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Cats claw to state

Cats claw to state
Cats claw to state
Photos by Brian Smith

North Harrison High School brought the deep blue sea with it to the Jeffersonville Class 3A Semi-state Saturday night as the Lady Cats were to face the Lebanon Lady Tigers and their star shooter, Kristen Spolyar, who was averaging more than 35 points per game. That deep blue sea took up more than half of the gym and, looking from the other side of the court, resembled a giant wave getting ready to crash to the floor.
It turned out to be more than just a wave, however. Instead, the wave turned into a tsunami that crushed Lebanon. It also made a day of history for North Harrison, which earned the right to take its first basketball team to a state final after the Lady Cats posted a 59-42 win.
‘I believe this was the biggest game of my life,’ said North Harrison coach Missy Voyles, who needed a chair to rest on as her team continued its celebration. ‘I’m speechless. I don’t know what to say. It’s much more than what I expected this year. I had some goals for us, but state wasn’t on my radar.’
If Voyles couldn’t find the words, it was OK. Her players would take up the slack for their coach.
‘It feels amazing,’ sophomore Hallie Hinton said. ‘My sophomore group and the juniors and seniors have worked for this since we were little kids. Now that we’re here, we’re not stopping now.’
‘This is, like, really exciting,’ sophomore Taylor Rennirt said. ‘I was feeling a little nervous at the beginning, but I knew, if we played together, we could pull it out. We were feeling really bad, but we came through and pulled together. Coach helped us calm down and said anything past this is a good thing, just being here.’
‘It feels amazing,’ freshman Lilly Hatton added. ‘It’s just knowing we have a great team and we deserve this. It’s what we’ve been working for all season and every day at practice. The days are short, and it’s just spiraling downward from here. We’ve got to give it all we’ve got because there’s only a week left. So, we’re going to go hit it hard in practice and go win state.’
‘This is the best feeling in the world,’ junior Stevi Burns said. ‘I’m just so happy.’
Before they could get there, however, the Lady Cats had to slow down Spolyar, a left-handed, 5-11 senior with a history of making it tough on any Lebanon opponent. The two teams swapped the lead early but neither side led by more than three points. Hatton got in foul trouble early, with her third being called less than three minutes into the game; Spolyar got the freebies to tie the game at six.
With Hatton benched, that meant somebody had to step up, and in came sophomore Emma Nokes, who immediately scored to put the Lady Cats back in front. Nokes later scored again for a three-point Lady Cats’ advantage. Spolyar tried to be the spoiler, scoring the next five. Hinton got a final point from the charity stripe, and the Lady Tigers had a 13-12 edge at the end of the period.
Hinton said one key to winning was to take away Spolyar’s left hand.
‘She’s all left-handed, and we double-teamed her at all times,’ Hinton said. ‘She gets sporadic.’
Rennirt and Hinton scored the first five points of the second quarter for a 17-13 North Harrison edge, with Hinton drilling a three. Spolyar hit one of two free throws, but Rennirt and Hinton combined for four more and a 21-15 lead.
Spolyar drove the lane for a basket, but Nokes negated that with her third bucket of the half. Lebanon, however, made a 6-3 run at the end of the half, with Spolyar drilling a long three at the buzzer, to pull to within three, 26-23.
‘We had a conversation before the game of being present in the moment and not worrying about what you didn’t do well last week and what might happen next week and leaving the court with no regrets,’ Voyles said. ‘I said, ‘I don’t want you guys looking back at a film someday saying, I could have taken that shot, or I could have blocked out there. You have to be willing to shoot the basketball. It can’t be, I was afraid to shoot. I don’t want to ever come out of this with the we lost because I might miss. So, we go out and play and we play now.’ They were really loose going into it. I think it’s because they’re so young.’
Rennirt scored the first basket of the second half, but Spolyar quickly countered with five to tie the game at 28. Two more ties followed, at 30 and 32, then the Lady Cats got another five-point burst from Rennirt and Burns. Spolyar kept the Lady Tigers within a point with a deuce-and-one, but Hatton and Carlie Burson scored the final points of the period for a 42-37 North Harrison lead going into the final eight minutes.
The Rennirt and Hinton show continued in the fourth quarter as the pair got a deuce and three-ball, respectively, for North Harrison’s first double-digit lead, 47-37. Lebanon pulled the gap back to single digits, cutting the Lady Cats’ lead to seven, 49-42.
Then came the deep blue sea’s biggest wave. Burson scored inside, and Hinton later added a free throw. Hatton and Burson followed with a pair of singles. Lebanon’s Brooke Montgomery was hit with an intentional foul after knocking Burson to the floor, and the senior cashed in both chips. She added a third free throw moments later.
‘I was just mad,’ Burson said. ‘It was revenge. I hit them.’
Jourdan McAfee and Burns finished the 10-0 run with free throws, and the Lady Cats were on their way to the state final with a 59-42 win.
‘On to Indy! Bankers Life!’ a smiling Voyles said. ‘I’ve been there many times sitting in the stands watching it. I’m just happy to be there this year.’
Voyles said having the deep blue sea behind the North Harrison bench was a big factor, as well.
‘I came out and took a picture,’ Voyles said with a laugh. ‘Right before the game, I came over and took a picture of the crowd. I thought this was awesome. I need a picture of this. We’ll put that online and say, ‘Thanks for coming’.’
Rennirt led the North Harrison scoring with 15 points while dishing out four assists, and Hinton finished with 13 points and three assists. McAfee pulled down eight rebounds. The Lady Cats connected on 19-of-44 field-goal attempts (43 percent) and 17-of-31 free throws. The Lady Cats had 11 turnovers.
‘Rennirt has no idea how good she is or how good she is going to be,’ Voyles said. ‘She really doesn’t have any idea. We had that conversation yesterday about how everybody else tells me how good she is. They say, ‘Does Taylor know how good she is?’, and I say, ‘No.’ ‘Does Taylor know she can get to the rim anytime she wants to?’, and I say, ‘No, she doesn’t.’
‘We had a conversation where I view, in the scoring pecking order, what you should be looking for, and she didn’t view herself in the top four. I’m like, ‘We’re not on the same page. So, let’s get on the same page. Here is what I’m expecting out of you offensively.’ She really responded well today.’
Spolyar led the Lady Tigers with 32 points. Lebanon was 13 of 44 from the field (30 percent) and 15 of 19 from the charity stripe. The Lady Tigers finished with 17 turnovers.
‘We tried to do everything we could to make life difficult for her,’ Voyles said of Spolyar. ‘I thought we did a pretty good job. She is spectacular. She still ended up with 32. Sometimes with three people on her, she still ended up with 32 points. She is exceptional. She’s so strong we had trouble trying to figure out what to do with her. We finally went to a 1-3 (zone) with a chaser and just tried to stay in front of her as much as we could. I thought we did a great job with her, and she still scored.’
Now, the focus turns to Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, where the Lady Cats will face heavily favored Heritage Christian at 6 p.m. Saturday.
‘We start now,’ Burson said. ‘We want a state (title). Coach will start watching film. We’ll start watching film Monday. Nothing can prepare you for the crowd, but you’ve just got to get used to it when you get there and don’t let it get to your head; just play your game.’
‘This won’t sink in for me and what we’re doing yet,’ Voyles admitted. ‘I’m still kind of in awe and can’t believe we’re playing in the state finals.’
‘I never know what to expect out of them,’ she said of her players. ‘I’ve only seen them come out and play what I thought was kind of timid. That was Greensburg last Saturday morning. I thought they were timid. I thought, ‘At this point, what do you have to lose? Just go play.’ I think that’s kind of where they are right now coming into today.’
Indy, prepare the floodgates. The deep blue sea is coming your way.

Lebanon Lady Tigers (23-7)
Min FG 3PT FT Reb Ast Blk Stl Points
Madi Heffron 30:33 0-1 0-1 0-0 5 1 0 3 0
Kristen Spolyar 30:15 11-20 1-3 9-10 8 0 0 0 32
Tori Harker 31:44 0-5 0-1 0-0 4 0 0 0 0
Brooke Montgomery 31:47 1-16 0-9 3-4 6 5 0 3 5
Kassidi Cadle 23:49 1-2 0-0 2-2 5 1 0 0 4
Mariah Allen 10:55 0-0 0-0 1-3 2 1 0 0 1
Kylee Reed 0:57 0-0 0-0 0-0 2 0 0 0 0
Totals 160 13-44 1-14 15-19 34 8 0 6 42

North Harrison Lady Cats (28-2)
Min FG 3PT FT Reb Ast Blk Stl Points
Carlie Burson 23:31 2-9 0-1 5-9 7 0 0 1 9
Lilly Hatton 15:44 2-5 0-0 1-2 5 1 0 0 5
Taylor Rennirt 31:34 6-9 0-0 3-4 4 4 0 0 15
Hallie Hinton 31:09 3-4 3-4 4-8 2 3 0 0 13
Stevi Burns 28:16 3-8 1-5 2-4 3 3 0 0 9
Jourdan McAfee 14:45 0-4 0-0 2-4 8 0 0 2 2
Emma Nokes 10:40 3-4 0-1 0-0 1 0 0 0 6
Savana Rhodes 2:38 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0 0
Shelby Kondovski 0:51 0-1 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0 0
Lexy Terrell 0:26 0-0 0-0 0-0 1 0 0 0 0
Madison Shelton 0:26 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0 0
Cali Nolot Did not play (injury)
Jessicka Chiquito Did not play (injury)
Totals 160 19-44 4-11 17-31 34 11 0 3 59
Percentages: Lebanon FG 29.5%, 3PT 7.14%, FT 78.9%; North Harrison FG 43.2%, 3PT 36.4%, FT 54.8%; Turnovers: Lebanon 17, North Harrison 11; Fouls: Lebanon 24, North Harrison 16.
Lebanon 13 10 14 5 ‘ 42
North Harrison 12 14 16 17 ‘ 59