Gracie Anderson and the Covington Lady Buccs showed grit and determination against Russia, who is the fifth ranked team in the state. ©Ben Robinson/Color Green Photo

COVINGTON – In the championship game of the Buccaneer Holiday Classic, the Covington Lady Buccs came up on the short end of the scoreboard against the #5 ranked team in the state, Russia.

But the effort and performance the Lady Buccs put forth was the best of the season and will hopefully be a springboard for the upcoming new year, 2023.

“The girls played well,” said Covington coach Shawn Naff. “Russia is ranked number five in the state and we gave them our best effort. I’m proud of the kids.”

Effort is one thing, but relentless effort is at another level and the Lady Buccs gave relentless effort for every second of the four quarters played. It was needed to give themselves a chance against a Russia team who has a ton of talent throughout its entire roster.

Covington started out fast as it built a 7-2 lead early in the opening frame. Russia responded by going on a 12-0 run that was ended by a traditional three-point play by Carlie Besecker where she connected on a jumper and hit a free throw after being fouled.

Russia then hit a three-pointer and a layup to push its lead to 19-10, but the Lady Buccs responded in the closing seconds of the opening frame with three straight free throws by Maggie Anderson.

The Lady Raiders pushed their lead to 25-15 early in the second period, but Covington showed the heart and competitive desire by scoring seven unanswered points. Carlie Besecker connected on a short jumper and Maggie Anderson followed with a trey and two free throws to cut the deficit to 25-22 with 3:12 left in the half.

The Lady Buccs played a tight zone defensively, which threw Russia off until the Lady Raiders knocked down back-to-back three-pointers to close out the half with a 31-22 lead.

The third period was a defensive grind for both teams as neither could get much going at the offensive end. Russia was able to take advantage of some major turnovers committed by Covington in the period to outscore the Lady Buccs 7-2 to take a 38-24 lead with one period to play.

The 14-point advantage for Russia was the largest deficit Covington had faced in the game and many teams in that situation would fold under the defensive pressure implemented by the Lady Raiders.

But the Lady Buccs never folded. Instead, they embraced the challenge and battled as hard as they could to get themselves back into the game.

Gracie Anderson knocked down a pair of threes and buckets by Avery Koffer, Carlie Besecker and Erika Gostomsky, to go along with two free throws by Maggie Anderson, put the Lady Buccs within striking distance.

Unfortunately, Russia was able to fend Covington off by making the free throws it needed down the stretch to hold on for a 47-38 win.

“Going against a team like that, when you played the night before and playing that hard is a testament to how hard the girls work in practice,” said Naff. “Our coaching staff is very pleased with the progress these girls have show this season.”

Yes, Covington didn’t win the game and saw its overall record drop to 8-5 on the season, but what these girls displayed on the floor is symbolic of what has become the tradition of Lady Buccs basketball – relentless effort, team-first attitude, being coachable, and a never-quit mentality. This tradition was established decades ago and has been carried through the recent Jim Meyer era and Brandon Studebaker tenure.

Interim coach Shawn Naff and his assistant coaches Ashley Johnson and Kayla McEldowney are doing a great job of instilling these same values into the girls – which hopefully leads to success over the remainder of the season.

Carlie Besecker puts up a shot against Russia on Thursday. ©Ben Robinson/Color Green Photo

Russia – 19 – 12 – 7 – 9 = 47
Covington – 13 – 9 – 2 – 14 = 38

Maggie Anderson – 13
Carlie Besecker – 11
Gracie Anderson – 10
Avery Koffer – 2
Erika Gostomsky – 2

Cece Borchers – 18
Reese Goubeaux – 9
Miah Monnin – 8
Roni Poling – 7
Kate Sherman – 3
Kelby Doseck – 2

Covington – Gracie Anderson (2), Maggie Anderson (2)
Russia – Reese Goubeaux (3), Cece Borchers (2), Miah Monnin (2)

Maggie Anderson takes the ball to the basket against a very good Russia defense. ©Ben Robinson/Color Green Photo