Emotions can hit people at different times, but it did not take long for senior Emma Brune to be filled with them after playing in her final home game as a member of the Saxony Lutheran girls basketball team on Feb. 13.
Brune, who is on pace to finish her career as the Crusaders all-time leading scorer, netted a game-high 29 points in Saxony’s 70-42 win over Kennett, while fellow seniors Olivia Spanley and Makayla Mueller combined for 17.
“We’ve had so much fun [over the past four years],” Brune said. “We’re super close, and it’s definitely a super emotional night. … It hasn’t hit me completely yet [that I’ve played my final home game], but it’s definitely starting to. I’m super emotional about it.”
On top of it being the last time Brune, Mueller and Spanley will ever play at Saxony’s home court, it was also Sam Sides’ final home game as the team’s head coach. Sides will continue being the school’s athletic director, but this is his final season at the helm of the girls basketball program.
“The older I get, the more sentimental and more emotional I get because it means a lot to me and these kids mean a lot to me,” Coach Sides said. “They’ve given me everything they have — it’s very emotional for me, and you’re going to miss them.
“Coach [Ron] Cook told me he had a hard time quitting at Jackson because the kids coming behind [the seniors] are going to be upperclassmen next year. [I’ve realized] that’s something you have to deal with no matter when you quit.”
Sides said the main reason why he is retiring from coaching following the season is because of how fatigued he becomes as well as not being 100%. He missed a game this season due to being in the hospital.
Coach Sides said his senior class is typical of the previous he’s had at Saxony because they are great to work with, but Brune, who has started all four years and only missed one game, has stood out to him.
“I don’t know if Emma is the best player I’ve ever coached, but if you put everything together between skills, shooting and playmaking ability, enthusiasm, energy, defensive skill and mental toughness — [Brune] has it all,” Coach Sides said. “I’ve coached a lot of good players, but I wouldn’t trade her for anybody. She’s just a joy to coach.”
Brune watched her older sister Maddie, who recently graduated from Troy University after playing soccer there for four years, win four-straight district championships with Sides. Brune now has the chance to do the same as Saxony has been seeded first in this year’s Class 3 District 2 Tournament.
“[With it being Coach Sides’ final home game as well] makes it even more special,” Brune said. “He’s an amazing person and an amazing coach, and I’m just super happy for him. It’s going to take all of us [to win another district title]. We need everyone scoring and everyone’s defense and to put it all together and just work super hard, and we’ll be fine.”
Nearly every Crusader on the court scored against Kennett as junior Maddox Murphy paced Brune with a 14-point performance off the bench. This was three points shy of Murphy’s career high total of 17.
Murphy also hit two of Saxony’s five 3-pointers as Mueller, who finished with seven points, along with juniors Alice Hogendobler and Sydney Turner each recorded a triple as well.
This is Mueller’s second and final year in the starting lineup for Saxony, and she contributed off the bench her first two years with the Crusaders.
“If you watch her play, [Mueller] isn’t going to impress you with her speed, but her basketball I.Q. is up there with anybody and she makes plays. She’ll pick your pocket — she can handle the ball, and when she’s shooting the ball well for us, she makes us a lot better basketball team.”
Brune, Spanley and freshman Emma Dunning were the only three players to score for Saxony who did not manage to hit a shot from beyond the arc, but Spanley was able to finish with eight points in the second half after only scoring two in the first to come up with double digits.
“That’s good to see, and we’ve been working on trying to get everybody to contribute a little bit,” Coach Sides said. “Maddox can score a little bit and Sydney can, and we just got Alice back to help us, so we have a little more weaponry than we had before. That’s going to make us tougher, but still I didn’t think we played very good defense.”
Saxony’s defense allowed two players for Kennett to finish in the double-digit scoring column as junior Caroline Patton led the Indians with 13 points, while fellow junior Kaniya Madlock paced her at 11 off the bench. No other player for Kennett scored more than four points.
As for the Crusaders third and final senior, Spanley is the only other player besides Brune to have eclipsed 20 points and came up with a career-high 24 against Alton Jan. 29 in the Hillsboro Invitational.
Sides said Spanley’s role for the team has changed every season, but this is her first year as a full-time starter and is Saxony’s second-leading scorer behind Brune.
“We didn’t really need [Spanley] a whole lot her freshman and sophomore year on the varsity level,” Coach Sides said. “She’s our leading rebounder, but she still gets in foul trouble. It’s like she’s jinxed in some of that because some are touchy fouls and gets out of position. I told her, ‘We need you on the floor.’
“If she gets in foul trouble in the playoffs, we’re probably cooked because we need her on the floor since she’s really the only size we have. Kennett triple teamed her and didn’t give her any avenue, but she’s pretty good about getting through [a defense] and scoring.”
On Saturday, the Crusaders (14-10) traveled north to face St. Charles West (11-9) as Saxony came away victorious at 62-56 and hit a total of seven 3-pointers. Turner hit two of them, while Brune, Hogendobler, Mueller, Murphy and Spanley hit one apiece.
Spanley scored a game-high 19 points in the contest, while Brune was held to 15 as she was 45% from the field but managed to go 4-for-4 from the free-throw line. Spanley and Murphy each finished with 10 or more points and combined for 21.
Saxony’s seven-year reign as district champions begins against Clearwater on Saturday in Fredericktown.