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Notre Dame girls basketball advances to state for second time in four years

The Notre Dame girls basketball team celebrates after beating John Burroughs 46-35 in the Class 5 Quarterfinals to advance to the state final four. Photos by Nick McNeal

Four years ago when senior guard Tori Rubel was in her first year as a starter for the Notre Dame girls basketball team, she helped the Bulldogs reach the state final four for the first time in a decade.

However, Tori and her teammates, like her older sister and current UT Martin freshman Lexi Rubel, never got to play at state that season because the coronavirus pandemic forced MSHSAA to cancel the Class 4 and 5 Final Four.

Fast forward to the 6-foot-1 Skyhawk signee’s final season, though, and Tori will finally get to know what it feels like to play at the Great Southern Bank Arena on Missouri State’s campus for the state final four this upcoming Friday.

“It hasn’t really set in — you tell me I’m going to state, and I’m like, ‘What?’” Tori said following the Bulldogs Class 5 quarterfinal win over John Burroughs on Saturday. “As a freshman, I didn’t know how big of a deal it was. I was really upset whenever it got taken away, but you don’t realize how big of a deal it is. To get to go again my senior year — it means the world.”

Against the Class 5 No. 2 ranked team (according to the Missouri Basketball Coaches Association) in the John Burroughs Bombers, Rubel recorded her eighth double-double of the season with 15 points and a game-high 12 rebounds. Tori also knocked down multiple 3-pointers for the ninth time by hitting two, while her younger sister 5-9 freshman point guard Brie Rubel hit a game-high four shots from downtown.

Along with their six combined treys, The Rubel Duo 2.0, or The Splash Sisters (use whichever nickname you will), combined for 31 points as Brie registered a game-high 16 in a 46-35 win over the Bombers. This was the fifth time Tori and Brie have combined for 30-plus points this season as they both lead Notre Dame in points per game and 3’s.

This performance offensively from Tori and Brie was reminiscent of when the original Rubel Duo made up by Tori and Lexi combined for 28 points to advance to the Class 4 Final Four back in 2020. “I think when we reach our full potential, we will be really dangerous because everyone can shoot it on our team,” Brie said. “When we get going like this, we’re really good.”

“Honestly, [this game] was all a blur,” Tori joked. “I feel like everybody contributed, though. … Going inside and out helps us to get those open looks, and taking it to the hole helps somebody else get open. You pass one more time, somebody else gets a better shot than what you would’ve had.”

One of Brie’s triples came in a pivotal moment for the Bulldogs to go up 8-3 at the end of the first quarter when she banked a jumper near half court to beat the buzzer. “I really just took the ball and shot it — I did not think it was going in,” she said. “Then I was just kind of standing there like, ‘Oh, that went in,’ and everyone was like, ‘Oh good shot, Brie!’ I was like, ‘I meant to do that.’”

Defensively, the Bulldogs (23-5) held John Burroughs (26-4) to its lowest scoring output of the season as the Bombers top-two scorers junior Allie Turner and senior Sydney Starks only combined for 22 points with 11 apiece. Turner fields offers from Division-I programs like Colorado State, Creighton, Davidson, Gonzaga, Kansas State and South Dakota.

Notre Dame’s defense held other John Burroughs starters like junior guard Monet Witherspoon, sophomore guard BreAunna Ward and freshman forward Moriyah Dougles to a combined seven points.

Other than the Bulldogs, only one other team in Missouri has held the Bombers, who average 56.8 points per game, to less than 40 points in one game. This was the five-time reigning state champions (three in Class 4; two in Class 6) and No. 15 ranked team in the nation by ESPN Incarnate Word Academy (29-0) at 37 points.

“Our defense is what we focused on the past two days, and we even had some new defenses we were going to try if our matchup wasn’t working,” Tori said. “We knew that they had really good ball players — really good shooters — and if we let them get open looks, they were going to kill us. We really focused on defense and rebounding was another big thing.”

Making a statement on defense for Notre Dame as she has all season was 6-2 freshman post Nevaeh Lucious, who finished the contest with a game-high five blocked shots. Lucious, who also scored six points, has been the Bulldogs protector of the rim all winter, leading her team with 77 in her first year.

Tori, of course, dominated the boards with 12 — 11 on the defensive end — in this one as she has throughout her final campaign for Notre Dame by averaging more than 8.3 per game. Also coming down with double-digit boards to pace Tori was the third Rubel sister in 6-0 freshman forward Kate Rubel, who tied her career-high rebound total of 11.

“It could’ve been my last game in high school, and I feel like that really pushed me and gave me that extra oomph that I needed whenever I was tired,” Tori said. “I was like, ‘Well, I’ve only got three quarters left if we lose,’ so I feel like that really fueled me.”

While being significantly shorter than her sisters and Lucious, Brie still set a new career-high in rebounds at six along with leading the game in scoring and 3-pointers while shooting 66.6 percent from the field.

Kate Rubel, who also recorded two assists and two steals, finished with four points, which all came at the free-throw line off nine attempts. Tori knocked down some late shots at the charity stripe as well and finished 7-of-10, while Brie didn’t miss any of her four free-throw attempts.

Also contributing at the free-throw line for Notre Dame was 5-5 senior guard Anna Garner as she hit two of her six attempts to finish with four points. Garner was crucial in distributing the ball and helping set the tone on defense as she dished out a team high three assists (tied for the most with Tori) and came up with two steals (tied for the team-high with Kate).

The Bulldogs now move on to the state semifinals, where they will face Carl Junction (29-1) at 6 p.m. Friday night in Springfield, which MBCA has ranked as the No. 1 team in Class 5. Carl Junction’s lone loss of the season came against Sapulpa (Oklahoma) at 82-59 back in December.

Only one Notre Dame girls basketball team has ever won a state championship, which was 21 years ago back when the Rubel sister’s aunts Ashley Millham and Lisa Nice were leading the team. Even though Tori didn’t get to actually play with Lexi at the final four in 2020, she has still now qualified for state with all three of her sisters.

“I doubt anyone can say the same — you got to play with all three of your sisters at different times and now I’ve technically gone to state with all three of them,” Tori said. “Coach [Jennifer] Coad said in the locker room, ‘We’re going — we might as well win!’ I think our mentality at state will be to leave it all out there — just everything we’ve got for one final run.

“We’ve definitely grown, and you want to play your best basketball at the end of the year. I feel like that’s where we’re at, but we haven’t reached our full potential yet. We’re going to continue to grow through this last week.”

Prior to the quarterfinal win over John Burroughs, the Bulldogs won their fifth-straight district championship in a 58-43 victory over Farmington. The Knights had beaten Notre Dame during the regular season at 49-44 in overtime, but the Bulldogs had 17 fouls called against them and only shot 34% from the field as a team in the loss.

In the Class 5 District 1 title game, though, Garner and Tori Rubel took over and combined for 33 points with 17 and 16, respectively. Tori also notched a double-double with 10 rebounds in the 15-point revenge game, while Brie also produced double-digit points with 11 and hit three triples to win her first district title.

“This season means a lot because Tori and I have been playing together since we were like eight-years-old, and we’ve gone through everything together,” Garner said. “I can always count on her when I get freaked out or whatever. She can always calm me down — I can just always rely on her.”

Senior Tori Rubel shares a hug with her father and Notre Dame assistant coach Matt Rubel after the Bulldogs qualified for the Class 5 Final Four.

Nick McNeal covers high school sports, college sports and community events for The Cash-Book Journal. He graduated from Southeast Missouri State University with a degree in multimedia journalism and has lived in Cape Girardeau County for the past five years. He can be reached at cbjsports@socket. net.

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