DES MOINES — What began four years ago as nothing more than a dream was completed in reality here Saturday evening by the Pocahontas Area girls.
Behind Elle Ruffridge, the second-ranked Indians finished off back-to-back Class 3A state championship runs by dominating No. 1 and previously unbeaten Sioux Center, 61-38.
Ruffridge, who became the state tournament’s career five-player scoring leader, finished with 22 points and exited the Wells Fargo Arena floor to a standing ovation along with her four senior teammates from the extra-large contingent of Pocahontas Area (27-1 overall) supporters.
The 5-foot-4 point guard didn’t need to duplicate her record-breaking 48-point semifinal in this one, as Payton Hjerleid added 12 points, Faith Meyer 11 and Ashlyn Weidauer eight off the bench to give PAC another balanced attack.
“We knew it would be a battle,” Ruffridge said. “We didn’t make the best of plays early on, but we just kept telling each other to focus on the next play and that you have to have a short memory. Great athletes have short memories and we did that, feeding off each other.
“Everyone started hitting their shots and we were clicking as a team. It’s just an unbelievable experience (winning another state title).”
After a back-and-forth first quarter as many expected, it was Ruffridge and the Indians who started clicking on all cylinders in the second. Pocahontas Area outscored the Warriors (26-1) by a 18-5 count during that eight-minute stretch, turning a 20-19 lead into a 38-24 advantage at halftime and never looking back.
“Sioux Center came out exactly how we thought they would,” PAC head coach Robert Maske said. “They trapped us and we had some issues with ball-reversal and turning it over. But we started to attack the corners and got girls in open spaces, which led to us being able to break them down.”
Ruffridge had just three in the first quarter, but responded with eight in the second. Faith Meyer, who is headed to Morningside College with her twin sister Grace next year to play basketball, scored all 11 of her points in that opening frame to carry the Indians, who finished the first half with seven made three-pointers.
“Our defense started to gel and we were getting stops,” Meyer said. “That led to our offense getting going. We were able to get a lead and expand it in the second half.”
Hjerleid, who joined Pocahontas Area prior to her junior season, scored nine in the third quarter as the lead grew to 55-38. A three from the senior made it a 19-point advantage.
“We knew that they had the same style of run-and-gun as we do so we took it as an even bigger challenge (to win),” said Hjerleid, a future Southwest Minnesota State University volleyball player. “Fire with fire. We knew that we would have to play really smart and stick to our game plan coming in, which we did.”
Known for their incredible offense, the Indians allowed just six points over the final 16 minutes to a Sioux Center club averaging over 71 a game. They put up 81 in the semifinals and 71 in the quarterfinals.
“We gave up more points in the first (period) than we wanted to,” Maske said. “Our girls dialed in and took playing defense and doing what we wanted them to do to heart after that.
“We came down here to state and faced three great teams, and we played three of the best games we’ve ever played.”
Jessica Harald, Jordyn Van Maanen and Lexi Toering all averaged double figures coming in, but none hit the mark against the Indians. Harald had nine, while Van Maanen and Toering each scored four. Shayla Post and Victoria Rensink contributed eight each, as Sioux Center shot just 33 percent for the game.
“Some people might have thought there was some chinks in our armor coming in,” Maske said. “When we lost to Nevada two years ago (in the state finals), people said we couldn’t handle (tall players). We took that, and all the other talk, to heart.
“We used that to get dialed in and really execute our game plans. Maybe (a regular season loss to Nevada) gave some teams confidence they could beat us. But we came to state — which is a crazy atmosphere — and we stayed focused all week and played incredible basketball.”
Pocahontas Area played three Top-5 teams in five days to claim the title, winning by an average score of 62-40. They went 8-1 the last three years at state.
Ruffridge, who became the state’s career scoring and assists leader this year, finished off her four-year run atop over a dozen state tournament records. She set the career state tournament scoring mark in the first half, finishing her nine games with 250 total points.
“We were locked in and focused on this game (right after the semifinal win),” said Ruffridge, who is headed to Missouri State University in the fall. “We knew we had just one more left and whatever obstacles came up, we would overcome them. We stayed calm and collective, and now we get to call ourselves state champs again.
“It feels great.”
The game marked the final time in an Indian uniform for Ruffridge, Faith Meyer, Hjerleid, Grace Meyer, Olivia Ahlers, Weidauer, Danielle Neumann, Bailey Vainreb and Kenzie Sullivan. All of them were able to step on the court before the final horn sounded.
Grace Meyer and Ruffridge were named to the all-tournament team, with Ruffridge claiming MVP honors. Harald, Toering, Center Point-Urbana’s Allison Wooldridge and Cherokee’s Paityn Hagberg also made the squad.
POCAHONTAS AREA 61, SIOUX CENTER 38
Pocahontas Area — Faith Meyer 4-6 2-2 11, Payton Hjerleid 4-8 2-2 12, Elle Ruffridge 7-12 2-2 22, Grace Meyer 1-4 1-2 4, Olivia Ahlers 2-7 0-0 4, Ashlyn Weidauer 3-6 0-0 8, Jocelyn Johnson 0-1 0-0 0, Danielle Neumann 0-0 0-0 0, Bailey Vainreb 0-1 0-0 0, Leah Aljets 0-0 0-0 0, Jill Vonnahme 0-1 0-0 0, Kenzie Sullivan 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 21-46 7-8 61.
Sioux Center — Jessica Harald 4-9 1-4 9, Hannah Dykshorn 2-3 0-0 5, Jordyn Van Maanen 2-9 0-0 4, Shayla Post 3-8 0-0 8, Lexi Toering 1-6 2-2 4, Aubrey Sandbulte 0-1 0-0 0, Lindi Fritz 0-1 0-0 0, Andrea Verburg 0-0 0-0 0, Asha Winterfeld 0-1 0-0 0, Kayla Bomgaars 0-2 0-0 0, Olivia Harshbarger 0-0 0-0 0, Camryn Cleveringa 0-2 0-0 0, Victoria Rensink 3-3 0-0 8. Totals: 15-45 3-6 38.
Quarter scores: Pocahontas Area led 20-19, 38-24, 55-38. Three-point goals: Pocahontas Area 12-27 (F. Meyer 1-2, Hjerleid 2-5, Ruffridge 6-8, G. Meyer 1-4, Ahlers 0-1, Weidauer 2-4, Johnson 0-1, Vainreb 0-1, Vonnahme 0-1); Sioux Center 5-22 (Harald 0-3, Dykshorn 1-1, Van Maanen 0-4, Post 2-7, Sandbulte 0-1, Winterfeld 0-1, Bomgaars 0-2, Cleveringa 0-1, Rensink 2-2). Total rebounds: Pocahontas Area 36, Sioux Center 20. Steals: Pocahontas Area 5, Sioux Center 7. Assists: Pocahontas Area 12, Sioux Center 7. Blocked shots: Sioux Center 1. Turnovers: Pocahontas Area 17, Sioux Center 15. Team fouls: Pocahontas Area 12, Sioux Center 13.