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Notre Dame girls basketball wins historic fourth SEMO Conference Championship

The Notre Dame girls basketball team pose after winning the SEMO Conference Tournament Championship for the fourth consecutive season Friday at Kennett. Photos by Nick McNeal

Prior to Friday night, no girls basketball team had ever won the SEMO Conference Tournament Championship four times, much less four times in a row. This all changed when Notre Dame beat Jackson in the championship game for the fourth-straight season to secure its seat at the top of the conference.

The Bulldogs (3-0) did so in dominant fashion with a 10-point, 40-30 win over the Indians (2-2). It had been two seasons since Notre Dame won the title game over Jackson by double digits (46-33 in 2020-21).

This was a fitting way for two Bulldogs seniors to end their conference tournament career, especially for a four-year starter in 6-foot-1 senior guard Tori Rubel.

“It really means a lot — Honestly I’m so happy right now,” Rubel said. “Jackson always gives us their best, and they played so well tonight. I’m so proud of everyone who came out and who stepped up. Just being out there with everyone already feels so natural — it means a lot that we could get this win.”

Rubel produced a game-high 15 points, along with filling the stat sheet (five rebounds, five assists, three steals and two 3-pointers). Both of Rubel’s 3s came at crucial moments as they either started or extended scoring runs for Notre Dame.

Jackson also made a few runs of its own as well, but the Bulldogs defensive effort in the second half proved to be the nail in the coffin for the Indians. Notre Dame filled Jackson’s passing lanes and started the third quarter with four steals.

Offensively, the Indians only had one player finish in double digits as 5-10 senior guard Katie Waller paced Rubel with 13 points of her own. However, Jackson’s next two leading scorers only combined for 10 points as juniors 5-7 guard Holland Guilliams and 6-1 post Nadia Wasilewski each had five.

Indians 5-11 senior post Aubrey Brothers and 5-5 senior guard Maci Wendel combined for seven points with four and three, respectively.

“I feel defense is what won us the game because we didn’t have a lot of shots fall tonight — especially in the second half,” Rubel said. “Our defense is what definitely won us that game, and Nevaeh [Lucious] and Kate [Rubel] on those boards. Then Anna [Garner], Brie, Skylar [Craft] and Maddy [Erbst] — all of us just getting steals and everything I feel like is why we won. And our effort, of course.”

Rubel put on display in just one play why she is arguably the best overall hooper in Southeast Missouri when she took a steal for a successful and-1 opportunity. On the opposing side of the court, Tori came up with a one-handed takeaway, drove past multiple defenders to the lane and made a layup while drawing a foul for a free throw she ended up making.

On top of her two shots from beyond the arc, Rubel also gave Jackson’s defense headaches when she would attack around the rim or from mid range. The Indians closely guarded Tori to give her little to no space to work, but she either brushed off defenders for an easy score or hit turnaround shots right in front of them.

Notre Dame 6-foot-1 senior guard Tori Rubel (left) recorded 15 points (two 3-pointers), five rebounds, five assists and three steals against Jackson in the SEMO Conference Tournament Championship game Friday night at Kennett.

“It really was an inside-out game — Nevaeh was a beast on the inside, so we got a few buckets down there, and they were never easy,” Rubel said. “We also had a lot of outside shots and people pulling up from behind the 3-point line. Our fastbreaks — if we get out, we can either score off of a layup, or we can drive and kick it. I feel like having that range of where we can score really helps us.”

It was plays like this that Rubel made throughout the tournament that earned her the title of Prep Girls Hoops SEMO Conference Tournament MVP, which her older sister and current UT Martin Skyhawk Lexi Rubel won last winter.

Throughout her final conference tournament, the UT Martin signee averaged 14 points, five rebounds, four steals, 3.6 assists and 2.3 3-pointers made per game through three games. Rubel also knocked down five 3-pointers for 18 points and had three rebounds, three steals, two assists and one block against Saxony Lutheran for a 45-30 win in the semifinals.

“I feel like last year, Lexi was our main scorer, and I was perfectly fine with that,” Tori laughed. “But then this year with Anna and I being the only two upperclassmen, you’re going to have to be the one that looks to score. Especially if the ball isn’t falling, you’ve got to pick up your teammates.

“I feel like if I made a shot, though, I always had my teammates supporting me. Even if I miss, they’re like, ‘Hey, keep shooting!’ It’s really been my teammates supporting me — it’s given me a lot of confidence. I knew I’d have to step up, though, because I didn’t have Lexi this year.”

Winning the SEMO Conference title for the fourth year was also sweet because Tori did so for the first time with her younger sisters 5-9 freshman guard Brie Rubel and 6-0 freshman forward Kate Rubel. Along with Tori, Brie and Kate were both named to the PGH SEMO Conference All-Tournament Team after pacing their older sister statistically throughout.

“It really means a lot, especially winning my first three with Lexi, and I know I get to share this moment with Kate and Brie,” Tori said. “It’s nice to know with Kate, Brie, Anna and Nevaeh, like, I always know someone has my back. If I mess up and forgot to drop down one time, Nevaeh got a steal, and I was like, ‘Thank, you Nevaeh!’ Someone always has your back, and having my sisters out there with me really means a lot. It’s so comfortable playing with them — it’s like we’ve been playing together since we were little, which we have but not in real game situations.”

Also having a double-digit scoring output versus Jackson was Kate Rubel, as she finished with 11 points, six assists (team high), three rebounds and two steals. One way Rubel made her presence felt against Jackson was by making “dagger” shots as she gave Notre Dame not one but two 10-point leads in the final two and a half minutes.

Kate also had a double-digit game in the Saxony game with 10 points, while she also collected three rebounds and dished out three assists. She came up with eight points, six rebounds, three assists and two steals in a 53-28 win over Kennett to start the tournament.

Finishing as the third-leading scorer for the Bulldogs against Jackson was indeed Brie Rubel, and she posted seven points (one 3-pointer) off only five shot attempts. She also came up with two rebounds and two steals.

Brie only finished six points behind Tori in scoring versus Saxony as she produced a career-high 12 points against the Crusaders after going six-of-six on two-point attempts. Most of Brie’s scoring came off steals for fastbreak opportunities as she recorded a game-high five takeaways and also had five assists in that one. Against Kennett, Brie also filled the stat sheet with seven points, a game-high six assists and five steals.

Prior to the tournament, Brie and Kate Rubel both picked up their second Division-I offer from UT Martin as their first was Abilene Christian back in September.

Another freshman who made more than an impact in every game she played was 6-2 post Nevaeh Lucious, who scored a game-high 11 points in the quarterfinal round. Lucious is becoming well known as a rim protector for Notre Dame as she had five versus Jackson in the title game, four against Saxony and three versus Kennett.

Lucious also produced four points and four rebounds against the Indians, while also coming up with a steal. She was rightfully named to the PGH SEMO Conference All-Tournament Team with Brie, Kate and Tori.

Even though she only scored 10 points through three games, 5-6 senior guard Anna Garner has been one of the key reasons why the Bulldogs are only allowing 29.3 points per game. On top of currently averaging two steals per game, Garner helps the defense get setup and communicates to the underclassmen where they need to be.

Guillams and Waller were also selected to the PGH SEMO Conference All-Tournament Team. Tori Rubel and Waller were both named to last year’s all-tournament team.

Notre Dame will have this week off before its next game against Poplar Bluff (1-3) next Thursday at home prior to tipping off the annual First State Community Bank Holiday Classic Dec. 18 at the Show Me Center.

Notre Dame seniors Tori Rubel (left) and Anna Garner receive the SEMO Conference Tournament Championship plaque and trophy Friday night at Kennett.

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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