The goose is loose.
Strafford, by defeating Forsyth 54-24 Saturday evening, won its fifth consecutive district title, and sixth in seven seasons.
It is, however, the first inspired by a bird, as the Lady Indians walked out of their own gym with the district championship trophy, as well as first-year head coach Dustin Larsen's wooden goose.
“Coach always likes to make analogies,” Strafford senior Logan Jones said. “He says that the goose is kind of like a mascot. They soar as a flock. We all fly as a ‘V’ and we’re together as a team.”
And flock Strafford did on defense, in typical fashion, helping open up a 19-7 lead after the first quarter. The Lady Panthers (20-7) were outscored by just one in the second, but were held to a combined nine points in the second half.
Combined with the benefit of hosting the district tourney, the early advantage provided some measure of freedom and comfort for Strafford to perform the rest of the way.
“Our crowd always comes out and supports us, and I think we play better having that,” Lady Indians senior Taylor Dormann said.
Logan Jones and Mica Chadwell each scored a half-dozen to propel Strafford’s offense in the opening period. Jones finished with 19 points and Chadwell had 12, while Emma Compton and Emma Mullings each chipped in seven.
Many key players on this team have been thrust into bigger roles –– Jones and Compton are the only players who scored in last year's state championship win over Lutheran North –– but a slate of talented opponents had the Lady Indians looking comfortable in Saturday’s do-or-die contest.
“Our schedule has prepared us for this, and the great thing about our team is that we have such great balance, and any night a different kid can be the leading scorer,” Larsen said.
Though this year’s team lacks the unblemished mark of recent years, Strafford’s only defeat this season to a school of similar or lesser size came to Skyline, the third-ranked team in Class 2, on Feb. 17. Jones said she believes the loss helped push the collective. Larsen framed it as another opportunity to grow.
“You learn from everything,” Larsen said. “It’s not like we wanted to lose, but we didn’t play our best that night and Skyline did a great job. We could either learn from it or feel sorry for ourselves. If you get caught in yesterday, you’re not focusing on today. We try to focus on being present and having that passion to get better.”
Of this year’s district championship, Dormann said, “It’s a new year and a new victory being such a different team. This one just feels so much better.”
Asked whether either would be satisfied with simply a district title out of this year’s playoff run, Dormann, Larsen and Jones were unified in stating that the flock is hungry for more.
“I want to keep winning and I know this team does, too,” Jones said. “I just want to keep pushing and pushing. We have to take it one game at a time, but our next goal is to get back to state.
The Lady Indians (26-3) resume their quest for a fifth straight state title Wednesday against Mt. Vernon in Willard at 6 p.m.The winner of that sectional game will take on either Southern Boone or Butler in a quarterfinal Saturday night at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar.
Bryan can be followed on Twitter @BryanEversonMF.