HUTCHINSON — It's impossible to maintain order during the first few minutes after a state championship basketball game. Players get lost in the crowd, family members snap pictures and television cameras swarm the participants, racing to capture raw emotion.
After Wichita Collegiate's 43-41 win over Jefferson North in the Class 3A girls title game, that scene played out.
But just as important for Collegiate coach Terrence Phox were the quieter moments he spent with his team in the locker room after the first celebration slowed and before a new one would begin in the halls of the Sports Arena.
There were plenty of words of joy in Phox's address, but also time for reflection because he and some of the players were part of the teams that finished second in 2009 and third the year before.
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"Here's what I told them," Phox said. "I said, 'You believed in each other, you believed in the coaching staff and you believed in the plan.' Then we followed through with working on that plan every day. I told them they were a special group of young ladies and they will always be remembered as a state champion."
The player who has been with Phox the longest, senior Ashia Woods, helped deliver the title with several key plays as the teams battled to keep the lead in the fourth quarter.
After a Collegiate turnover, Jefferson North used its final timeout to set up a play with 21.2 seconds to go and the score tied 41-41. The timeout helped Collegiate regroup, too, and Woods emphatically blocked a shot by Jordan Kramer before tracking down the ball and drawing a foul as she drove the sideline.
She made two free throws with 16.6 seconds to play that ended up being the deciding points, but the Spartans had to hold on after a missed free throw by Jerica Skar gave Jefferson North a chance to tie win. But a three-point attempt by Jacee Kramer sailed wide left as time expired.
Woods, who finished with 17 points, also had a steal and an assist to Skar in the final 1:16.
Collegiate's title wasn't just the final chapter of a story that included two near misses, it provided an ending to a season in which a state championship often seemed a remote possibility.
Woods suffered a stress fracture in her foot in January, missing about two weeks. The Spartans weren't always in synch upon her return, but they found magic in Hutchinson, remaining undefeated against 3A opponents.
"I think the entire season we all knew this is what we wanted and we were going to work as hard as we could to get here," Collegiate senior Sydney Lower said. "We knew we had to work hard and that's what we did. We knew that if we worked together and kept pushing each other on then we were going to get where we wanted."
Hillsboro 53, Thomas More Prep 27 — Hillsboro captured third place by holding TMP to 25 percent shooting and getting an impressive performance from Tena Loewen.
Loewen scored 22 points and had 10 rebounds, shooting 7 of 8 from the field and making 8 of 12 free throws. Hillsboro broke it open by outscoring TMP 12-4 in the second quarter to take a 24-12 lead.