SALINA — In most cases, checking Internet message boards is something most basketball coaches would discourage.
But everything people were posting after the Cheney girls defeated Holton in the Class 4A semifinals was that they had no chance to beat unbeaten Concordia without standout center Merissa Quick, who broke her foot in the fourth quarter Friday.
"People didn't think we were any good without Merissa," junior Ally Nikkel said. "But we have a good team without her. We wanted to show people we could win without Merissa."
Cheney used the motivation to help beat Concordia 52-49 at the Bicentennial Center for its first state championship.
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"Our girls never give up, they have faith in each other, and they are great teammates," Cheney coach Rex Casner said. "They make my job look easy and they sure made me look like a better coach today."
The Cardinals were inferior in talent, size and athletic ability. They won on grit, guts and determination.
Along with being crowned Class 4A's finest, Cheney also ended Concordia's 51-game winning streak while completing its own perfect season.
And here's a scary thought: Five of the Cardinals' top eight will be back next season, and the talk of going back-to-back was already underway.
"It's going to hurt losing our three seniors, but we have girls that have sat on our bench and know what it's like to be at a state tournament," Nikkel said. "It's something that is great to think about and with Merissa back, I think we can do it."
Aside from 6-foot-1 Courtney Traxson, who got in foul trouble in the second half, Cheney had to match Concordia's front line of three 6-footers with 5-7 Hailey Twietmeyer and 5-7 Kylie Patterson. But in the fourth quarter, the Cardinals out-rebounded the Panthers 8-5.
"They made the plays and we didn't," Concordia coach Derek Holmes said. "It really came down to rebounding and free throws. They got rebounds and made free throws and we didn't."
After Friday's game, Nikkel felt as if she would have to take on more of the scoring load with Quick out. While scoring a team-high 15 points, Nikkel made sure the ball was in her hands down the stretch when the Cardinals were clinging to one-possession leads.
Up 47-45 with 1:06 to play, Nikkel made two free-throws. Karly Buer's three as time expired was as close as Concordia got.
"I wasn't really nervous, but I knew I had to play a good game," Nikkel said. "It was one of those things where I had to make shots for us to win."
Patterson, Twietmeyer and Peyton Scheer were thrust into the position of being counted on for more scoring. Patterson scored 13, Scheer — who replaced Quick in the lineup — had 11 and Twietmeyer finished with nine.
"It was up to all of us to step up with Merissa out," Scheer said. "If nobody else was going to make shots, we were going to."
No foot has ever meant as much as Quick's broken left has over the past 24 hours. But as much as it seemed it would hurt the Cardinals, in the end it provided the motivation that made the difference.
"I felt terrible for Merissa," Casner said. "But I know the girls wanted to win for her — this one was for Merissa."