by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
Maria Loughlin played in the biggest game of her career last Friday, and delivered the best game of her career.
Her ability to lead Rogers to a section championship victory was poetic justice for a player whose senior year was curtailed by a knee injury 13 months ago.
“When she’s 100 percent she is one of the sharpest outside shots in this area,” said her coach, Jeremy Digiovanni. “You could see that Friday. When she got on a roll, she can really hit that big shot. But that’s been streaky this year.”
The 5-7 guard sank a career-high 22 points, including three 3-pointers, along with 7 rebounds, as the Royals beat Monticello 51-36 for the Section 5AAA title. But she’d scored just 11 points in the first two section games.
“My knee is good,” she maintained. “I’ve just had kind of a rough year anyway.”
That rough year resumed with a scoreless game at “state” in a loss to DeLaSalle on Wednesday to end her carer, but she tallied 825 points in three seasons along with 300 rebounds and 193 assists.
Her right knee, injured when knocked to the floor in a collision against Princeton, is not what it should be yet. A screw inserted during surgery sometimes jabs into the ligament. She’ll need another surgery to correct that, after the season.
Loughlin made all-conference her first two seasons. She averaged 10 points and 3 rebounds on a 15-13 team as a sophomore. Last year, she was averaging 12.4 points after 22 games when she tore the ACL. She missed seven games as her teammates battled to the section finals and lost on a last-second shot.
Before the mishap, she was on pace to be perhaps a 14-15 ppg scorer as a senior. Instead she averaged 9.5 points, along with 5.1 rebounds and 3.4 assists.
“My goal was to get back where I was before, not get a certain amount of points,” said Loughlin. She’ll have to wait until the second surgery for that, and plans to continue next year at a small college.
The long-stem-med lefthander had a couple other big games this year, 20 points (four 3-pointers) in a 59-55 loss to Elk River and 17 (five 3-pointers, tying the school record) in a 65-62 OT loss to Big Lake.
“This year I’m scoring mostly from the outside,” said Loughlin. “I used to drive more and get to the free throw line more.”
Digiovanni describes Loughlin as “just the nicest kid, but a quiet kid, not one who’s going to give any speeches.”
The coach knows he’s didn’t see vintage Loughlin most of the time this year.
“At 100 percent she could really create while driving with the ball,” said the coach. “She was also our leader in deflecting passes and forcing bad passes, because she has very quick hands and anticipates real well, but she hasn’t done that as well this year.”
He added: “But she is very focused, and on the court, wants nothing more than to win. Again, you saw that last Friday night.”
THE LOUGHLIN SCORECARD
Personal file — Age: 18 … Family: parents Steve and Terry; sister Camille, 21; brother Cullin, 16 … Sport: basketball … Academics: B’s … College plans: undecided where; physical therapy, basketball
Favorite stuff — Class: Health … Movie: “Dumb & Dumber” …. Athlete: Maya Moore … Teams: Timberwovles, Celtics … Food: Pizza Ranch buffet … Drink: Arizona tea …. Kickback: rollerblading, biking, running … Place she’d like to visit: Australia