By CONOR NICHOLL
After a 20-plus win season in 2007, the Rexford-Golden Plains girls' basketball program slipped into four straight years of single-digit victories. In 2010-11, Jordan Christensen and Hailee Spresser were freshmen starters on a team that finished with seven wins.
In 2011-12, Golden Plains started 1-4 with four straight losses before the holiday break. Once January started, the Bulldogs went 11-6 and collected a 12-10 mark. Christensen and Spresser finished as the team's second and third-leading scorers and combined for 17 points and 13.8 rebounds a contest.
"You could see after Christmas their sophomore year, things started to come around," said Bulldog coach Parker Christensen, Jordan's father.
Last year, Golden Plains broke through with a 22-3 record and third-place finish in Class 1A Division II. This season, with Christensen and Spresser again leading the way, Golden Plains is 20-3 and is the No. 3 seed for this week's Class 1A Division II state tournament at Gross Memorial Coliseum.
The Bulldogs have never won a girls' basketball state title. Golden Plains was fourth in 2006 and qualified in 2007. The best finish in school history was second place in 1974. The Bulldogs will play sixth-seeded Wilson (17-6) at 4:45 p.m. on Thursday.
"Those two, they are kind of our rocks," coach Christensen said. "They have been there through the good and the bad."
Christensen recently sat down and discovered Christensen, Spresser and the third senior, Mikayla Lobato, have won 53 contests since holiday break of their sophomore year.
"That's something they are going to remember," he said.
Throughout the years, Jordan Christensen and Spresser have grown close.
"I would say we are best friends," Spresser said. "We are pretty much sisters. We spend so much time together."
After a sub-state championship victory against rival Triplains-Brewster last Saturday - the fourth time the teams matched up this winter - the duo wore big smiles and exuded pure joy.
"It's really bittersweet because it's our last year, and we are really going to miss it next year, but I feel so blessed to be a part of such a great team," Spresser said.
Senior Kylie Jones, a top player from last season, decided to not play basketball this winter and focus on volleyball, while point guard Angela Ritter graduated.
"We don't have a whole bunch of our players back," Jordan Christensen said. "Everyone just stepped up. ... It was awesome. That's all I can say - it was awesome."
Golden Plains went 1-2 and took fourth at the season-opening Quinter Castle Rock Classic, but all top-four teams at that tournament have reached state. Hoxie, the tournament winner, is the two-time defending Class 1A, Division I champion, while runner-up Ellis qualified in 2A, and Dighton is in the Division II tournament. Golden Plains' only blemish since was the league tournament title loss to Triplains-Brewster.
"The biggest thing is, we are getting contributions from a lot of other girls for the most part," coach Christensen said.
Defensively, Golden Plains allowed 37 points per contest last season, but is down to 34 a game this winter. The Bulldogs have played an effective zone that worked well against Triplains-Brewster on Saturday, but Titan coach Kent Gfeller said Golden Plains also plays a "good, solid" man-to-man. Sophomore Kami Miller limited Titan start junior Shayna Rogge to a season-low four points at sub-state.
"We tell them, if we can hang around that (34-point) area, we can withstand some of our unforced turnovers," coach Christensen said. "Or we can withstand a lull on offense where we miss four or five times in a row, because if we are getting stops, we are keeping it at arm's length."
Christensen averaged 16 points a game in the two sub-state victories, while Spresser collected nine points (all from the foul line) in the 46-40 semifinal win versus Wheatland-Grinnell and 19 points and 15 rebounds, mainly on the offensive glass, in the championship.
"She is our leading offensive rebounder and it's not even close," coach Christensen said. "She is a strong girl, not real tall, but she positions well, and she can finish pretty well or draw fouls - or hopefully both sometimes."
This weekend, Golden Plains is one of several teams that is a state contender in a wide-open classification. But few have two four-year starters like Christensen and Spresser, a difference that could yield a title.
"We are going for the championship this year," Jordan Christensen said. "No more third place."