GIRLS HOOPS: Dakota Takes First Regional Title

COUGARS PLAYERS REJOICE immediately following last Thursday's 63-51 victory over Fenton at Port Huron Northern. The road to a regional championship culminated on Northern's floor, but it was a district win over the Huskies, a top-ranked team in Class A, that signified a deep run might be in store for Dakota.

by BRYAN EVERSON

Dakota had to travel to Port Huron Northern to put another trophy in the cabinet this season, but senior point guard Emily Langolf may as well have been splashing 3’s from a raft beyond the local pier to ensure she and her teammates captured another piece of history.

Late-game foul trouble didn’t slow Langolf, who tallied a game-high 26 points as the Cougars knocked off Fenton last Thursday, 63-51, securing the first regional championship in program history.

“Sometimes you have those games where you just feel it,” said Langolf, the school’s all-time leader in assists. “I was lucky to have my teammates giving me those open shots. You can’t take those without [them].”

“This is everything. We made history for Dakota basketball, and that’s just how we had to represent everyone who played [here] before us. It’s a special moment for this team.”

Although Dakota carried just a four-point lead heading into halftime, 21 of its 28 points up to that point came on 3-pointers, including a handful from Langolf, who has a penchant for connecting from several feet beyond the arc. It was her foul trouble, though, that accentuated the team effort, from Emily Basila’s triple that closed out the half, to Tara Bieniewicz’s operating the offense when Langolf was forced to sit with four fouls less than halfway through the third quarter.

“You worry a little about it, because we haven’t had to deal with [Langolf being in foul trouble] very much this season,” Dakota coach Phil McCune said. “But give Emily Bascilla credit. She came off the bench and hit the 3 at the end of the first half cold. She’s a junior who hasn’t played much this year, and she came up big for us. And Tara kind of took over the point guard responsibilities and had a great game.”

Not only did secondary scoring options like Bieniewicz (19 points) and freshman forward Cameron Grant stepping forward help ease the burden of foul trouble and stretch the lead to as much as 12 points late in the third quarter, but a switch to a matchup zone helped stagnate Fenton’s offense. McCune and his coaching staff made the alteration midway through the third, and although the Tigers got to the free-throw line several times, they went on to make just one field goal over nearly the next eight minutes.

“Fenton’s a heckuva team, and they shoot the lights out out there [but] we decided to try something a little different,” McCune said. “You never know; sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Today it worked. Give my kids credit, they were in the right spots in the right times. They talk a lot and believe in defense.”

“I know we gave up 51 points — and for us, that’s a lot — but [we] play a hard style on defense.”

A 6-0 run to start the fourth that included short-range buckets from three different Dakota (19-6) players forced Fenton (18-7) to have play catch-up by fouling, and the Cougars, who were 18-for-25 overall from the line, were efficient in that regard to prevent the lead from slipping much as time ran out.

As players celebrated and posed for pictures after the award and trophy presentation, it was an appropriate time to finally ditch a sign that read “Dakota Who?” in reference to the status of being an underdog in the Class A tourney.

“This was a huge win for our program,” McCune said. “We went into this thing with a lot of people doubting us. We had a lot of tough games this year — we play in the toughest league in the state — and that really helped us get ready for a game like this.”

Despite having made it to the Breslin Center in a previous coaching stop, McCune articulated just how much his most recent achievement meant.

“It’s the pinnacle of my coaching career at Dakota,” he said. “We’ve never gone this far and the school’s never gone that far.”

“I can’t tell you how excited I am. It’s a dream come true.”