Note: This is the second in a series of stories about some of Wyoming’s biggest high school sports underdogs.
The Lingle girls basketball team won the 2006 Class 1A championship by the thinnest of margins — a phrase that can be defined in two different ways.
First, the scores: Lingle won its three state tournament games by a combined five points, which is a state record — no other Wyoming team has won a state basketball title with such a slim combined margin in its three tournament games.
Second, the shot: Lingle’s championship-winning shot in its 32-31 victory against Encampment, a 3-pointer at the buzzer from senior point guard Lindsay Worley, survived on its trajectory only after barely sailing past a defender’s outstretched hand on its way to the hoop.
Together, behind those final scores and that final shot, the Doggers put together one of the more improbable championship runs ever seen at a state basketball tournament.
The fact that Lingle was a noted underdog in each of its three state tournament games, too, makes the run all that more memorable, more than 16 years after it happened.
In what looked like a two-team race between Guernsey and Encampment to the title, the Doggers unexpectedly beat both pre-tournament favorites.
Worley, speaking this summer from her home in Wisconsin, said it felt like the Doggers won two championships that weekend. The first came in the semifinals, when undefeated Guernsey — constantly Lingle’s undoing — fell to the Doggers. The next came in the actual championship game, where Lingle knocked off two-time defending champion Encampment and Worley’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer provided the final margin.
“Nobody was banking on us to win the state championship game,” Worley said, “and that was like, the biggest upset.”
But before the title game came two other close games for Doggers, who came into the 2006 state tournament as the No. 3 seed from the East Regional. Lingle had barely won its third-place game at regionals by eking out a 65-63 victory against Kaycee — a portend of things to come.
In the first round at state, the 16-9 Doggers played 17-5 Farson, which was No. 2 out of the West and had nearly beaten Encampment the week before in the West Regional championship.
Lingle’s state championship run nearly ended there. The Doggers gave away a 14-point fourth-quarter lead, and Farson tied the game late. But Angela Ostrander hit a free throw with 2.6 seconds remaining, the last of her game-high 23 points, and Lingle survived and advanced, 51-50.
Up next? Those pesky, undefeated Vikings from Guernsey. The Vikings entered the game 25-0, rarely challenged and twice victors over Lingle in the regular season, including a 23-point victory against the Doggers just two weeks prior. This was a Guernsey team loaded with talent and athleticism, proven not only by the zero in the loss column but by their 1A volleyball championship — in which they beat Lingle in the title match — that fall.
But the rivalry went deeper than that, Worley said, all the way back to middle school.
“I just remember Guernsey always kicked our butts, every single year,” she said.
But Lingle matched Guernsey’s energy and chemistry, finally overcoming their nemesis neighbors and ending the Vikings’ undefeated season with a 56-53 victory.
“Our energy as a team, we were just not giving up,” Worley said. “It just switched. It was amazing how we all came together in that game.”
After the semifinal victory, the exhausted but elated Lingle team faced yet another challenge: Encampment, which was 21-4 and on the brink of a third consecutive championship, something that had never been accomplished at the 1A girls level in Wyoming.
“We weren’t nervous,” Worley said. “We were just excited, excited we made it to the championship game.”
Encampment’s methodical style was in sharp contrast to Guernsey’s running style the night before. In a pace Worley said was “crawling,” Encampment maintained control early.
“We were struggling as a team because they were defending really tight on our post side,” Worley said “That was our goal — our goal was to beat Encampment in the paint, but they were defending really well on the post.”
Down seven in the third quarter, though, the Doggers finally broke through and found some offensive and defensive consistency. Not much, but enough. So, Lingle rallied. And rallied. And rallied. Eventually, the Doggers pulled within two, at 31-29.
Down by that margin with 8 seconds remaining and 94 feet to go, Worley said the coach’s plan was to feed the post and play for overtime. But 31 minutes and 52 seconds of game play made Worley aware that the plan was tenuous.
“The way that Encampment was defending, they were just all over our post, and it never would have worked,” she said.
So as the huddle broke, and as the ball made its way upcourt in her teammates’ possession, Worley said “something, for me mentally just clicked, and I just needed the ball in my hands.”
She started calling for the ball, then clapping. Loudly. This was going to be her shot to take.
A teammate saw her near the top of the key and gave her the chance she was looking for. No time to think — Worley caught and shot, well beyond the 3-point line but still only millimeters over the outstretched arms of Encampment’s Kally Custis.
“That’s why the arc of the ball was so high. I remember shooting up and over her hand,” Worley said. ” … I just knew it was going in. I knew that was one of my strengths at the time. I was a shooter, and the shooter wants the ball.”
Worley’s 3-pointer beat the buzzer, and Lingle had just won its first modern girls state basketball championship by the thinnest of those two margins — a one-point, 32-31 victory that came on a shot that survived being blocked by less than a fingertip.
The realization of the significance of the shot came quickly for Worley, who looked up into the celebrating crowd and saw her father, tears in his eyes. Soon after, the two found each other, and Worley’s dad hugged her as dads do when they can’t contain their excitement, picking her up and twirling her around.
For Worley, who played her senior season only after recovering from back-to-back knee injuries, the championship was the closure of one chapter of her life. But she did take some time to soak in what she could and enjoy it.
“I was riding high for a full week after that,” Worley said.
Worley’s basketball career ended with that shot. She found her passion in health and fitness, a career she has pursued for the past 14 years. After getting her master’s degree in public health from the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse, Worley is now working as a heath educator, wellness coordinator and trainer at a manufacturing company in Wisconsin.
Meanwhile, the Doggers’ run from Worley’s senior year remains a testament to the unpredictable nature of sports, exemplifying how an entire team can dance on the edge of failure multiple times and still find success through good fortune, opportune timing and the right attitude in the game-defining moment.