Pandas claim fifth straight district title

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By Josh Kalb | LINK nky contributor

Since 2019, Holy Cross and Notre Dame have met in the 35th district championship every year.

Each one of those ended in Notre Dame holding up the trophy…including the one on Thursday night.

The Pandas avenged a regular season loss with a 53-49 victory in Park Hills.

“It was a fistfight. Every Notre Dame and Holy Cross game, every year, despite the players and despite the coaches, it’s a battle because both teams are really good. You never know. Despite how good one may be or how one is struggling, it’s always a fistfight.” Notre Dame Coach Kes Murphy said.

With the amount of turnover on the roster the Pandas had to deal with, this season was met with ups and downs.

“We lost nine kids from last year’s team so to come in and play as well as we did after having gone through a season of crumbling every second half. We’ve gotten better. We’ve grown up a little bit.” Murphy added.

Just like any physical game, the defensive side of the court was most important.
Holy Cross excelled in their full court defense as well in the first quarter, holding the Pandas to 11, but only scoring nine after one.

Holy Cross forward Julia Hunt looks for an opening against the Notre Dame defense. Brandon Wheeler | LINK nky contributor

Notre Dame’s standout senior, Noelle Hubert picked up her second foul midway through the second quarter and it looked like the game was in the Indians favor. It was just the opposite. The Pandas increased their lead to four heading into halftime.

The game’s leading scorer, Kendra Collins got Notre Dame started with a triple to start the third quarter. Collins ended the night with 17 points, a performance good enough for the All-Tournament team.

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“Kendra went down with a season-ending injury last season, so she’s basically a rookie, and this was huge for her.” Murphy said.

Finally, with three minutes to go in the third, Hubert drained a three pointer, giving the
tournament MVP her first points of the night.

The Pandas kept the lead but couldn’t pull away. Aleah Arlinghaus answered with a three for the Indians, tying the game up at 35. The three-point battle wasn’t done just yet.
Kendra Collins sank a corner three to put Notre Dame’s lead back up to three as they headed to the fourth.

Holy Cross continued their struggles offensively, not getting anything easy, just what Notre Dame worked on.

“We take a lot of pride in our defense. That’s our go-to. We just tried to be as disciplined as possible and finish plays by boxing out,” Murphy said.

The Pandas had a comfortable lead, along with some huge defensive stops late. The Indians made one last run to try and stop the bleeding, but the hole was too deep.

With some clutch free throws from Sophia Gibson and Noelle Hubert, they were able to put the game away with the four-point victory.

The star players on both sides couldn’t find a rhythm on offense. Julia Hunt for Holy Cross, who came in averaging 13 points, was held to 12.

“I have so much respect for her and her ability.” Murphy said.

Noelle Hubert, who had an average of 17 points a contest for Notre Dame was held to six.

It was a story of Kendra Collins and Maya Lawrie for Notre Dame who combined for 25 points and Nejai Lewis and Miyah Wimzie for Holy Cross with 22 combined points.

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Holy Cross guard Miyah Wimzie scored 10 points. Brandon Wheeler | LINK nky contributor

In the end, a trophy is all the Pandas wanted and that’s what they got.

“It’s a big deal, to win five in a row against a team that won a state championship (All “A”). Julia Hunt is phenomenal, and they have a lot of great players. To have this win under our belt…that’s a big deal and I’m so proud of our kids.” Murphy said.

Notre Dame joins St. Henry, Dixie Heights, and Highlands as the Ninth region district winners and No. 1 seeds headed into Friday’s tournament draw.

Holy Cross along with Ryle, St. Henry and Newport Central Catholic are the No. 2 seeds. The Ninth Region tournament starts Sunday at Truist Arena with all four quarterfinal games played that day.

NOTRE DAME – 11-10-17-15 – 53
HOLY CROSS – 9-8-18-14 — 49

NOTRE DAME (53) – Collins 17, Gibson 15, Lawrie 10, Hubert 6, Miller 2, Kirtley 2, Lenihan
HOLY CROSS (49) – Lewis 12, Hunt 12, Wimzie 10, Arlinghaus 7, Nelson 3, Hayes 3, Williams 2

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