By Dan Hardenbrook

The late, great Muhammad Ali once stepped into the ring shouting that he would “Shock the world!” It became a rallying cry for one of the most historic figures in sports history, and last Friday the Newberry Lady Indians followed in those footsteps by shocking the world indeed with a 46-42 win over the perennial powerhouse St. Ignace Lady Saints.

History has always been in favor of St. Ignace. Through blowout losses, St. Ignace used Newberry as a statement game to send a message to other teams. They spent years running up the score, and the Lady Saints have owned the series with Newberry.

But this time, the Lady Indians took the rock and slung it with all their might, and Goliath went down. The win was only the third in over 30 years and the first since 2016. Those were two of the greatest teams in school history, and now the 2024 Lady Indians are on that list.

“This win was a total team effort, regardless of what the stats showed and who played. The girls that played, played their hearts out. The girls on the bench cheered, supported, and encouraged their teammates. It took every single one of us to do what we did,” said Coach Sarah Johnson. “Our girls came out determined and never once lost their focus. Every player remained engaged, including those on the bench.”

St. Ignace has long used a full-court press to break down opponents. But this time, the Lady Indians flipped the script, using that total team effort to overwhelm, and eventually break down the spirit of the Lady Saints. Now it was St. Ignace scrambling, showing cracks, and fighting through frustrations. The Lady Indians were undeniable.

“Our press break shut them down right from the start. We shot the ball with confidence, and everybody played a key part,” said Johnson, who highlighted several players who made an impact. “We were led by Allie Whalen who put up 24 points in the game. Lucie Rabochova and Amelia Shanley showed amazing court vision which led to big assists, with 6 and 3 respectively. Rabochova and Elisa Rizzoli dominated the game rebounding; Lucie pulled down 11 and Elisa had 14.”

Every time Newberry needed a boost, someone was ready to step up. During a big run in the second quarter, Gracie Taylor took two skip passes, one on a beautiful bounce pass across the lane and the other on a drive and kick to the opposite block, and followed up a perfect cut with layups. A guard rotation that included Whalen and Rabochova, who are both All U.P. candidates, but also featured key minutes from Trenidy and Alazayah Depew, kept pushing the pace and playing with incredible control, giving St. Ignace a bitter taste of their own medicine.

Shanley, who recently returned to the team as a mid-season addition, has been a key piece after the transfer of regular rotation member and strong defender and ball handler Sophia Johnson. Shanley, a former Chris Nance award winner, picked up where she left off.

Sophia Johnson deserves credit, too; it’s taken an entire season and every single squad member, from the JV to the Varsity, to team managers, and even coaches to finally buy in and believe they could beat anybody.

This was a win for this year’s team, but also for every former player, coach, athletic director, and the fans who have all been through the battles year after year.

“These girls believed in themselves, played with heart, and they simply outworked St. Ignace,” Sarah Johnson said. “Nothing rattled them, even after a few consecutive turnovers and St. Ignace coming back to tie the game, the girls held their composure. We knew the girls had the talent and skill to come out with a win over St. Ignace and we couldn’t be more proud of them!”