WINONA LAKE — Last year at this time, LCA’s girls basketball team had to settle for second-best after a championship heartbreaker at the Cougar Classic. This year’s edition of the Lady Cougars wouldn’t be denied.
Following a slow start to this season’s title game, LCA built steadily towards a 37-26 win over Covenant Christian for the girls championship at Grace College’s Manahan Orthopaedic Capital Center Friday.
“It feels really good,” said Grace coach Allison Kauffman. “It’s always a goal every year to get this one, and it feels really good to finally be able to reach it, especially after the heartbreak last year. To be able to step on that floor and finish it this year, it’s great for our seniors. I’m really excited for them. Most of them have been here all four years so it’s awesome to see them take the championship home their final season.”
After two games Thursday, LCA opened the championship in a full court press but ultimately pulled out of it before halftime. A slow defensive start translated into a delayed start on the offensive end, and the Cougars trailed 7-3 after one. But the hosts outscored Covenant 23-8 over the middle quarters to take a double-digit, 26-15 cushion into the final period and held on for the win.
“Our defense drives our offense. If we’re intense and getting steals on defense, that usually drives our girls offensively. We kind of let that dictate the flow of the game,” said Kauffman. “Our legs were tired at the beginning. Our shots just weren’t falling. We weren’t getting our legs underneath us. As the game started to go, we saw some shots fall, and that really helped us out.”
Point guard Anna Reimink saved her best performance for last, scoring a game-high 14 points with five steals, four rebounds and an assist to lead the Cougars.
“You could tell she wanted it. Her heart and desire really drove us,” Kauffman said. “She wanted it, and you could definitely tell. She led this team to the win.”
Reimink and Tori Calizo were both named to the girls all-tournament team, with Calizo given MVP honors. Calizo finished the tournament with a combined 43 points over three games, including 11 in Friday’s championship. She scored just two points and was held without a free throw in the first half against Covenant but got rolling in the second half on her way to double figures.
“She’s just really mentally tough and consistent. Her shots weren’t falling in that first half, but she came out that second half and really stuck it to them, kept shooting and saw some shots go in,” explained Kauffman.
LCA improves to 10-7 with its fourth straight win. The Lady Cougars will resume play at home opposite Argos Jan. 5.
“They’re just a great group of girls. We’re really starting to come together, and I’m excited for the last half of the season,” said Kauffman.
Meanwhile, Friday, LCA’s boys lost their third-place game with Trinity-At-Greenlawn, 52-29, in the boys consolation game.
Landon Paris paced the Cougars with nine points, while Braxton Keller scored nine, and Trenton Parker finished with six. Jake Harmon was held to five points but was selected for all-tourney honors after leading the team with 29 points over its first two games Thursday.
LCA’s boys (3-10) will have a layover before playing host to Trinity-At-Greenlawn in a rematch scheduled for Jan. 12.