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Onye Osemenam of Maranatha Christian Academy.
Maranatha Christian Academy’s girls’ basketball team has come a long way in four years, from earning traveling calls for helping up fallen teammates on the court to recording two state championships.
The Mustangs (26-4) will begin their fourth consecutive state tournament and strive for their third consecutive Class 1A championship Thursday.
Those trips and titles are linked to the team’s only senior, fourth-year center Onye Osemenam.
“There’s no question that she was an integral part in helping to build the program to where it is right now,” assistant coach Walter Walker said.
The 6-2 co-captain averages more than five blocks and nine rebounds per game.
Walker said opponents have had to double-, triple- or quadruple-team her to stop her.
“I honestly look at it as a honor having been here since the first year we went to state when I was in ninth grade,” Osemenam said.
“And just seeing the progress of the team is really encouraging, and it gives me hope for the program in the future too.”
The Mustangs will face Ada-Borup in the quarterfinals, and two other familiar rivals are in their bracket — Upsala and Mountain Iron-Buhl.
The Mustangs defeated Upsala twice in the regular season but lost to Mountain Iron-Buhl 65-57.
“It’d be great to just get another opportunity to play them in the championship,” Osemenam said.
Osemenam’s playing career will continue in college. She signed to play Division I basketball for Missouri State.
“I just want to win another state championship and then I’ll be good to go,” Osemenam said. “I’m really excited and looking forward to [college], but these next three games are my focus.”
Junior guard Madison Lee said the team will have to find a different style of play next year without Osemenam. But what it will miss most, she said, is the “ultimate example’’ that Osemenam sets.
“She is like the sweetest person,” Lee said. “I mean it’s not just an example on the court but off the court, too. … She plays [with] her whole heart.”
Megan Ryan is a University of Minnesota student reporter on assignment for the Star Tribune.