The Cambridge-Isanti girls basketball team has a simple slogan for this season: “Score, stop, score.”
What does that motto mean? Simply put, when the Bluejackets score, they aim to get a stop on the next possession. If they get that stop, another basket starts to build momentum.
That slogan worked its magic in the team’s come-from-behind 59-50 victory over Forest Lake in the Class 4A Section 7 title game held March 5. In that contest C-I used a 23-9 run over the game’s final 9 minutes to claim just the second state tournament berth in school history.
“We hung in, and we kept hanging and hanging,” Bluejackets coach Jody Ledahl said. “We knew we had one good run left in us. When we get defensive stops, that helps our offense so much. We got more efficient at the offensive end, and it snowballed from there. We’re a different team when we’re able to press.”
That faith was surely tested by Forest Lake, which controlled play for most of the first half and led 28-24 at the break. While Cambridge-Isanti was able to remain close, the team struggled in part because it were getting outrebounded by the Rangers.
“We had 10 rebounds in the first half, and we had a discussion at halftime about it,” Ledahl said. “We knew that wasn’t going to get it done. And down the stretch we did do a better job of that.”
Still Forest Lake was able to expand its lead to 35-26 with 14:15 to play, and it seemed the Bluejackets might not be able to close the gap. Did doubt creep into their minds?
“A little,” guard Jackie Olander admitted. “But we’ve come back from that deficit before. We knew we could do it. So we did it.”
The key, guard Amme Sheforgen said, was to remain positive.
“Every time we were down, and I would start to think we weren’t going to get it back, I would say, ‘Don’t think that,’” she said. “We knew we could do it.”
And Cambridge-Isanti did, using its mantra of, “score, stop, score.” Still trailing 41-36 with 9:39 on the clock, the Bluejackets started creeping closer, cutting the deficit to 45-43 at the 6:02 mark, then tying the game at 48-48 with 4:52 left.
When Molly Hennen sank a short jumper with 4:15 to go, the basket gave Cambridge-Isanti the lead for good. The Bluejackets allowed Forest Lake to score just 2 points in those final four minutes while making 7 of 8 free throws to clinch the victory.
“We just really wanted this win,” said Olander, who made 5 of 6 free throws down the stretch. “We lost to Forest Lake in this game last year, and our expectation was to do better this year. And we did.”
Mikayla Aumer and Olander each finished with 17 points to lead Cambridge-Isanti, while Jana Swanson added 11. But Forest Lake coach Jen Wagner said the victory was a tribute to the entire team and coaching staff.
“Give credit to Cambridge-Isanti: When they needed to make a play, they were able to execute their sets and made big plays,” she said. “It’s a tribute to their seniors, who have been playing since they were freshmen. I know it was a long time coming for them.”
After the final horn sounded, the Bluejackets celebrated through the medal ceremony, the trophy presentation, and the ceremonial cutting down of the nets.
“This has been my dream since I was a little girl,” Swanson said. “Right now, I’m filled with joy.”
Sheforgen added: “It feels as if we accomplished our biggest dream as kids. We just wanted to play our hearts out and leave it all on the floor. When we got our medals, it hit me a little bit. But when we get to state, it will hit us for sure. I might cry a little bit.”
Cambridge-Isanti was handed no gift in the state tournament draw. The Bluejackets opened against defending Class 4A champion Hopkins, a team that has won 60 straight games, in a contest at Williams Arena on the Twin Cities campus of the University of Minnesota on Wednesday, March 11.
But the fact that the Bluejackets will be a huge underdog does not diminish the importance of this team’s accomplishment.
“We’ve been to the section final a few times in the years since, but we’ve always come up short,” Ledahl explained. “This will be the first time we go to state since 1999. I saw a lot of alumnae in the stands, and to see them get to be a part of this is special. This can be a great community-building event. I think it will be an awesome experience.”