Used to be that regional titles were almost a birthright for the Sterling Golden Warriors.
The team that won the very first girls state championship in 1977 seemed to be in the hunt for a regional crown pretty much every year under the guidance of Bruce Scheidegger in the early to mid-2000s, winning five titles in 8 years from 2000-07.
But since that memorable trip to the Elite 8 in 2007, the Warriors went through a little regional title drought.
Seems those parched 4 years are just a distant memory now.
The Warriors rallied from a double-digit deficit Thursday night to win the Class 3A Sterling Regional championship, the second straight season Sterling has beaten the Rochelle Hubs for a regional title.
“It’s a pretty big deal, and I’m so happy for and proud of these girls,” Sterling coach Julie Schroeder said. “It just says a lot about this program that we can win two titles in a row again, and it feels pretty special.”
That the Warriors repeated as champs just 4 days after Scheidegger’s tragic death in an auto accident seems a poetic and fitting chapter in Sterling girls basketball lore.
“All we wanted was to win this regional title,” senior Stephanie Kester said. “It was awesome to win one last year, and it feels even better this time around. With everything that’s happened this week, to get to win a regional title twice just means so much, especially to us seniors.”
Last year, the Warriors won from their seemingly standard position as top seed at the 3A Rochelle Regional. Thursday, they were the underdogs, a role the players relished and the coaches played up.
“We really got the feeling that people thought this wasn’t supposed to be our year,” senior Bailey Oetting said. “To get a regional title after I transferred here last year was amazing, but this one’s even better because of the way we did it.”
After falling to Rochelle twice already this season – by five points in the Dixon tournament quarterfinals on Dec. 28 and by 11 at Rochelle on Jan. 12 – revenge was on the mind of every Golden Warrior.
Kiarra Harris, who missed the second game with an ankle injury, more than made up for it Thursday. The junior forward’s double-double led third-seeded Sterling to a come-from-behind 47-44 victory at Musgrove Fieldhouse.
“Not a lot of people believed that we could do something like this,” Harris said, “and we wanted to prove ourselves somehow. I think winning a regional title did that.”
The memories are still fresh, and the true nature of this accomplishment might not sink in for some time. But every time this group of girls comes back to Musgrove Fieldhouse, they’re going to see their class listed on the board of Sterling girls regional title teams.
“It’s just so honorable to be up there with so many great teams,” senior McKenna Pearson said. “One of our goals was to get the class of 2013 up on that board ... and now to see that number up there twice, that’s as good as it gets.”