It wasn’t flowers.
Or a trip to Vegas.
Or even diamonds.
Winona’s head coach wanted her 10th trip to the Final Four to end with the Lady Cats first ever back-to-back state championships.
“This has been our goal from the beginning, to do something that our school and program has never done,” said McBride. “That’s what these girls had in mind the whole entire season; that is what has been our goal.”
Under McBride the Lady Cats won state championships in 2001, 2006, and 2012.
Following the ’01 and ’06 titles, Winona made a return trip to the state championship only to be denied repeat titles.
So, her 2013 team made her birthday wish come true.
Winona topped Leopold in two sets, 25-20, 25-18, giving McBride her fourth state title, and the perfect *21st* birthday present.
“It doesn’t get any better than this,” said McBride. “I couldn’t think of a better gift. You can’t top this, it is a dream.”
But, this dream’s happy ending was in doubt early.
Winona trailed Leopold 14-9 in the first, before a 8-2 run, capped by Rachel Holthaus’ thunderous kill gave the Lady Cats a 17-16 lead that they wouldn’t give up again, as they took the set 25-20.
Holthaus finished with eight first set kills.
“We always want the ball in her hands,” said McBride. “Our defense was struggling a little bit and once we set her we know that she’ll take care of the rest. When she’s on the front row we know we have to capitalize then, and she didn’t let us down.”
The second set would see Holthaus add five more kills as Winona led wire-to-wire on their way to a 25-18 win.
Holthaus entered Saturday’s championship game with 545 kills, her 13 championship kills were enough to break the single-season state record previously held by Jamie Roszell of East Newton.
Even with etching her name in the record books, winning her second state title meant even more to the all-state junior.
“It is cool breaking records, but I can’t even describe the feeling, knowing that you went back to back years as the best team in Class 1,” said Holthaus.
Adding to the Winona attack was fellow all-stater Nola McAfee.
The Lady Cats emotional leader also made her presence felt at the net, finishing with 11 kills.
For McAfee, who now owns family bragging rights over her cousin, Adeana, and sister, Molly, who were members of the 2001 and 2006 championship teams respectively, the win comes with mixed emotions.
Despite receiving major attention to play collegiate volleyball, McAfee will hang up the spandex to focus on her aspirations of being a pharmacist.
Even then, the 6-foot-1 senior couldn’t imagine a better end to her career.
“It is kind of bittersweet,” said McAfee. “It is amazing to go out with back-to-back state championships, but I’m a little sad that I’ll never get to do it again. But, this is the perfect way to go out.”
Also grabbing bragging rights is Coach McBride.
Francie, whose husband, Pete, is the head basketball coach at Eminence, temporarily lost household honors last spring when the Redwings boys’ basketball team claimed the Class 1 state title.
“I think I have bragging rights right now,” said McBride. “He posted on Facebook the other day that ‘you don’t get to stay the top dog in my house very long.’ I enjoyed him winning a state championship, but it’s great to be back here and get another one.”
Winona ends the season 30-9-1. The Lady Wildcats will return five starters in 2014.