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Unbeaten Hoxie girls make it back-to-back titles

By ERNIE W. WEBB III

Special to the Daily News

EMPORIA -- It didn't hit Shelly Hoyt until she heard the public address announcer at White Auditorium say these words: "Your state champion, at 26-0, the Hoxie Indians."

At that moment, the longtime coach realized what her team had accomplished with a hard-fought 68-63 win Saturday against fellow perennial power Olpe in the Class 1A Division I title game.

"It really just hit me all of a sudden -- wow, 26-0," said Hoyt, whose team has won two consecutive crowns. "As a team we really don't talk about winning streaks and state titles. We really focus on teaching the girls, helping them grow. But this is pretty amazing, to win another championship."

To win another title, the Indians relied heavily on their 3-point shooting, particularly in the third quarter after the Eagles rallied from a big early deficit.

During the period, Hoxie hit five shots from behind the line, including three by Carly Heim and a pair by Gabi Spresser.

"Honestly, we prefer to be in close games like this because it's more of a challenge," Heim said. "I had open shots because my teammates did a great job of setting me up."

Before Heim and Spresser heated up in the second half, Olpe wiped out a 15-point deficit with a 12-0 run late in the second quarter.

The Eagles stayed close until the second half, when Hoxie went on a 22-10 run that included all five of its 3-pointers in the third quarter.

"We finally got Carly to take some shots, and when she did, as we knew she could, she made them," Hoyt said. "That's how we play. The kids have the green light when they're open. Fortunately, we were on tonight."

The Indians survived one last Olpe run in the fourth quarter, as the Eagles cut a 16-point lead to 67-63 on a 3-point play by Janae Haag with :19 left.

"We showed some toughness to get back in the game like we did a couple of times," said Olpe coach Jesse Nelson. "Hoxie is just so good. We had some chances early and didn't make some open looks, and they took advantage."

It looked like the Indians, who outscored their opponents by an average margin of more than 40 points coming into the state tournament, were settling in for another blowout in the first quarter.

After Elena Flott gave Olpe a 2-0 lead with a put-back, Hoxie scored 15 unanswered points and led 18-4 going into the second.

The Indians led 21-6 and 28-13 before the Eagles recovered.

"We knew Olpe was tough, so it wasn't surprising they came back," Heim said. "We had the experience of being here last year, and that helped when they did. We're so blessed to have a team like this. I'm very grateful for it."

Hoxie finished 12 of 26 on 3-pointers, including four each by Spresser and Danel Stithem and three by Heim, who led the Indians with 21 points and 11 rebounds. Stithem had 15 points, Lexi Schamberger 13 and Spresser 12.

Flott had 21 points and 13 rebounds for Olpe. Haag added 14 points and four assists, and Kelsey Hendricks had 11 points.