VALPARAISO — Next stop: Indianapolis.
While Marquette Catholic has enjoyed strong postseasons the past three years, a trip to the program's first state final remained elusive going into Saturday's Class A Northern Semistate in Valparaiso. The Blazers came closest in a double-overtime loss at last year's semistate.
On Saturday, they put those bad memories to bed emphatically, punching their ticket to Indy with a 58-18 dismantling of Tri-Central.
"This feels awesome. I looked at the scoreboard with six minutes to go in the fourth and was like, 'OK, this might happen,'" Marquette coach Katie Collignon said. "We wanted to make sure we were fighting the whole way, though. This is huge for us, because we think about last year all the time and it's good to finally be over that. We can talk about this year now. I'm just so proud of the girls."
As has been the case for the Blazers (26-2) throughout their run, they supplied a heavy dose of defensive pressure. At one point in the first half, they held the Trojans scoreless for nearly 10 minutes, rattling off 16 unanswered points in the process.
"I'm super proud of the defense," Collignon said. "We're super fun to watch offensively and we have been all year, but I swear we hang our hat on defense. I told the kids if we play defense the way we know how then it will be really tough for (Tri-Central). We did a great job with team defense and the girls did a really good job of bringing that to the table from the tip (Saturday)."
Emma Nolan finished with a monster game of 22 points, 10 rebounds, five blocks and three steals, continually taking advantage of the undersized Trojans. Sophia Nolan posted an all-around effort of 12 points, five rebounds, five assists and three steals.
"That's how we normally startle teams because no team is really ready for our defense," Emma said. "It was pretty easy to score (Saturday) and our offense was smooth sailing. Punching them in the mouth like that early stunned them."
Claire Salyer's 3-pointer at the horn gave Marquette a 32-8 lead heading into the locker room. Salyer recorded eight points off the bench in the second quarter.
"We wanted to come out with our highest energy and show them we came ready and prepared and I think we showed that," Salyer said. "I was ready to go and I wasn't nervous at all. I knew if I kept doing the things I was doing that it will boost up our team and our energy, and we'll just keep playing harder and harder from there. This feels unreal and I'm so excited. It's almost like a dream."
Despite holding a commanding 24-point lead, there were still some things Collignon made sure to emphasize.
"We were happy with the lead we built and thought the defensive effort was pretty good," she said. "I actually walked into the locker room at halftime and said that I didn't think we were playing that great because we had some unforced turnovers and our offense wasn't flowing that well."
Blazers senior Mackenzie Marovich affirmed her coach's sentiment.
"It wasn't our best defensive effort, and I think we came in with a little bit of jitters. I think anyone would in this environment," Marovich said. "We picked it up it in the second half defensively. They're a fast team and we had to make sure we moved our feet and didn't get caught behind or they'd make us pay."
Marquette extended its lead to 34 by the end of the third and handed the Trojans (16-11) their second worst loss of the season.
"We're not done yet obviously, and it's not exactly a relief, but we finally get to play in that big game," Emma Nolan said. "That's been our goal and we're excited to finally get there because we deserve it."
Marquette will play at 9:30 a.m. Saturday against No. 2 Vincennes Rivet at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
"To be able to go to Indianapolis with my best friends and compete for a state championship, I can't even put it into words," Marovich said. "All the hard work we put in, it just feels worth it in this moment. Every suicide we ran during practice, every drill, every loss, it was all worth it to be here right now."