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Regional championship games apparently bring out the best in Lauren Tollefson.
The Newark guard erupted for a career-high 27 points Thursday night at Serena, leading her team to a 49-36 victory over the hosts in the Class 1A Serena Regional final. Her previous career best was 26 in last year’s regional final loss to Hinckley-Big Rock.
“Lately, my shooting hasn’t been on. Finally, I was cooking tonight,” said the 5-foot-5 senior, who made six three-pointers in her eight attempts and went five-of-six from the free throw line.
The Norsemen built a 27-13 halftime lead, getting a pair of treys in each of the first two quarters from Tollefson. They were outscored 23-22 by the hosts in the second half but held on to beat the Huskers for the third time this season.
“We’ve been pretty balanced [this season],” said Tollefson. “We have so many shooters right now it’s nice because if someone is off, there’s someone there to pick up for them. It was nice to have a big night.”
The team set a school record with its 28th win – 27th in a row – against one loss. More important to Tollefson and the other four senior starters – Melissa Schmidt (three steals), Taylor Krug (seven points, 12 rebounds), Abby Akre (five points, eight rebounds) and Kayla Milakis (six points, four blocks) – who have been together since the summer of eighth grade, was claiming the regional plaque, the first of their high school careers.
“We’ve been in seven straight regional finals,” said coach Dale Skelton. “We won the first three and then took second the last three, all of them by five points or less.”
Serena, which got 17 points and 19 rebounds from junior post Demi Witter, finishes 19-9.
“[Serena] is a good team, playing them a third time on their home court is a challenge,” said Skelton. “There aren’t many secrets at this point, except that defense they played, but Lauren got us going. She can shoot and she’s gotten better at driving to the basket.”
The Huskers, who lost to the Norsemen by 26 points in each of their previous meetings, employed a 1-3-1 defense and came closer this time but still couldn’t get the deficit under double digits in the second half.
“It’s bitter, it does not taste good,” said Serena coach Jeremy Jenkins. “We started working on that defense the day after we lost to them in the Little Ten Tournament title game. We were getting killed on the perimeter the other times and felt we could play it.
“We didn’t do bad, but Tollefson had a great night. She not only hit shots with a hand in her face, she drove to the basket and dished off nice.”