Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
JACKSON — Notre Dame’s junior class doesn’t know what it’s like to not win a district title.
In fact, the Titans expect to win district championships at this point.
When the program won its first-ever district crown back in 2018, it was a huge deal … and that’s an understatement. But since that point, the Titans have aimed higher.
A regional title is now what Notre Dame is shooting for. District titles are now the norm.
With a 49-35 win over Belpre on Thursday at Jackson, Notre Dame (23-2) nailed down its third consecutive district championship … and its third-ever.
“That final buzzer sounded and I couldn’t keep a smile off my face, and I still can’t,” junior Ava Hassel said. “It’s sort of become an expectation for us now and we don’t want to settle for anything less. It was our goal to get back to regionals and go farther than we did last year. We want to continue setting the mark higher.”
Hassel, as usual, was electrifying.
The Titans’ point guard scored a team-high 16 points — 13 of which came in the first half — and added four assists to the mix.
While Hassel was the engine that kept the team running in the first two quarters, senior Taylor Schmidt took over that role in the second half. She ended the night with 13 points, five rebounds and three assists.
“Going into the game, we knew [Belpre] liked to score in transition,” Schmidt said. “So we had to stop that. But we like to play fast, too. That was something we needed to work on. Winning a third straight district championship is pretty cool. That’s the first time in school history that we’ve done that. We just did it in volleyball, so doing it in basketball is something to be proud of.”
Out of the gates, Notre Dame seized a 6-0 lead on the heels of Schmidt and Hassel. Belpre’s first bucket came with 4:04 left in the first quarter before the Titans took a 15-6 lead into the second.
With 3:57 left before halftime, Schmidt buried a triple to put Notre Dame ahead 23-10. The Titans rode that momentum into halftime, leading 28-17.
After the break, Belpre (19-6) managed to cut the lead to 32-25. But Notre Dame’s Cassie Schaefer nailed a 3-point field goal with 1:41 left in the third, pushing the lead back into double digits … where the Titans kept it throughout the rest of the contest.
After Hassel and Schmidt’s combined 29 points, Claire Dettwiller posted eight points and seven rebounds while Isabel Cassidy added five points and three assists. Lauren Campbell helped out with four points and four boards while Schaefer ended with three points.
Notre Dame advances to a Division IV regional semifinal, where the Titans will meet with Peebles. That game is set for 7 p.m., March 5 at Jackson.
It’s a rematch of last year’s contest between the two, one the Indians won by a 46-42 final.
“We definitely have to focus on [Peebles’ Jacey Justice], but we can’t focus on her too much,” Hassel said. “I think that’s kind of what we did last year and it killed us. A couple of the other girls scored and they probably shouldn’t have. We need to play our game, like we know how. We need to be really good at maximizing our defensive possessions and limiting their shots.”
Belpre: 6-11-10-8 — 35
Notre Dame: 15-13-9-12 — 49
Belpre: 16-34 FG, 3-6 FT, 0-6 3 pt., 26 rebounds (Waderker 6, Giffin 6), 22 turnovers, 8 assists (Giffin 4). Scoring: Waderker 17, Giffin 8, Bush 6, Williams 4.
Notre Dame: 19-54 FG, 4-6 FT, 7-22 3 pt., 23 rebounds (Dettwiller 7), 10 turnovers, 12 assists (Hassel 4). Scoring: Hassel 16, Schmidt 13, Dettwiller 8, Cassidy 5, Campbell 4, Schaefer 3.