Madison celebration
The Warhawks celebrate their fourth consecutive trip to the state finals after the 34-24 victory over Robinson.

Madison defense shuts down Robinson as Warhawks make fourth straight state title game

If there was any doubt left that the Madison Warhawks weren’t a well-coached, hard-working team before last night, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who doubts them now.

Having lost eight seniors in 2022, the Warhawks knew the road back to a fourth straight state championship game would be difficult, but not impossible. Monday night at South Lakes they defeated the formidable Robinson Rams in a Class 6 semifinal 34-24, to punch their ticket to VCU and the state title game.

“We always said at the beginning of the year, you can put us wherever you want, we’re just going to keep doing what we’re doing. I think that’s been our mentality, is to work hard and go game by game,” said Warhawks Head Coach Kirsten Stone.

Not that anyone was writing them off, as the area has grown accustomed to Stone’s defensively-wired and talented teams the last decade and a half now.

Out the gate, both teams were locked in on defense, drawing charges and several jump balls. Robinson went immediately to its bread-and-butter, all-district post combination of sophomore Georgia Simonsen (10 points, eight rebounds, two steals, one block) and senior Caroline Shimp (four points, four rebounds). They both got on the board, and after the boards, early.

Sarah Link (left) and
Sarah Link (left) and Avery Griepentrog put the squeeze on Robinson’s Caroline Shimp.

But as the Warhawks settled down into their defensive game plan, the two posts found themselves stifled, much in part due to senior G/F Sarah Link (10 points, four assists, four rebounds) and Avery Griepentrog (three points, seven rebounds, two assists, two blocks), who spent the night three-quarter fronting Shimp and Simonsen, or helping each other in the post.

“They [the Rams] bring back a lot of experience because they got to states last year and they have great post chemistry,” said Link. “So our main thing was being in help and making sure we help out in the post. We have been used to shooting teams and not really post-centered teams, so we really needed to get that help in there.”

“We’re not really huge or small, so what we would do, we were three-quarter fronting and help was a huge factor; it’s not necessarily just us working on it, it’s the entire team watching for that,” Griepentrog added, who gave the block specialist Simonsen a taste of her own medicine.

Both Madison and Robinson only lost once to public school competition in the regular season, and each won their respective regions. The two met in the same situation last year. Monday night the Rams never gave in even as Madison began to pull away in the second half and take the lead into double digits.

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Madison’s Adeline Suryabudi and Kayla Dixon, who combined for double figure scoring, were all smiles late in the game.

“We prepared for Robinson’s two bigs, they’re well coached, we talked about our options defensively, but no matter what to make sure we play smart and play together,” Stone said.

The victory last night and a victory on Friday might even taste sweeter than the previous three state titles, when the road wasn’t as challenging for the Warhawks.

“This year we had to actually lock in and work for everything. We had to look at the regular season, then district play, and then regionals. We just take it game by game.” said Griepentrog.

“We worked hard every practice, at the start of the season we discussed our short-term and long-term goals. Of course state was a long-term goal but if we focus on the now, it will hopefully help us in the future,” said Link about the journey back to this point.

While their season came to an end, Robinson (26-4) has much to look forward to in the next two years with Georgia Simonsen in the post and freshman guard Madison Coutinho, who showed flashes of brilliance this season.

Adeline Suryabudi and Kayla Dixon added six points apiece for Madison (24-4), who will face Manchester on Friday at 6:00 pm. Last year the Warhawks defeated Osbourn Park, so the state title game will be yet another challenge for Stone’s team.

–Max Nagle