'Great time to be a Squirrel': Central Cass basketball's sweep latest accomplishment in successful year
It was a winter to remember for Central Cass as the Squirrels' boys basketball team won its first Class B state title in 55 years and the girls won their first ever.
CASSELTON — Prior to March 18, it had been almost 30 years since a school had won both the North Dakota boys and girls Class B basketball state titles in the same season. That changed when the final buzzer rang at the end of four quarters with the Central Cass Squirrels boys team defeating Shiloh Christian 61-44.
The Central Cass boys state title win came two weeks after the Squirrels’ girls squad won their state title with a 58-55 overtime thriller over Thompson in Minot.
The Class B sweep is the first since the 1993-94 school year — before the girls season was moved to run concurrently with the boys — when Minot's Bishop Ryan girls won the title in the fall and the boys in the winter.
The Squirrels boys championship was their first in 55 years while the girls title was the first one ever for the school.
“I think it’s a huge accomplishment,” said Central Cass activities director Travis Lemar. “ It’s not something that’s done every day. We’re relishing the fact that our kids, school and community were able to accomplish something that isn’t accomplished a lot, which is really cool.
“Our coaches, our kids, have put a ton of work into making this thing come to reality. The chance to compete at state let alone win one was pretty sweet. To pull off the double and get both of them is a remarkable job by our kids and coaches.”
Squirrels girls coach Jay Bachman said that, while it was difficult to measure what the championships mean to the community, the sweep made it that much more special.
“It’s hard to describe in words because it was so awesome for our town and our community,” Bachman said. “It’s hard to say what it means to our basketball programs. We’ve had a lot of success at Central Cass in our basketball programs in the past but to finally get to this point and win a state championship is amazing. To do it at the same time as the boys just makes it that much better.”
Throughout the season, the teams supported one another, leading to an extra level of excitement, Bachman said.
“There’s a lot of mutual respect. We’re cheering really hard for the boys and the boys cheering hard for the girls,” he said. “It’s never been a jealousy thing. It’s never been a 'we want to be better' thing. It was 'we can be great together.' We can be great at the same time.”
In addition to the support amongst the teams, the outpouring of support from the Casselton community provided a major boost.
“It’s really fun when you get people from the community that you don’t know and they’re proud of the girls and they’ve never met them,” said Bachman. “They say ‘they worked so hard and played so hard.’ And that’s what small town communities are about, having a sense of pride for your community, your program and school.”
The girls championship run was one of the biggest motivations for the boys down the stretch, said boys coach Matt Norman.
“The girls really set the bar for us," Norman said. "Once they won the state tournament it was pretty quick before we realized that we might be undefeated but we’re still the second best team in the school. So we looked at that as a great way to stay competitive. We celebrated with them but used it to elevate our play as much as we could.”
To cap an undefeated season — the final one before the move to three classes — and win the school’s first boys’ state title since 1968 is something the team will never forget, Norman said.
“I know that each and every team set out with goals of having success this year but being able to tie a bow on a very successful season with the last Class B championship, that’s a memory those boys will cherish for a long, long time,” he said.”
Each team also had players earn state tournament most valuable player accolades, with Sam Kobbervig getting the nod for the boys and Decontee Smith for the girls.
Smith was also named to the North Dakota Associated Press Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association All-State First Team while her teammate Klaire Cotton earned a spot on the Second Team.
When the final buzzer went off in the boys game, the first person to greet Norman was Bachman, who locked him in a hug and lifted him up from behind.
“There is just a brotherhood created when you’re coaching," Norman said. "You’re bouncing ideas off one another, you're wanting to have success and wanting the kids to have success. That’s the biggest part. Jay’s taught a ton of the kids that are in my program and I’ve taught and still teach a ton of the girls in his program. We want each other to have success because we care so much about the kids. It’s really, really fun to be able to celebrate as a coaching staff amongst Central Cass.”
The Squirrels are Class B Champs! pic.twitter.com/Fcddu1HFTv— Todd Rose (@To2D_Rose) March 19, 2023
The Class B sweep is the latest accomplishment for the Squirrels in the 2022-23 school year, a trend which Lemar hopes will continue into the spring as the Squirrels look for their fifth straight Class B softball state title and seventh overall.
“It’s been a great year for the Squirrels," Lemar said. "In football, we were second place. The wrestling team won all four region titles they could win and finished second and fourth in the dual portion for the girls and boys. We’re rolling into the spring where we have the potential to do some really great things, too. It’s a great time to be a Squirrel.”