WAVERLY — Cedar Rapids Xavier saw it all season.
From what may have been the toughest schedule of any Class 4A girls’ basketball team in the state to the loss of career scoring leader Caitlynn Daniels to knee surgery, the Saints perservered.
Tuesday night in Waverly, Xavier finally ran into a problem it couldn’t handle as sixth-ranked Waverly-Shell Rock put together a 43-26 victory to clinch a berth in next week’s state tournament.
The Go-Hawks (20-2) will make their fifth state tournament appearance overall and second in a row, and they’ll head to Des Moines with a 20-game win streak and a team that plays aggressive defense and finds good shots on offense.
Tuesday, 6-foot-2 Abbie Draper and guard Britney Young handled the bulk of the scoring with 16 points apiece.
Xavier, which finished 15-8, held W-SR 12 points below its season average, but the Saints couldn’t solve a Go-Hawk defense that allows an average of 31.1 points per game.
“They defended pretty solidly,” Xavier head coach Tom Lilly said. “Offensively it just seemed like the things we were trying to do, they thwarted. I think their big kid (Draper) made life difficult for us.
“We really hadn’t seen that size in the post most of the year. I don’t think a couple of days of practice to get ready for that type of team ... we needed a little more time.”
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Waverly-Shell Rock took a 23-15 lead into halftime behind the offense of Draper and Young, and a strong team defense that surrendered only five Xavier field goals and pressured the Saints into seven first-half turnovers and a big rebounding advantage that extended multiple possessions.
The Go-Hawks led by 10 points twice, including 23-13 with 2:51 left in the half on a feed to Draper in the post, but Xavier’s scrappy and relentless zone defense refused to let W-SR get too far away.
“I can’t say we were really bad defensively,” Lilly said. “I think if you would have said, ‘Coach, you’re going to hold them to 43, how do you like your chances,’ I would have said I liked our chances.”
Xavier continued to have a hard time finding baskets after halftime, and Waverly-Shell Rock slowly stretched its lead to 34-17 late in the quarter. The Saints got no closer than 13 the rest of the way.
A year ago, both W-SR and Xavier made it to state. This season, there was only room for one.
“It’s incredible,” W-SR’s Young said. “I’m super excited to be going back down as a team.
“I think our defense was really good. We made it tough for them to get the ball to their wings and get into their offense.”