For the Rock River Lady Longhorns, earning a trip to the Wyoming Class 1A State Tournament hasn’t been the hardest thing they’ve done in the last week.
It’s been physically getting to the state tournament.
The Longhorns (21-4) finished second at last week’s 1A East Regional to earn a spot in the state tournament for the second straight season.
But the recent snow and wind made getting out of Rock River a tough task Wednesday with the main highway closed due to winter conditions. Fortunately, the team bus was getting an “escort” to the nearest open highway by a snowplow and expected to be in Casper on Wednesday night.
“It’s been a hectic day,” Rock River coach Terrance Reese said Wednesday afternoon. “But we’re about to get on our way, so we’re excited.”
Rock River earned its second-straight state tournament bid for the first time since the 1984-85 tournaments with wins over Midwest (45-8) and Arvada-Clearmont (45-31) before losing 48-33 to Lingle-Fort Laramie in the region title game.
The Lady Longhorns will open the 1A state tournament against defending state champion St. Stephens at 9 a.m. today at the Casper Events Center. Last season’s run to state was expected with a roster full of seniors. This year’s team was almost brand new.
“Coming into the season, I was honestly nervous about the season,” Reese said. “I knew we had some young freshmen coming in that were pretty good. I knew the players we had returning from the team last year would be ready, I just didn’t know how the new ladies would come in and how we would gel as a team.”
The Lady Longhorns lost four seniors to graduation from last Season’s team that went 17-10.
Rock River has seven players on the varsity roster, and all contribute.
Michelle Bunce is the lone Lady Longhorns senior on the team and averages 9.1 points and 4.6 assists.
“Her experience being there (at state) last year and going up through the ranks is big,” Reese said. “Her leadership has really helped the team this year.”
Lydia Moore leads the team in scoring (14.8 ppg), rebounding (9.9 rpg) and blocked shots (2.6 bpg).
Andi Todd, whose family moved to Rock River during the season, has also fit in nicely with the team by averaging 10.6 ppg and 3.9 rpg while leading the Lady Longhorns in steals at 5.6 per game.
Bunce chips in 4.8 ppg and 3.5 rpg.
Rock River enters the state tournament as the No. 1 team in the class in scoring defense, allowing just 27.1 points a game.
That will be tested against St. Stephens. The Lady Eagles are the top-scoring team in Class 1A at 65.3 points per contest.
“We win with our defense,” Reese said. “We have to play our tempo, and we talk about that all the time. When we force the other team into some turnovers and get out in transition, that’s when we’re at our best.”
These same two teams met in last season’s 1A quarterfinals as well, with St. Stephens beating Rock River 61-42.
The Lady Longhorns then lost 39-35 to Upton in the consolation round.
Reese said the goal of the team this time around is to still be playing Saturday. The fourth-year coach added not only did the players gain valuable experience from qualifying last season, so did the coach.
“I realized from the last state tournament that we had to do some different things,” he said. “We just couldn’t run back down the floor and sit in a zone. We had to mix up what we’re doing and give the other teams different looks every now and then. We’re sharing the basketball and playing as a team and we’ve started playing more up tempo.”