For the fourth season in a row last Thursday at the Show Me Center, the Notre Dame girls basketball team prevailed as First State Community Bank Holiday Classic Champions — and once again in dominating fashion.
The No. 1 seeded Bulldogs (7-0) outscored teams in this year’s Holiday Classic by an average of 25.3 points, lastly picking up a 46-30 over No. 3 Jackson (6-3) in the championship game. The Bulldogs had already beaten the Indians earlier this season to win their fourth-straight SEMO Conference Tournament Championship at 40-30 on Dec. 2.
In the 27th Annual FSCB Holiday Classic title game, Notre Dame actually trailed the Indians by one point, 20-19, at halftime. However, the Bulldogs went on a 12-1 scoring run in the third quarter and held Jackson to just 10 points throughout the second half.
Giving the Indians fits on offense for the entirety of the game was Notre Dame 6-foot-1 senior guard Tori Rubel, who hauled in 12 of her 13 rebounds on the defensive end. This was, of course, Rubel’s fourth-straight and final Holiday Classic Championship, while she was also named to the all-tournament team for the third time in a row.
Tori said she and her teammates entered both this season and the Holiday Classic with a target on their backs, which has to be due to their recent success of winning consecutive tournament titles, whether it be the Holiday Classic, conference or districts. The Bulldogs also, of course, reached the Class 4 Final Four in Rubel’s freshman season.
“Winning the Holiday Classic again means a lot because we knew Jackson was going to give us their best,” Rubel said. “I feel like we always have a target on our back, so being able to come out and win just feels really good.”
While Tori only scored six points in the contest, the UT Martin signee still led her team in rebounds (13) and steals (three), and she also tied for first in assists (four) and 3-pointers (two). Rubel came up with most of her steals by getting in Jackson’s passing lanes to keep the Indians from scoring inside.
“It really helps when you’re down low to just see the court, so whenever you’re down there you can see everyone,” Rubel said. “Whenever all of our other defensive players are talking, I know I’ve got my girl here, so it makes it easier to read the offense’s eyes to try and get the steal.”
Rubel has made a point of becoming a better rebounder this season and improving on her boxing out skills since her older sister Lexi — Notre Dame’s all-time leader in rebounds — is currently playing college basketball for the Skyhawks. Along with this 13-rebound performance, Tori had her first double-double of the season with 13 points and 10 rebounds in a 49-19 win over fourth-place Oran (4-3) on Sunday.
“Lexi broke our all-time rebounding record, and she’s not here this year so it’s like, ‘I’ve got to fill her role,'” Rubel said. “I’m trying to get stronger with the ball and stuff, so I feel like with rebounds that helps me to get the ball, have control and not be out of control.”
Also coming up big defensively in the paint were Notre Dame freshmen 6-2 post Nevaeh Lucious and 6-0 forward Kate Rubel, who combined for five blocked shots with three and two, respectively. One of Kate’s swatted shots proved to be a nail in the coffin as it was against Jackson’s leading scorer 5-10 senior guard Katie Waller in the third quarter during the Bulldogs 12-1 run.
In all, Notre Dame outscored Jackson 16-6 in the third as the Bulldogs dominating teams in that frame was a theme throughout this year’s Holiday Classic. Notre Dame shutout Oran 18-0 on day one and lastly Saxony 14-0 two days prior to winning it all.
“At the beginning of our season, the third quarter was when we always let teams back into the games, and we really didn’t stop them,” Rubel said. “Our coaches have been harping on us that the third quarter is what can make or break a game, and we really picked up our intensity then. We came out with our second wind, started pressing and causing turnovers. Anna and Brie are just so good at picking off those little passes.
“Everyone can guard the ball and that’s what I feel like is the main thing. We don’t really get hurt if somebody else has to pick up the ball. We’re also tall, so that helps, and we’ve also been working on boxing out so we can get more rebounds. We play off of each other so well and the more we play, the more natural things get.”
Even though Kate Rubel only finished the contest with three points, she had another big momentum play when she hit a no-look pump fake pass and drove to the basket for two. Kate drew a foul on the play and missed on the and-1 opportunity, but she did make a free throw in the fourth quarter to make up for that.
Waller finished with a game-high 14 points as she was once again the Indians only player to score in double-digits versus Notre Dame this season. Lucious finished as the Bulldogs leading scorer with 12 points and went on a 4-0 scoring run of her own late in the fourth quarter for a 44-29 lead.
Even though this is Nevaeh’s first year of high school ball, she was rightfully selected to the Holiday Classic All-Tournament Team with Tori. Neither Rubel nor her sister and the Bulldogs former two-time all-stater Lexi were named to the all-tournament team as freshman.
“It’s all about being strong and making good decisions — if the defense collapses on me, we have a whole bunch of good shooters out there to hit the 3,” Lucious said. “I love playing with each and every one of the girls, and I’ve played with Kate and Brie [Rubel] for a long time. I love playing with Tori and Anna, too. It’s just good, and I feel like we read each other well and all get along.”
Pacing Lucious in scoring for Notre Dame was 5-9 freshman point guard Brie Rubel with eight points as she hit two 3-pointers during Notre Dame’s 12-1 run. Brie also tied Tori for the most assists with four, while she grabbed three rebounds and had a pivotal steal for a scoop and score to give the Bulldogs a 37-29 early in the fourth quarter.
Just like Brie, Tori Rubel was also crucial from beyond the arc as she knocked down her first 3 to make it a one-point game after trailing Jackson by four near the end of the second quarter. Tori’s second and final trey gave the Bulldogs a comfortable 28-21 advantage during what became a 10-0 run for Notre Dame to lead 33-21.
Also hitting two 3-pointers for the Bulldogs was 5-7 senior guard Anna Garner for her only points of the game, while also tying Brie and Tori for the most assists with four. Garner finished as the leading scorer with 14 points (three 3s) along with three assists and three steals in Notre Dame’s 48-18 win over fifth-place Saxony Lutheran (3-5) Monday.
With these performances, Anna was the Bulldogs third and final selection to the all-tournament team with Tori Rubel and Lucious. Having a career game off the bench for Notre Dame was 5-7 sophomore guard Maddy Erbst as she finished with seven points and had five during the third quarter.
“If defenses don’t pack it in against us, Nevaeh will take it to you every day, that’s her game right there,” Tori said. “Whenever you do pack it in, we have Brie on the outside with Anna, Kate and Maddy. Having a well developed game where we can score inside and outside is really what makes the team. It really makes it difficult on defenses because they think, ‘Do we pack it in, or do we get out on those shooters?
“Everyone contributing scoring wise makes me really proud. Everyone knew that everyone was going to be coming for us, so there were certain games where if I wouldn’t make a shot Anna would. We play off of each other so well, so if someone’s not having a good offensive game, or if people are just guarding them more, it’s fine because we have four other people who can score.”
Even though playing on a Division-I court is memorable for any player who’s fortunate enough to suit up in the Holiday Classic, this tournament means a little bit more to Tori Rubel than that — despite it being during finals week. While fans will see her on the court again whenever UT Martin travels to play at Southeast Missouri State, Rubel has won the Holiday Classic with each of her three sisters and also with her father Matt on the coaching staff this season.
“This team is a really big family, and we’ve been really close in the past but it helps that three of us are sisters and do everything together already,” Rubel said. “I know whenever I look back at these tournaments in like 10 years, I’m going to be like, ‘Wow, that was really special.’ It really means a lot when I think about it because during the game I’m not really thinking about, ‘Oh, I’m playing with my sisters!’ I’m just playing with my team, but looking back at it, it’s really special.”