Norwich continues “magical” postseason run with another comeback
DODGE CITY, Kan. (Catch it Kansas) - Norwich coach Mike Klaver has coached basketball for 38 years with the Eagles at various levels, including the last 12 with the girls. Klaver previously led the junior high for nine and the boys for 17. He has recorded at least two final four showings with the boys and girls. Klaver’s best finish was a 2013 state runner-up to Ingalls in Class 1A, Division II.
On Thursday, Klaver stood outside the locker room after Norwich defeated Highland-Doniphan West, 54-49, in the Class 1A, Division I state semifinals at Dodge City’s United Wireless Arena.
Norwich rallied to beat St. John by four in the sub-state semifinals, and defeated Coldwater-South Central in a two-point comeback win in the state quarterfinals. This time, Norwich trailed after every quarter, including an eight-point halftime deficit.
“I have never been a part of such a team,” Klaver said. “We don’t have a superstar. I mean, we do it by committee, and they are a really solid unit team. They listen to their coach, they execute what their coach wants to do, so it’s almost ‘Hoosier’-like. It’s almost like a dream.”
Klaver is known for wearing a pencil behind his ear and holding his clipboard. When the game ended, Klaver stood facing the Norwich fanbase. He had both hands raised high, his left one clutching his clipboard, a mask across his face. Klaver remained in the position for more than five seconds and soaked in a playoff run he labeled “magical.”
“It’s an overachieving team for the talent they are,” Klaver said.
On Saturday, Norwich will face Olpe (24-0) for the state championship. Start time is 2 p.m. from UWA. Including a bye, Olpe carries a 50-game winning streak, currently the best in Kansas. Olpe beat Hodgeman County, 38-21, in Thursday’s first semifinal.
“It’s March Madness,” Klaver said. “It’s what it’s about … They will never forget this the rest of their lives.”
Last season, Norwich lost to Olpe, 59-43, in the Class 1A, Division I quarterfinals, also at Dodge City.
“We’ve worked for this all of our lives,” senior point guard Avery Rosenhagen said. “It is freaking awesome to see our hard work pay off. Oh my gosh.”
Olpe’s Jesse Nelson is the state’s all-time winningest coach with a 948-111 record in 44 years with the Eagles. He has won three all-time titles in ’81, ’10 and ’11. 1988 marks Norwich’s lone state girls’ title. The Eagles also most recently earned third in ’15.
“Now that we have experience – it’s helped us so much,” Rosenhagen said. “But we know they are a fast (team), they are a good team. We know we are just going to have to play our game. We can’t let them speed us up, because they like to run with it, and we are more kind of like slower paced.”
Norwich improved to 20-3 behind huge performances from Rosenhagen and senior forward Brittany Gosch. Several of the Eagles have played together since age seven, including in the spring and summer. Norwich returned four starters from a 22-4 squad: Gosch, Rosenhagen, along with juniors Anna Kyle and Kira Kelly.
“I have never had chemistry like this on any other team,” Rosenhagen said. “And it’s just awesome. Being together all the time – I think we are together just constantly.”
“And sometimes I think we drive each other crazy,” Rosenhagen added with a laugh. “But we know at the end of the day, we all love each other, and we are here to work as a team, and we do. We are a family.”
Gosch recorded five points and zero rebounds at halftime. She finished with a game-high 20 points, along with seven rebounds. Gosch fouled out with 56.8 seconds remaining, one of two Norwich starters to foul out late. Klaver called the performance a great team effort.
“I was so proud they came off the bench and stepped up,” Gosch said. “Could not be more proud of them.”
Norwich made its first six shots of the fourth quarter, all inside the arc. Gosch had three baskets. In the second half, she generally scored from the left low block. Norwich led 49-46 with 2:48 remaining after a Gosch basket.
“My main focus is square up,” Gosch said. “Turn my shoulders to the goal. I just practice all the time every block, so I know my shots will go in.”
In its first-ever trip to state, Doniphan West (20-4) made the first of two free throws 10 seconds later. That trimmed the lead to 49-47. Then, DW missed six consecutive free throws.
“Wasn’t our night,” Doniphan West coach Perry Smith said. “We probably played a C game or a C-minus game, and a lot of that was to Norwich. They did a good job.”
Norwich led 52-49 with 19.7 seconds left when Rosenhagen stepped to the line after a timeout. She sank both free throws for the final margin and delivered 12 points. Rosenhagen banged her finger “pretty good” in the first half and had to wear tape.
“I always say, ‘Just like practice,’” Rosenhagen said. “I just try to block out all the noise. I just stare at the basket, and I just say, ‘It’s going in.’ And they went in. Thank goodness.”
Overall, Norwich was 7 of 11 from the free throw line, DW 10 of 19.
“We missed a lot of free throws there in the second half, and I thought that was a big difference in the end,” Smith said.
Doniphan West has had eight players lead the team in scoring in a game this season. Smith liberally subs on a deep bench. Sophomore point guard Chloe Clevenger entered state with a team-best 11 points and four assists per game. DW forces around 24 turnovers a contest with its high pace.
“I didn’t think our pressure bothered them too much,” Smith said. “That’s kind of how we are predicated on is our pressure and our transition stuff, and they did a good job of dictating tempo the second half, and then their big girls finished, and that’s something we really hadn’t seen out of them too much.”
The Mustangs led 13-7 after the first quarter and 27-19 at halftime. Norwich recorded 10 first half turnovers. Norwich had just three turnovers in the final two quarters. Clevenger tallied 10 points, and sophomore Avery Weathersbee paced DW with 16.
“We slowed down, and they didn’t turn us over as much in the second half,” Klaver said. “We controlled the ball and had good possessions. In the first half, we turned the ball over too much, and our possessions were short.”
Norwich opened the second half with six straight made shots, again all inside the arc. Gosch made two of them as the Eagles continued to gain position down low.
“She was able to get the ball in a good position,” Klaver said. “…They pushed us out too far in the first half, so our entry passes were too low, so we kind of switched our offense where we got our entry pass more towards the baseline.”
Doniphan West led 39-38 entering the fourth quarter before Norwich went on its second flurry of inside baskets. Rosenhagen collected the ball just before time ran out, and Norwich started the celebration.
“Unreal,” Rosenhagen said. “Like I cannot believe we are here. It feels like a dream to me.”
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