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Madison Owens returns from ankle injury to help lift Okarche past V-A, get 29th state slot

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    OKARCHE WARRIORS vs VELMA-ALMA COMETS — MADISON OWENS made three 3-pointers to help spark Okarche to a 30-16 victory against Velma-Alma in a Class A area title game. [Photo by Russell Stitt/www.stittsmugmug.com]

As they watched the seconds - then minutes - go by without a point, Okarche coaches Kelli Jennings and Kaylene Ullom gave each other a knowing glance.

It was time for Madison Owens.

That proved to be the right play.

Owens helped spark the Lady Warriors offense in the first quarter of what turned out to be a 30-16 victory over Velma-Alma last Friday in a Class A area championship game at Bethel.

The victory sends the Lady Warriors back to state after a one-year hiatus and for the 29th time in the program’s history.

“Our girls have been through more than anyone knows,” Jennings said of her time. “I wanted this so bad for them. They deserve this.”

Among the obstacles facing Okarche this year was Owens injuring her ankle the week leading up to the district tournament.

The junior missed district and regionals and - coaches hoped - area.

“We told her we weren’t going to play her (at area) unless we needed her,” Jennings said.

Four minutes into Friday’s contest and Velma-Alma had yet to score. Problem was, Okarche hadn’t either.

“We (Jennings and Ullom) looked at each other and basically said ‘it’s time:” Jennings recalled.

Owens entered and “within 30 seconds we hit a 3.”

That 3-pointer came from Rachel McDowell, but soon Owens followed up with two treys of her own and Okarche led 9-0 at the end of the frame.

The lead never went away. Okarche’s first five field goals were 3-pointers.

Then, once Velma-Alma got out of its zone, the Lady Warriors attacked and got buckets closer to the basket.

McDowell had as many total field goals as the Lady Comet team. She scored 11 points.

Owens scored nine.

“We were patient against the zone then attacked more against the man,” Jennings said. “We just hit the right shots.”

The Lady Comets never could.

After being held scoreless in the first, Velma-Alma only managed six second-quarter points.

They never scored more than seven in a quarter as Okarche switched between its traditional matchup zone and a box-and-one that keyed on Lady Comet shooter Shain Ille.

With Ryen Wittrock shadowing her, Ille managed just three points.

All of that helped propel Okarche into the state tournament with a 26-3 record (see brackets in this edition).

“Our girls have been Warriors in every sense of the word,” Jennings said. “I’m so proud of them.”