Prep of the Week: Stewartville Girls Basketball

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(ABC 6 News) — From start to finish, it’s always been strength in numbers for Stewartville Tigers Girls Basketball.

“I think that one thing that’s different about this team is all of us work hard,” senior Keeley Steele said. “Sometimes you can have one person that’s really good. We have a whole team that everyone works together. We all love each other and we just want the best for everyone.”

The Tigers have a motto: Meraki, which is Greek for doing something with your entire soul. True to the motto, it was with their entire soul that the Tigers played for one another, the community, and the name on the front of the jersey. From December 12 to March 16, the Tigers rattled off 26 consecutive wins, averaging a margin of victory of 30 points.

“We knew we had the talent, but just that one game that we lost, we didn’t work for it as hard and so that really switched our mindset and now we’re working as hard as we can,” fellow senior Haylie Strum added. “Don’t take any breaks, offense or defense and that’s why we do what we do.”

Stewartville Girls Basketball had never made it to the State tournament, but as the wins amounted, it was inevitable that this would be the year that streak came to an end. The moment came in dominating fashion as the Tigers throttled Austin to win the Section 1AAA Championship. 78-50.

“It means a lot to our town,” Tigers Head Coach Ryan Liffrig noted. “I told these girls we go get this, you’ll be remembered forever because you’re the first ones to do it.”

Stewartville’s magic did not stop there, the squad went to State with the same swagger they carried all season and kept winning. The Tigers ousted Grand Rapids in the Class AAA quarterfinals before upsetting number one-seeded Becker in a semifinal to remember.

Throughout it all, Stewartville believed it could do it, the team giving it’s absolute all in the championship game against #2 Benilde-St. Margaret’s. Sadly, the magic ran out in the one game the Tigers didn’t shoot the ball well.

“In a game where we didn’t shoot overly well, these kids came back against the number two rated team and came back and had a lead in the second half,” Liffrig reflected after the championship. “It was a wild game so I couldn’t be more proud of the fight of these kids and the heart of every kid that we have.”

The loss stung, but the journey will be forever etched in both the school and the program’s lore, inspiring others within the town.

“I had a little girl text me and say all she wanted for her birthday was a state championship so I think that they look up to us a lot,” a tearful Steele said after the title game.

As the Tigers are set to part with several seniors such as Steele and Strum, to call Stewartville a one-hit wonder would be unwise.

The work has already begun for several returning players who have taken to the AAU circuit. Come next season, the Tigers will be just as hungry as they were this year.

“Hats off to them, they have a lot of talent,” Benilde-St. Margaret’s Head Coach Tim Ellefson conceded. “They are not going anywhere, they’re going to be around for a while.”

“Our team, we’re still good together,” Tigers junior Savannah Hedin made clear. “We know we can do things. We just need to work hard and I think we’re going to come back and work harder.”