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There was life after Justene

February 7, 2019

HAMLET — A hot tub and a cold drink.

Those were the short-term plans for LaCrosse coach Chris McGowen after Monday’s 51-48 loss to host Oregon-Davis in the Class A sectional semifinals.

“We’ll soak on this one a little bit,” McGowen said. “It’ll be another sleepless night for me.”

In the long-term, prospects remain promising for the Porter County Conference’s smallest school, which rebounded nicely from the graduation of career scoring leader Justene Charlesworth to post a solid 12-11 season. Who would’ve figured there would be life A.J. (After Justene?) The Tigers didn’t slip back into oblivion, as some (my hand’s raised) thought, showing this is a program and not simply one player.

“LaCrosse is more than Justene that’s for sure,” McGowen said. “Preseason, when I was asked, how do you replace Justene?, I said you don’t replace a Justene. It was a group effort. The girls all bought in, they accepted their roles, they just stepped up.”

The Tigers went 4-3 in the PCC and were playing their best basketball toward the end of the season, knocking off sectional champion South Central on Jan. 25, then narrowly missing against O-D, which beat them 66-53 on Dec. 15.

“We showed strides here the last couple weeks,” McGowen said.

How did it happen?

“Everybody’s pulling the rope in the same direction,” McGowen said. “Everybody came together for a common goal. They put the team before the individual. When you do that, you fully buy in, special things happen. It sucks that it ended this way, but we’ll be back.”

Everyone who played against O-D returns, Katie Bell and Claire Garwood notable among the mainstays. Mya Morrow, Claire Garwood and Madison Heavilin are also part of what will be a big senior class. The sole senior on the roster is Jackie Osornio, whose leadership can’t be undervalued.

“Jackie’s a special kid. She would go through a brick wall for you without even asking,” McGowen said. “She’ll definitely be missed. She’s near and dear to my heart. But the nucleus coming back, there are only bright things on the horizon. The program, fifth grade all the way through, we’ve got some special players coming, the junior class, sophomore class, freshman class.”

With the graduation of most of Marquette’s team, Class A in the north will be open for the taking. South Central and Morgan Township are young and rising, like LaCrosse, but realistic opportunity lies ahead.

“This is something we’re going to build off of,” McGowen said. “It’ll give us some intrinsic motivation going into next year. This one’s going to hurt for a while, but hopefully it fuels a fire to come out next year and really dominate the way we should with what we have coming back.”

If there’s a silver lining to the Tigers being spectators for Saturday’s Caston Regional, LaCrosse does get to lock up the PCC Kup traveling trophy for safe keeping until next season.

“To be honest, I would’ve loved to taken care of O-D and taken care of South Central again,” McGowen said. “That would’ve been a lot better way to keep the Kup.”

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