Life came full circle for Lauren Gunn.
The Lawrence North senior suffered a torn ACL in her right knee in the third quarter of the Class 4A state championship game in 2019, when the Wildcats lost to Hamilton Southeastern.
“We were up three and she tore her ACL on this same floor,” Wildcats coach Chris Giffin said. “To battle back from that and become extremely productive again, she is one of a kind. She is the glue girl to this team.”
Gunn helped guide the Wildcats to a 59-56 victory against Northwestern in the 4A state championship game Feb. 29 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
Gunn, who had six points and three steals, was named the 4A Mental Attitude Award winner. She is ranked 26th academically in her class.
“I took on that burden last year when I couldn’t help my team win a state championship and we were right there,” Gunn said. “Jayla (Smith) predicted last year we were going to come back and we were going to win. We did. I knew I had to do everything in my power to win this time.”
Gunn said the five seniors have been together since their freshman year.
“We had a great bond and we trust each other and knew we were going to bring it every night,” said Gunn, who will play for Valparaiso next season.
Gunn missed the first few games of the 2019-20 season.
Giffin said the team’s experience of being in the state final in 2019 helped in a few ways.
“I think it helped us in terms of our prep week and knowing what to expect,” Giffin said. “There certainly was a little extra hunger to finish the job. They believed all week in the work we were doing to get ready for this unbelievable opponent.”
Smith, a junior, said the 2019 experience was invaluable.
“Last year coming into the Fieldhouse we didn’t know what to expect because we’ve never been here,” she said. “We got better from last year to this year. We love each other. If the team wasn’t together, we probably wouldn’t have got anything done.”
Smith led the way in the state championship game with 22 points, well above her team-leading 13 points-per-game average entering the game. Smith sank 5 of 7 3-pointers as the Wildcats set a state championship game record for any class with 10 3-pointers. Smith’s five 3-pointers tied the championship game record. Kalyn Ervin had three 3-pointers.
“It’s been our MO. We’ve had kids that have stepped up at different points of the year,” Giffin said. “The mainstays have been our seniors, but Jayla Smith was huge (in the final), in addition to several other kids off the bench. The thing about this team is they trusted each other and they were willing to let the other one have the ball in crucial situations.”
Senior Kristian Young, who has signed with the University of Illinois-Chicago, contributed a state championship record 11 assists in the title game for the Wildcats (26-4). Senior Katie Davidson, who will play for Miami (Ohio), scored 10 points.
It was the first girls state basketball championship for Lawrence North.
“This means everything to me only because I wanted it for the former players, these players and my staff, that’s why,” Giffin said.
It was the first loss for Northwestern (29-1), which had won the past two Class 3A state championships before moving up a class because of the Indiana High School Athletic Association success factor rule.