By Ryan Murken
Your Prep Sports
DES MOINES – When Rachael Saunders left West High’s Class 5A quarterfinal against sixth-ranked Waukee midway through the first quarter with a knee injury BJ Mayer quickly began looking for someone to step up.
Not surprisingly, Mayer found more than a few players to do just that as West High advanced with a 40-38 win over Waukee.
As West High began preparing to face second-ranked West Des Moines Valley in the semifinals without Saunders, its second leading scorer, Mayer got a surprise from a player wanting to help.
Senior Ali Tauchen, sidelined since early February with a bone fracture in her ankle approached Mayer.
“She was in a walking boot, the doctors had told her it would be three weeks or four weeks and she just told me, ‘tell me what you need and I’ll do it’,” Mayer said. “That’s the kind of kids that we have. They are going to do what they can to help the team.”
Tauchen hadn’t played in a game since February 7. She hadn’t practiced in more than a week.
The 6-foot-1 senior suffered a torn ACL last season and has a future as a college volleyball player, she has signed with Missouri Western State.
None of that stopped Tauchen from offering to do what she could to help the suddenly short-handed Women of Troy.
What Tauchen did was provide three solid minutes in the first half helping West High build a 21-14 halftime lead.
“Ali had not practiced in about a week, she has a bad ankle and she came to me Thursday morning and basically said I will be ready to go if you need me,” Mayer said. “She gave us three great minutes in the first half.”
Tauchen wasn’t the only player stepping up in the semifinals.
Fellow senior Katie McGrane came off the bench to score eight points, more than double her season average and Paige Beckner more than doubled her season average with seven rebounds.
Sophomore Cailyn Morgan stepped into the starting lineup and scored 11 points in a team-high 31 minutes.
Even Saunders stepped up.
“I was really proud of Rachael,” Mayer said. “She was sitting up front, cheering on her teammates talking to them the whole game and keeping them positive. Not going through something like that I can only imagine what it’s like when you can’t get out there and play the game that you love.”
It wasn’t enough for West High which fell to second-ranked Valley 55-48.
The loss didn’t diminish what was an impressive effort for West High without one of its top leaders and playmakers.
“Coming out and playing without one of your emotional leaders in a big game it took us a little bit to get settled in but then I thought we settled in and really competed,” Mayer said. “We had chances and that’s what you can ask for in a game like this.”
Familiar Feeling: There were a pair of repeat champions this week as Pocahontas Area and Springville both finished off back-to-back titles. Springville defeated Turkey Valley in the 1A title game for the 2nd straight season, winning a 45-36 in the 1A title game.
Pocahontas Area claimed its second straight 3A crown with a 61-38 win over top-ranked and previously unbeaten Sioux Center.
In Class 2A, Western Christian returned to the top of Class 2A after a two-year title drought.
Western Christian won its fourth 2A title in the past six years and first since capping a three-year title stretch in 2014 with a 51-48 win over Treynor in the 2A title game.
Smashing Debut: Regina sophomore Alex Wiese made her first trip to the state tournament a memorable one.
Wiese averaged 20 points and 12.5 rebounds in two state tournament games, posting double-doubles in both games on her way to being named to the Class 2A all-tournament team.
In her state tournament debut Wiese had 18 points and 11 rebounds in a win over Logan-Magnolia and had 22 points and 14 rebounds in a semifinal loss to Western Christian.
Record-setter: With nine rebounds against Cedar Falls in the Class 5A quarters Ashley Joens set became the single-season rebounding leader at City High.
Joens finished her junior season with a single-season City High best 246 rebounds.
Perfect ending: The top scorer in state history, Elle Ruffridge put the finishing touches on a brilliant career by leading Pocahontas Area to a second straight state title.
Ruffridge finished her career with state records of 2,951 points, 802 assists and 466 3-pointers.
The Missouri State signee scored 250 points in nine career state tournament games.