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Peoria Notre Dame girls basketball wins first-ever state title after Wardle’s heroic jumper

Peoria Notre Dame
Peoria Notre Dame girls basketball celebrates after the final buzzer in the Class 2A state championship game on Mar. 2 at CEFCU Arena in Normal. Brock ANgle/Clutch Sports Media

Peoria Notre Dame’s run of destiny ended as it deserved to. With a state championship. 

The No. 1 Irish defeated No. 3 Nashville 48-46 in the IHSA Class 2A state title game to secure the program’s first-ever state crown. 

With 6.6 seconds left in the fourth quarter and the game tied at 46, PND freshman Emy Wardle drove into the paint for a 10-foot jumper that fell through the net with 1.3 seconds left, sending the Irish crowd into hysteria.  

“There's nothing that I would rather see is our kids and our four seniors go out on top like this in their last game,” Peoria Notre Dame coach Layne Langholf said. 

In the timeout preceding the game-winning basket, Emy’s older sister Mya – playing in possibly the sisters’ last official game as teammates – made the suggestion to give Emy the ball and let her win it. 

“I executed it but she’s the one that came up with it,” Emy Wardle said. “[That play] is normally for her and I’ve never ran that before but her confidence in me to do that as a freshman, it just shows how much she trusts our team.”

It was the perfect end to an unforgettable season.

“I’m going to remember this my whole life,” Emy Wardle said. “One year with Mya, our last game, she's done now, off to college. I'm going to remember this but the next three years are still going to be a lot of fun.”

The state championship fulfilled dreams that started long before the beginning of the season.

A state championship is, after all, what players dream of their entire lives. 

Peoria Notre Dame
Peoria Notre Dame's bench celebrates a big play late in the Class 2A state title game. Brock Angle/Clutch Sports Media

“This group of kids behind me and the coaches that don't get to sit here, they've meant the world to me,” Langholf said. “This is all they want to do, is [to] get here and play for this game and to play in this atmosphere.”

The Irish had to scratch, fight and claw their way to the top of the mountain against the Hornets, a stark contrast from their record-setting 71-25 win over Wilmette (Regina Dominican) in the state semifinal on Thursday. 

PND had something that Nashville did not: experience in multiple state championship-level games throughout the season. 

Games such as a 69-61 win over Morton on Nov. 21,, a 59-38 win against Normal Community on Jan. 21 and a hard-fought 55-39 victory against Rock Island Alleman in the super-sectionals on Feb. 26 helped. 

Even PND’s losses, such as a 63-52 loss to Class 3A No. 1 Lincoln on Jan. 20 at Renaissance Coliseum, were all worth it in the end. 

“Some of the tougher games that we have had also helped prepare us for that, we just stuck together and it worked out for us,” Emy Wardle said. 

Emy Wardle takes over in fourth

The Irish found themselves jostling with Nashville for the lead most of the game. 

PND held a 41-32 advantage – its largest of the game – late in the third quarter after a 3-pointer from junior Julia Mingus. But the Hornets inched their way back into it with a quarter-ending basket from Summer Brinkmann and four free throws in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter. 

Emy Wardle responded by streaking into the lane for an old-fashioned three-point play, which was matched by Nashville’s Brinkmann just 24 seconds later to make it 44-41 with 4:11 to go. 

The younger Wardle split a pair of free throws before a high-arcing three from Hornets senior guard Abby Knepp cut it to 45-44 with 3:19 left. 

“Abby’s a great 3-point shooter and she’s done a lot for us all year,” Nashville coach Dempsey Witte said. “She hit a big one and that’s a senior stepping up in a big moment. She caught it and drilled it and to see the crowd explode, what a great moment. It was just a great game.”

The freshmen continued to dominate the late stages, with Wardle splitting another pair of free throws before Brinkmann got a layup to fall on a third chance attempt. 

Following an Irish turnover Brinkmann’s twin sister and fellow freshman Samantha Brinkmann drove the baseline and put up a go-ahead attempt that bounced off the rim, the arm of PND sophomore forward Lexi Baer and into the hands of Emy Wardle. 

Emy Wardle
Peoria Notre Dame's Emy Wardle shoots a jump shot in Saturday's Class 2A state title game against Nashville.Brock Angle/Clutch Sports Media

Wardle stood waiting to attack near halfcourt as the final seconds drained off the clock. Her first try at a game-winner, a layup down the left edge of the key, was blocked out of bounds. 

Take two delivered the state trophy. 

“I don’t think we’ve ever run that for her, but I’ll be honest, her big sister – a two-time all-stater in the huddle said ‘Get the ball to Emy,’” Langholf said. “That’s how much trust she has in her sister, how much trust we have in her … that’s what she does in big spots.”

Emy Wardle finished with a game-high 18 points, making six of nine attempts from the field and adding two rebounds and two assists. She was responsible for all seven of the Irish’s points in the fourth quarter.

“Coming into this game, I said I saved this game from the last game cause I didn’t do great the last game, Emy Wardle said. ”So this game I just attacked. It’s one game, you can't not play hard because after this, you're done so I started attacking and the ball kept going in so I just kept hitting.”

Right behind her was her older sister, Mya, the cornerstone of PND girls basketball for the last four seasons, with 10 points and two assists. 

Mya Wardle goes out a winner

When Mya Wardle came into Peoria Notre Dame as a freshman, she took the keys to the car right away. 

Her leadership ability, in part, comes from lessons learned from father Brian, Bradley’s men’s basketball coach, and mother Lecia, once a soccer standout at Marquette. 

“You don't see many high school coaches that first day of practice kind of let you lead the team, I mean, it's crazy to think about it,” Mya Wardle said. “[Langholf] just kind of let me be me for four years and it's a lot. I knowI'm a lot, it's a lot of talk and a lot of attitude and a lot of music, a lot of comments but he let me be me and it allowed me to be the player I am today and allowed me to play basketball at the next level.”

After deciding to attend PND before her freshman year and three years of postseason frustration, she finally achieved her biggest goal in her last game wearing a PND jersey. 

Mya Wardle
Mya Wardle drives in on a Nashville defender in the Class 2A state title game. Brock Angle/Clutch Sports Media

“This is my goal when I decided to come to PND for high school, it was between a few high schools and I was like, ‘I'm gonna win a championship at Notre Dame,’” Mya Wardle said. “That was my ultimate goal. We fell short the past two years but this was our year and to do it and to win, especially with my sister was the coolest thing.”

Her next game will come at Eastern Kentucky, where she is signed to play in the fall. But after summer passes and the leaves change, the Irish will still be in a good spot to repeat with current juniors Mingus and Kaitlin Cassidy returning alongside current sophomore Baer and Emy Wardle. 

Emy Wardle’s effort on Saturday showed why she’s more than capable of filling her sister’s shoes as the team’s leader.  

“I'm gonna have to fill a leadership role and the other girls will help as well, obviously it won’t just be me,” Emy Wardle said. “But this year, I've seen how she leads and I learned a ton from her this year.”

Irish thrive with pressure on

In front of the largest crowd PND played in front of all year, the Irish wasted no time giving their faithful something to cheer about and jumped out to a 5-0 lead after the first minute of play. 

However, Nashville quickly made it apparent that it would be no cakewalk to a state title. 

The Hornets had a response for nearly every PND punch for the remainder of the first half. A 10-2 run from the Hornets put them ahead 21-17 after a 3-pointer from sophomore Emma Behrmann, but seven PND free throws and four straight Nashville turnovers was enough to give PND a 26-24 halftime lead.

“I knew they were going to fight,” Witte said. “You just don’t know if shots are going to fall but I know the Hornet spirit we have and we’re going to battle every time I step on the floor.” 

The intensity of the game, once again, did not faze the Irish. 

IHSA basketball
Nashville's Samantha Brinkmann drives in on Peoria Notre Dame's Lexi Baer. Brock Angle/Clutch Sports Media

“I think the environment was really cool to play it and it was really loud so that kind of helped,” Mingus said. “It was kind of hard sometimes, but we fought through it and I couldn't do it without my teammates. We all pick each other up there on the court.”

PND seized control in the third quarter with a hot shooting stretch that included buckets from Mya Wardle, Cassidy and a corner three from Julia Mingus with 30 seconds left in the frame to jump ahead by seven points. 

The Irish made six of their last seven shots in the frame, which ultimately was a key difference-maker in the win, along with Mya Wardle picking up her third foul early in the third, but never fouling out. 

“I was thinking ‘Man, I better not foul out,’” Mya Wardle laughed. “I just I knew, I was confident we prepared so much and this is our time. This is our moment, we worked for it all season. We were number one for a reason and we showed it today.”

The Brinkmann sisters combined for nine of Nashville’s 10 points in the quarter.

“I mean, there wasn't really a point where you could let up in that game and it's such a surreal moment,” Cassidy said. “You can't imagine how special it is for our seniors and yeah, you just had to fight, you couldn’t let up for one second.”

Behrmann led Nashville with 14 points and Summer Brinkmann added 12. The Hornets, who won the Class 2A state title in 2013, ended their season at 33-4 but also return  much of their nucleus for next season.

“It’s a tough one to process right now,” Nashville coach Dempsey Witte said. “Of all the teams I’ve been around, I think this team proved the most since day one until the end.”

More than a basketball championship

The win meant too many things to the Irish to list in one spot. The Irish lived up to their longtime ranking as the No. 1 team in Class 2A, and won the Big 12 Conference for the first time in school history. 

They finished with a program record 34 winssurpassing the 2002 squad that won 26 games. 

This season also featured Langholf’s first regional title, which was clinched by a 66-33 win over Sherrard on Feb. 16. What mattered most to Langholf though wasn’t the big championship trophy. 

It was the support and hope that the Irish gave him after his son, Dylan, was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma on July 1. After the diagnosis of the soft tissue cancer, the Langholfs spent a month in Memphis at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. 

“It's been a weird, weird year for us,” Langholf said. “July 1, changed everything.But I knew with this group of kids and coaches that me being gone [for] four weeks in Memphis didn't matter.”

Peoria Notre Dame
Dylan Langholf (center) and the Peoria Notre Dame boys basketball team pose with their regional plaque on Feb. 23. Francisco Alonzo/Clutch Sports Media

Dylan Langholf has 10 more weeks of chemotherapy left. Even while undergoing treatment, he managed to rejoin his teammates on PND’s boys’ basketball team during its season.

That's the culture we've tried to establish here, [which is] family,” Layne Langholf said. “To see Dylan up there with my mom and coach [Joe] Murphy, my former coach came down and got to see it, hat takes nothing away from what our kids did, but these kids have really lifted our family up.”

It’s safe to say PND could handle whatever came its way. But the Irish didn’t just handle what was thrown at them; they came out of the battles as champions. 

“We were so prepared and we knew whatever came our way, we [would] be able to handle,” Mya Wardle said. “But we've been in big games like that and we know how to finish them out and we did that today.

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