When Sarah Hadjukovic sank the second of two free throws with just a few ticks left on the clock at the end of Saturday's sub-state final, the Bulldogs started to realize what they had just accomplished.
"Best feeling I've ever experienced," senior Bayley Nispel said. "Getting there was a long journey, but once we hit a couple seconds left in the game, we knew it, and tears just came to my eyes."
Douglass' girls basketball team just sealed a 52-47 victory against Collegiate to punch its ticket to the Class 3A state tournament. It will be the first trip for the Bulldogs in the program's history.
"There's a lot of buzz around the school, there's a lot of buzz around town. There's articles in different papers. This is exciting for them," DHS coach Jason Wilson said. "There's 48 other teams that would like the opportunity, and we're not going to take it for granted. But we're also not just going to be satisfied with getting there."
There has been a heavy mixture of excitement and nervousness this week during practices, though. The Bulldogs, who enter State with an 18-5 season record, are faced with the mighty challenge of No. 2 seed Hesston, which has just one loss on the season.
"All the pressure is on the Hesston Swathers," Wilson said. "They're the No. 2 seed, so all we've got to do is stay poised, stay under control and take care of the basketball and execute offensively and defensively."
Douglass has been adding some new wrinkles and has worked to improve its weaknesses for the team's opening-round game, which starts at 6:30 tonight.
The game will be a battle of the bigs in the paint. Douglass has plenty of options and has remained balanced on offense with Cashlyn Munroe (8.8 ppg), Maressah Milum (8.8 ppg) and Hadjukovic (8.7 ppg). Bayley Nispel also must be accounted for by Hesston.
The Swathers are led by junior Caylee Richardson, who is averaging 12.8 points and 7.9 rebounds per game.
"They've got a lot of great athletes on their roster," Wilson said of Hesston. "They're well-coached by coach [Matt] Richardson, and he's got a nice little thing there with his two daughters that are very key components to their success with Cami and Caylee."
Wilson said he will throw all kinds of defenses at the Swathers to keep them guessing and off-guard. He said rebounding will be a huge indicator of how the game goes.
"Our bigs need to keep finishing and go to work down low, because they have three big girls that are going to be tough," Milum said. "...I'm a little smaller than all of them, but I like to fight with them."
Munroe may only be a sophomore, but she has enjoyed taking on more of the workload after deferring to seniors last year.
"I've definitely gotten way better on defense, and my shot has improved a lot," Munroe said. "I'm more aggressive than last year. Last year I just let all the seniors take it...but now I'm actually doing something."
She isn't the only sophomore who has improved this year. Point guard Klair Gibson has thrived as she has started all season after playing just a few varsity all of last year. She has improved every game and feels she has gone through several tough tests that have helped prepare her for this moment, especially given the fact that Hesston plays a pressure defense.
"When we play the harder teams, I've been nervous, but I've gotten a lot better. That helped me," Gibson said. "...The press is going to be tough, but we've gone over some things that I think will help us get past it."
For a team in uncharted territory, Gibson said there has been more confidence playing with a lot of the same teammates who were together for cross country.
"It's very exciting because last cross country season, we won State, and this basketball season, I knew we were going to work together well because last season we didn't work together very well. It's really important," Gibson said.