Late in the fourth quarter of what turned out to be a 58-43 sectional loss to visiting Whitfield Wednesday, St. Dominic coach DJ Blaine held tightly to her daughter, senior forward Jessie Blaine, who had just come off the basketball court for the final time.
Coach Blaine later reflected on those final few seconds of on-court bliss with her daughter, but she also took the chance to look ahead at the bright future for the Crusader basketball program.
“We started our basketball journey together when she was about four, so I think it’s really fitting that we finished it together for her last game,” DJ Blaine said. “I am super excited for what’s to come. Our numbers are growing and our talent is growing. We have kids who have played basketball forever who are excited to come to here and play.”
Why wouldn’t they be?
In Blaine’s first season as coach, the team finished 17-10 and won a district title for the first time since the 2017-18 season.
“If somebody had said we were going to come in, win the district, have 17 wins and a couple of big upsets … the girls worked really hard,” DJ Blaine said. “They learned how to play together and it was just unbelievable progress over the year. It’s been really fun teaching them and I am so proud of them all.”
Junior guard Jess Larson said that, much like her coach, she was really excited to see the way the team came together and did big things as the season progressed.
The team owned a pair of four-game winning streaks and also defeated the likes of Lutheran St. Charles, Francis Howell Central and a state semifinal participant in Lift for Life.
While a 15-point defeat Wednesday – in which Jessie Blaine led the team with 17 points while junior forward Lily Brengarth added 11 and junior guard Delaney Smith 10 – may not look like a whole lot, it came against a team which defeated the Crusaders by 31 points in late January. Wednesday, the game was tied in the early stages of the second quarter.
“Tonight we didn’t get the outcome we wanted but we worked our hardest and we worked as a team,” Larson said. “We had our chemistry going. It just didn’t come out the way we wanted. They are a good team. It was awesome because we had some new girls come in but I was also with some girls I’ve been with since fourth grade in the Junior Crusader program. To see everybody click just a few games in was really special.”
For her part, Jessie Blaine said she was grateful to have been a part of the resurgence of a program which won 17 games or more for just the second time since the 2011-12 season.
And while she will be headed off the Auburn to play softball in the fall, Jessie Blaine said that this team and this season will forever hold a special place in her heart.
“It’s amazing and I see a bright future for the program,” Jessie Blaine said. “I think that it’s up-and-coming and I’m glad that I got to be a part of the first big step. We showed our best. I feel real accomplished. I feel like there are steps to be taken but we’re moving in the right direction.”