Despite Pleasant Valley graduating seven seniors and two Division-I basketball players from last season's team, Carli Spelhaug knew early on how good the Spartans could be this year.
"I felt it at the beginning of the season," the PV senior said. "We knew since we lost a lot of seniors that people thought we wouldn't be as good so that was really a big motivator for us.
"Everyone doubted us early in the season, and our motto has been 'Rise up,' and our team has done an unbelievable job of doing that this year."
Spelhaug poured in 20 points as the Class 5A No. 8 Spartans rolled to a 44-32 win over No. 15 Bettendorf, clinching at least a share of their third straight MAC title Wednesday night at Pleasant Valley High School.
"This was definitely the seniors' goal, to get this win and know that we can be MAC champs," Spelhaug said. "It's awesome knowing we're leaving our mark and winning another in a row.
"It just shows the grit that we have. All these seniors have worked so hard day in and day out. We've really just led this team to truly leaving our legacy at Pleasant Valley."
It's been a dominant season for PV. The Spartans (19-0, 16-0) won their 17th game, and 15th MAC contest, of the season by double digits. North Scott is the only conference opponent to keep the margin at single digits, with PV edging the Lancers by four points early in the season before winning the rematch by 13 points.
In conference games, PV has held opponents to an average of 30 points.
"When I think of this senior class, the word that comes to mind is 'unselfish,'" PV head coach Jennifer Goetz said. "They trust the process, and they want to win, no matter what. They don't care who scores, it's just unselfish. ... I think people don't appreciate our defense, even our own kids."
PV jumped out to a 9-0 lead before a pair of free throws from Kylie Wroblewski put Bettendorf on the board, but that didn’t stop the Spartans from opening up a 13-2 lead, building that to 21-10 at halftime.
Bettendorf’s only offense in the first half was Wroblewski, who scored all 10 points in the first half and finished the game with 20 points and 13 rebounds.
Only sophomore guard Ashley Fountain scored more than three points for the Bulldogs, finishing with five, something Bettendorf (14-5, 11-5) knows it needs to address over its final two games.
“In the last two years when we’ve gone down the stretch in the postseason and played some really good teams to try and make the state tournament, you need multiple people stepping up," Bettendorf head coach Brian Tritt said. "Not just one person, you need a second and a third contributing, even if it's just a couple baskets."
Pleasant Valley never let the lead get down to single digits in the second half. The closest Bettendorf came was a 6-0 run in the fourth quarter to cut the lead to 41-30.
Spelhaug hit her final 3 of the game, her fourth of the night, to up the lead back to 44-30, and the defense closed out the win. Anna Griffin added a career-high 10 points for PV.
"She was huge. We needed those points tonight because we were struggling a little bit putting the ball in the basket," Goetz said of Griffin. "The game rewards toughness and that kid is tough, she does every little thing possible for our team so when we need her most, it's not a surprise the game rewards toughness."
Bettendorf has hit something of a rough patch with the postseason looming. The Bulldogs have lost two of their last three and had to hang on to beat Clinton 47-44. Bettendorf closes out the season with games against Assumption and North Scott, and Tritt likes the tough test his team is experiencing in the final week.
"This is a rough patch," Tritt said. "We want to be playing at our best at the end of the season, and we've got to tighten up some things defensively but ... we're looking to play good competition going into the postseason, regardless of our record."