RICHFIELD — There isn't the glitz and glamour — or even the crowds — but Joe Cravens said playing for a state title in 1A girls basketball is just as thrilling as playing in the men's NCAA tournament.
"We're in the championship, and that's a big deal," said Cravens, who coached at Idaho, Utah and Weber State before taking the job at St. Joseph last year. "To see a team play up to their potential is always rewarding."
The Jayhawks earned their first shot at a state title with a 63-41 win over Piute in Friday's semifinals.
His players said they felt capable of a historic season from the first day of tryouts.
"Everyone really wants it," said Katie Panushka, a junior guard who scored 12 points in the win. "In years past, some people have been indifferent, but this is a big deal for us. We want to go out and play well."
Katie Berry, a senior guard who led all scorers with 21 points, said after last year's sixth-place finish and the addition of some new players, they "felt pretty good about this season."
In addition to gaining playoff experience last year, Berry and Panushka said they work better with the coach, who is a bit of a celebrity.
"He was just getting used to us last year, but now we've really settled and found our fit," said Panushka. "We feel like we really gel."
St. Joseph withstood everything the tough and talented T-birds managed to throw at them, and in the end just had more firepower offensively. Sam Bischoff added 10 points, as did Elizabeth Tomon.
The Badgers lost a hard-fought contest to top-ranked Rich, 46-33, in the last game of the night.
Rich and the Jayhawks met earlier this season, with the Rebels earning a lopsided win.
"Rich is a dominating team," said Cravens. "They are the New York Yankees of 1A. The last time we played, it was 35-6 at halftime. It was as bad and humiliating a loss as I've had."
Cravens said he's just enjoying coaching and all that comes with it — at any level.
"In my wildest dreams, I never thought I would be here," said Cravens with a smile. "This comes under the heading, sometimes you don't choose life, it chooses you. Really and truly the farthest away you can get from Division I men's college basketball is 1A girls basketball. I passed go, didn't collect $200 and here I am."
Teaching teenage girls the best basketball techniques came with some challenges, but eventually, just like coaching college sport's best athletes, he said, it comes down to finding ways to help players improve.
"Coaching is coaching," he said.IN OTHER 1A ACTION:
RICH 46, WAYNE 33: The Badgers kept the game against top-ranked Rich closer than any other team in the 1A tournament, but the Rebels defense helped them hold off the Badgers. The win means the defending state champions will play for the 1A title Saturday night against St. Joseph. The Rebels were led by Courtney Lamborn's 10 points, Tristan Bowers' 10 points and Cassidy McKee's three 3-point shots. Wayne was led by Darci Clark's 13 points. The Badgers will face Piute for third place on Saturday afternoon.
PANGUITCH 41, MANILA 34: The Bobcats continue their run through the consolation bracket with a hard-fought win over Manila. Led by Carly Holman's 18 points, the Bobcats advance to Saturday's fifth-place game. Natashia Barney added eight points and Darri Frandsen finished with seven. Kaylee Hughes led the Mustangs with nine points and Jenessa Gosar added eight points in the loss that eliminates the team from the tournament.
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