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HIGH FIVE

DES MOINES — The Bishop Garrigan girls didn’t need any motivation, but they found some anyway.

After four straight state finals berths and two consecutive state championships — thanks in large part to the presence of a legendary Div. I recruit and another college-bound athlete — most people outside of the Golden Bear camp thought this would be a rebuilding year at best on the Garrigan campus.

Someone forgot to tell this squad about conventional wisdom.

These Golden Bears waited patiently for the season to start, working tirelessly to continue the tradition of Bishop Garrigan basketball — even without graduated all-state superstars Audi Crooks and Molly Joyce.

This is the fifth straight state trip and sixth in the last seven years for the program. The Golden Bears had reached state only two other times prior to 2018.

“People have been underestimating us all year,” said Garrigan head coach Brandon Schwab. “We’ve kind of used it as a locker room and game motivation. These players, who returned from (the 2022-23) team, have gotten better.

“This is a completely new and different group, though. They took pride in basketball and kept working to prove their critics wrong.”

Crooks was named Miss Iowa Basketball in 2023, finishing as the state’s third all-time leader in points (2,734) and rebounds (1,339). Joyce, meanwhile, was the 36th all-time leading 5-on-5 scorer in Iowa with 1,898 points.

Basketball at Garrigan is proving to be much more than Crooks and Joyce, though.

“We are solid all the way down to our third and fourth grade teams right now,” Schwab said. “Players like Audi and Molly created excitement for our youth…to see them excel was big to the kids in our community.

“They are still following Iowa State and Truman State (where Crooks and Joyce now play), which has really inspired everyone in our community.”

Schwab’s new talent has compiled a 23-2 record. Their only losses have come to 12th-ranked Forest City (Class 3A) and No. 2 Newell-Fonda (1A).

“We are fearless and not intimidated at all,” Schwab said. “These girls rise to the occasion when the lights are on. We beat a couple of 3A teams (Algona and a split with Forest City). We just keep growing, and every time we are on the court, this group has fun.”

The fifth-ranked Golden Bears earned the five seed and will face fourth-ranked and fourth-seeded Council Bluffs St. Albert (22-1) in a 1A quarterfinal on Wednesday. Tip is set for 3:15 p.m. inside Wells Fargo Arena.

Senior Abbie Capesius has been in the starting rotation for Garrigan for four seasons, and a huge part of this recent stretch of success. The senior is one of four players averaging double figures at 11.1 points and 10.7 rebounds. She is the steals leader (65) on the team, and second in assists (91).

“Over the years I’ve been coaching, Abbie is one of the best leaders we’ve had,” Schwab said. “She does a tremendous job with this group. If someone is missing a rep in weight training, she is helping them get it done without me. She’s basically an extension of our staff.

“That was passed down from Audi and Molly, and now, Abbie is passing that down to players like Graclyn (Eastman).”

The leading scorer for the Golden Bears is freshman phenom Graclyn Eastman. The first-year varsity starter has scored 421 points. She is also averaging 9.7 rebounds, and has blocked 55 shots.

Sophomore Emmi Bartolo was a part of last year’s championship run as well, and is now averaging 11.2 this season. She is the current team leader in assists (100).

“Gracyln does a great job as a freshman,” Schwab said. “She spends so much extra time after practice working on her game.

“We have four kids that played minutes in the state championship game, which is significant when it comes to (the tournament experience).”

Along with Capesius and Bartolo, junior Zoe Montag and sophomore Sacha Alesch returned with varsity time under their belt. Alesch is averaging 11.1 points, while Montag is scoring at a seven-point clip.

The Golden Bears have made 185 three-point baskets, averaging seven a game. Alesch (63), Bartolo (60), Montag (29) and sophomore Alyssa Haugland (24) are the leaders.

The Saintes are led by three players averaging double figures. Senior Ella Klusman is scoring at a 12.2-point clip. Sophomore Avah Underwood (11.0) and senior Missy Evezic (10.1) are next in line.

Evenzic is 6-feet, 4-inches tall.

“Now we get to find out what teams defending us knew (when having to gameplan against Crooks in the post),” Schwab said. “We have to be able to defend the right block and limit Evezic’s touches. Klusman is a good three-pointer shooter.

“They are a deep team who will sub five in and five out.”

This is the seventh state trip for St. Albert overall, but first since 2020.

“We have been here before, so our girls know what it’s like to play in a big atmosphere,” Schwab said. “For the players who haven’t, we have just told them to have fun while continuing to smile.

“Winning and losing the game will take care of itself. I want them taking pictures and running TikToks (beforehand). Don’t worry about the game until we are there. If we give our best, in the end, it will be what it will be.”

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