Photo by Sarah Finnegan.
Westminster-Oak Mountain State SemiFinals 2017
Westminster-Oak Mountain takes on R.A. Hubbard during an AHSAA Class 1A girls State Semifinal game on Monday, Feb. 27 at the Legacy Arena of the BJCC. The Knights eventually fell to the Chiefs 48-44 after a hard fought game.
The Westminster School at Oak Mountain girls basketball team has come a long way in a short amount of time.
In just their fifth year with a varsity program, the Knights broke through in a big way this season, venturing into increasing depths of uncharted waters time and again.
Westminster’s season concluded in Birmingham in the Class 1A State Semifinals, many steps further than the program had ever been previously.
For starters, Westminster had never defeated Loachapoka, a team it had run into in the previous two years in the Class 1A sub-regional round. Westminster’s first winning season came during the 2014-2015 year, and a runner-up finish in the area tournament qualified the Knights for their first postseason trip.
It was a short and unpleasant ride.
Loachapoka had its way with Westminster and cruised to a 63-8 victory. Despite being blown out, head coach Dana Gaché had a message for her team after the game. “I told the girls we were going to keep playing them until we beat them,” she said. “I wanted to keep playing programs like that, programs that I highly respect. We picked some programs we wanted to be like, and we kept playing them until we could beat them.”
The Knights closed the gap the following year, but Loachapoka still knocked them out in the sub-regional round, 42-20. But the 2016-2017 campaign had a different ending.
Another one of those teams that Westminster-Oak Mountain had yet to defeat was Prattville Christian, a peak the Knights reached and passed around Christmas. That was one of the moments that set into motion the Knights’ storybook playoff run.
“I would tell them, ‘You don’t believe how good you are,’” Gaché said.
Gaché believes a pair of losses to Holy Spirit and Cornerstone in the remaining regular season slate were equally as pivotal to the team’s success as anything else throughout the season, as far as serving as a reminder to not underestimate any opponent.
Once the playoffs arrived, the Knights were ready. Big victories over Autaugaville and Talladega County Central set up a matchup with Loachapoka in the regional final. It was the Knights’ turn to get the job done, as they won 51-40 to advance to the Final Four at the BJCC.
Westminster fell to eventual state champion R.A. Hubbard, 48-44, in a game the Knights led as late as the final minute. There were missed opportunities, but the loss does nothing to detract from the team’s accomplishment.
“The girls were a little nervous and saw things they should’ve, could’ve, would’ve done better, but it was awesome,” Gaché said.
In the latter stages of the season, the team even began breaking each team huddle by shouting the number, “four,” for its goal of reaching the Final Four.
Gaché credited last year’s graduating class for laying the foundation for the varsity program at Westminster, and the Knights’ success this season came with no seniors and just one junior, Anna Rebekah Richburg, on the team.
“That group of girls is special to me,” Gaché said. “A couple of them were (at the Final Four) and sent a lot of messages and are still involved with the program.”
Gaché is a lawyer by day, and got into coaching when her daughter Megan was in second grade. She coached Megan’s teams until Westminster asked her to take charge of the varsity program four years ago.
With Richburg, Megan Gaché, and a core of Morgan White, Macy Mixon, Rachel Price, Tori Deen, Evelyn Godfrey, Mary Catherine Griffith and Virginia Welch due back next season, the future is bright for the Knights.
“Being a part of it has been phenomenal,” Dana Gaché said.