DES MOINES - For one game, one week - really, an entire season - Davenport Assumption was the little team that could.
From flipping coaches and systems to quieting doubters by prolonging their conference championship streak, the Knights believed their best basketball was in store for March.
Months of consternation and determination flowed with the euphoric tears as Assumption bagged its second girls basketball championship in four years with a 50-39 triumph over Mount Vernon in Saturday night's Class 3A final game at Wells Fargo Arena.
"It's an unbelievable feeling," senior captain Emma Ambrose said. "We're the only ones that believed we could do it from the beginning."
Playing its seventh state tournament in eight seasons, Assumption (25-2) rarely is considered the underdog. But that was the fourth-ranked Knights' plight in Mississippi Athletic Conference play compared to Pleasant Valley, in Thursday's semifinal against top-ranked Ballard Huxley, and once more Saturday against No. 2 Mount Vernon (24-3).
The Mustangs took the 2A crown in 2010 - as well as the past two volleyball state titles - because of immense height and bulk incorporated with uncanny athleticism.
"I know they're not only taller than us, their arms are so big. I told them, defensively, we have to force the tempo," first-year Knights coach Jennifer Goetz said. "They were tired when they shot free throws, and their shots (from the field) were pretty short because they didn't have any legs. We're used to playing at this tempo."
Senior 6-foot-2 all-stater Taylor Dicus powered her way to 18 points, 17 rebounds and four blocks, again robbing Assumption of owning the most impressive individual performance.
Of course, Assumption cares next to nothing about individual accolades. In one final example of the Knights' balance, senior Melissa Youngblut led with 13 points and sophomore Kate Fennelly added 10 - their exact team-pacing figures in the semis.
"Our team has amazed me from the beginning," Youngblut said. "The way that we come out, and the points across the board are so even. It's awesome. It's unreal."
Assumption finished strong once again, leading 38-36 with just more than 5 minutes remaining before sophomore Danielle Moore's 3-point play. That sequence forced Dicus to the bench with four fouls, and by the time she returned, Assumption led by seven.
"They had three 6-footers that were dominating the lane," said Moore, who also scored 10 points. "I couldn't really get shots off from there, but in the lane, when they got tired, it opened up a little more, so that's why I decided to keep attacking."
The Knights were much steadier at the line (16-for-20), benefitting from an opponent's free-throw woes for the second consecutive game. Mount Vernon made 12 of 20 free throws, and committed 26 turnovers.
Dicus and 6-foot-1 Amanda Platte (16 rebounds) did their part, outrebounding Assumption by themselves and giving the Mustangs a 46-30 advantage.
"We knew that they weren't going to be very big inside, so we knew that posts would have to have a strong game," Dicus said. "Our gameplan was to work inside-out."
But the Knights withstood Mount Vernon's extra opportunities, grabbing big rebounds late led by Jasmine Binion's nine boards off the bench.
"I think we were all getting a little frustrated, but we had to work as a team," Fennelly said. "Because we knew we were stronger than them, we just had to show it. So we just pumped each other up, and got some boards."
Assumption scored the game's opening 11 points and finished the first quarter on Fennelly's buzzer-beating 3-pointer for a 16-6 lead. But Mount Vernon answered, reeling off a 13-0 streak before Assumption closed the first half on an 8-3 run.
Get breaking news sent instantly to your inbox
Youngblut was named Class 3A all-tournament captain, with Moore joining her on the six-woman squad. Mount Vernon's Dicus and Micah Wieditz, Central DeWitt's Jen Keitel and Ballard Huxley's Taylor Greenfield rounded out the team.
A welcome-home ceremony will take place for the Knights to honor their championship Sunday at 2 p.m. in the high school auditorium.
Davenport Assumption 50, Mount Vernon 39
DAVENPORT ASSUMPTION (25-2)
Emma Ambrose 1-6 0-0 2, Melissa Youngblut 3-9 5-6 13, Kate Fennelly 3-5 2-2 10, Hailey Schneden 2-5 1-1 5, Danielle Moore 2-6 6-7 10, Abbey Strajack 0-3 0-1 0, Haley Fox 0-5 2-2 2, Kate Herrig 1-1 0-0 2, Jasmine Binion 3-6 0-1 6, Mary Kate Fennelly 0-1 0-0 0, Sam Johannsen 0-0 0-0 0. Totals -- 15-47 16-20 50.
MOUNT VERNON (24-3)
Liz Skotowski 2-9 1-2 6, Taylor Dicus 6-12 6-9 18, Courtney Kintzel 0-1 0-0 0, Micah Wieditz 2-6 0-0 6, Amanda Platte 1-11 5-9 7, Kylea Weber 0-4 0-2 0, Sarah Ryan 1-3 0-2 2. Totals -- 12-46 12-24 39.
Assumption 16 10 7 17 - 50
Mt Vernon 6 16 9 8 - 39
3-point goals: Assumption 4-11 (Youngblut 2-2, K Fennelly 2-4, Moore 0-1, Strajack 0-3), Mount Vernon 3-11 (Wieditz 2-3, Skotowski 1-7, Weber 0-1). Rebounds: Assumption 30 (Binion 9), Mount Vernon 46 (Dicus 17, Platte 16). Assists: Assumption 9 (K Fennelly 4), Mount Vernon 8 (Platte 3). Turnovers: Assumption 16, Mount Vernon 26. Steals: Assumption 13 (Youngblut 5), Mount Vernon 8 (Kintzel 2, Ryan 2). Blocks: Assumption 1 (Schneden), Mount Vernon 8 (Dicus 4, Platte 3). Team fouls: Assumption 19, Mount Vernon 19. Fouled out: Dicus, Kintzel.