Cosette Stellern practiced her free throws, dreaming that the game was on the line.
Fifteen seconds, she thought. Tie game and she was at the line to shoot two. The imaginary crowd roared as she bounced the ball in front of her and looked to the basket.
So when the crowd turned into reality and filled the seats of the Casper Events Center, she knew she could hit them.
“I mentally prepared myself for that,” Stellern said, “so to finally get that opportunity to do it was just insane.”
Stellern sank two free throws with 17.6 seconds remaining to give Cheyenne East a three-point lead over Gillette, and the Thunderbirds held on to win 53-50 in the Wyoming State High School Class 4A Girls Basketball Championship, ending the Camels’ hopes for a three-peat.
The T-Birds took their first lead with just 4 minutes, 9 seconds remaining when post Jadyn Kanzler got the feed in the paint and finished off the glass.
Kanzler scored on the next possession when Stellern recovered a loose ball and found her fellow senior in transition. With a bounce pass she skipped the ball by a defender and into Kanzler’s arms, who finished to make it a three-point game.
“I just had to stay calm because if I was too anxious I’d throw it right through the wall, but if I was too nervous I’d fumble it and travel,” Stellern said. “We prepared for those situations so I just needed to relax and have faith in her.”
Stellern finished with 10 points and eight rebounds while her teammate Jessie Erickson led the T-Birds with 11 points, six rebounds and four steals.
Erickson saw Stellern’s reaction to the pass-and-finish by Kanzler, a full banshee scream to the rafters of Casper Events Center, and met it with her own enthusiastic scream.
“She’s crazy, but Cosette’s always crazy,” Erickson said. “We all came to her level today. It was just seniors stepping up and everyone stepping up.”
East, just a week removed from a 21-point loss at the hands of Gillette, finally defeated the defending champion Camels for the first time in four attempts this season. Saturday was also the first time all season Gillette lost to a team from Wyoming.
This season’s history played another factor in the fire with which East played.
“You look at them and you’re like ‘You’re not going to get this ball. I’m ready. You’re not going to get it,’” Stellern said. “They got a 10-point lead but it’s like, ‘It’s OK, we’re going to come back and get it.’”
The T-Birds finished with a championship in upset fashion. A championship that wasn’t just the culmination of the season, but years in the making.
“Playing with these girls for 10 years, that was our result,” Stellern said. “That right there. Our senior year, getting a state championship with each other.”
Kalina Smith finished with a game-high 14 points, five rebounds and four steals for Gillette but was subbed out with a knee injury in the third quarter and was clearly hampered by that injury the rest of the game. Her teammate, Baylee Hamlin, who hit a 3 for Gillette’s last lead of the game, left in the fourth quarter with a rib injury after taking a hard fall into the stanchion.