It wasn’t until senior Madison Miller held the state championship trophy over her head that the girls of Thunder Basin realized what they accomplished.
Two months after the Bolts had been essentially reduced to their walking wounded, devastated by injuries, they conquered Cheyenne East in a 70-58 contest on Saturday in the 2019 Wyoming State High School Class 4A Girls Basketball Championship to finally end the two programs’ season-long battle for No. 1.
East had defeated Thunder Basin 53-47 in the semifinals last season. That didn’t sit well with the Bolts who returned this season. That very day they adopted a “365” motto, in reference to the number of days until they’d get full redemption for the semifinal loss. Day 365 landed exactly on Saturday night.
“We wanted to prove that we belonged here,” senior Madison Miller said after the championship, “and we wanted to win this one pretty bad.”
Miller was one of those forced to overcome injury in the brief window between the annual Energy Classic and the January in-state schedule. She rolled her ankle in the Energy Classic so badly that her shoe couldn’t fit comfortably with the swelling. That bad news came with point guard Breckyn Hamlin was strapped to a back brace after initially being cleared to play. They later discovered she had a spinal fracture and sat the season out.
Then there was the matter of standout Jersie Taylor, who played through a compound fracture in her wrist for the Energy Classic. She underwent surgery and returned to the team in time for the conference push.
“We had a lot of injuries,” Miller said. “We all worked through it because we wanted this right here.”
Those injuries gave the Bolts time to develop depth. Once those previously ruled out were able to return, it was time to go for gold.
“We’ve lost some, we’ve gained some, we had people gone for awhile, then they came back,” junior Meadow Kuntz said, “and we had people just grow together, and at that point we knew we were going to win state.”
The Bolts had won 14 straight before the regular-season loss to East, which only furthered their resolve to the 365 motto. Then came the two close losses to the in-town rival Camels. East’s loss to Gillette at regionals meant a potential meeting between the Bolts and their year-long adversary would have to come in the championship game. As play unfolded throughout the weekend, that proved to be the case.
“We knew we were coming into a rough game, but my team, they pushed through it,” Kuntz said. “We knew that we had it and that we were going to win it.”
Kuntz and teammate Abby Geer were tasked with guarding East standout Ky Buell in the championship game. It was a tall order, seeing as how Buell had team highs in points (15), rebounds (10) and assists (six) when East beat the Bolts during the regular season.
Buell still had a big championship game, tallying 14 points, six rebounds and seven assists, but her 5-of-17 clip from the floor meant Kuntz and Geer did something right.
“We have this connection that’s indescribable,” Geer said. “We bond so well together, it’s just this chemistry that you just can’t even describe. It’s amazing.”
Thunder Basin didn’t have the size to defend East’s Kalee McEwan in the post, and she tore through the Bolts for 19 points.
Meanwhile, Miller overcame her ankle injury to tally 15 points and 11 rebounds in the championship. Taylor, fully healed from her broken wrist, added 14 points and five rebounds. Shelby Tarter came off the bench to notch 10 points in 12 minutes for the Bolts.
Head coach Braidi Lutgen’s mid-January hope for post-injury depth helped the Bolts win a state championship. Twelve Bolts played in the championship, 10 saw at least 3 minutes on the court.
Through a calendar year of waiting and numerous injuries, Thunder Basin accomplished its goal and won the first team state championship in school history.
“I’m super proud of all our girls,” Miller said. “Every day we came into practice, and we just worked so hard. I never thought we would be here, but we worked really hard.”