball and you can tell just how emotional she gets at the conclusion of the game,” Rohde said. “She works really hard, so it was really exciting to see that we were able to pull this off for her in her final year.”
As Notre Dame looks ahead to next season, it will strive to become the first team in state girls’ basketball history to win four straight state titles. The scary thing is, the Tritons lose only Barington to graduation.
Pulling off a four-peat is certainly a motivating factor to win another title next season.
“I would think these two (Grzesk and Fayta) and everybody else in that junior class would want to go for four,” Rohde said. “But we know it’s never going to be easy, that’s for sure.”
It’s been a heck of a ride so far for the junior class.
“Freshman year, you don’t exactly know what to expect,” Grzesk said. “I know that we’re here, we’ve done it three times, and I have utmost confidence that we can do it for four.”