They gave it everything they had.
Unfortunately for the girls basketball team, it just wasn't enough Tuesday night in the regional opener against Macomb Area Conference Red foe Utica Ford II.
"There isn't a single one of us who can't walk away from this game and know we didn't give 110 percent tonight," Dakota senior Vera Dusaj said after the team's, 51-44 loss. "That means a lot, especially to us seniors. It's disappointing to lose, but we can hold our heads high for our effort."
The Cougars' effort was outstanding, according to Dakota coach Phil McCune.
"We made a few mistakes here and there," McCune said. "But our effort was amazing."
The game was everything a regional round matchup should be—close, hard-fought and intense.
Throughout the second half, the two squads traded the lead. The margin never grew to more than four points either way in the fourth quarter until several free throws pushed Ford II's lead to seven points in the closing seconds.
Dakota got out of the blocks extremely hot, with freshman knocking down a pair of three-point shots at the close of the first half to give the Cougars a 28-19 lead heading into the break.
Ford came out in the third quarter, however, and immediately went on a 7-0 run to tighten the contest.
"I'm really proud of my girls," McCune said. "We went against four of the top seniors in Macomb County tonight and I thought our young girls really did well. We were right there the whole way. And who knows, one or two of those loose balls go the other way and this could be a different outcome. That's how close it was tonight."
Dudgeon paced the Cougars with 14 points, while sophomore poured in 10 points in the loss.
The fact that the team was led by underclassmen shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who has followed the team. Dakota, with only a handful of seniors on the roster, has a rotation that consists of five sophomores and a freshman.
"We've got a good, young nucleus on this team," McCune said. "And I think those girls learned an awful lot tonight. This experience is something they can bring into next season. I don't see any reason for us not to take the next step after this next season."
That said, the loss brings an end to the careers of each of Dakota's four seniors on the roster, including Shawna Maeder, , Laura Fett and Dusaj.
"Vera and Kourtney, all of our seniors really, did such great job with the younger players this year," the coach said. "A lot of times the seniors can get down on the younger players. That wasn't the case with these seniors at all. They had a lot of patience and they really helped these younger players get better."
Dusaj saw that as part of her role and her legacy to the team.
"I think it was part of my job to teach the younger players, especially the guards, how to win, how to play at this level," Dusaj said. "I hope they're better players because I was able to teach them something this year. That's an important part of what all of us seniors can leave behind. It really is."
Dakota wrapped up the 15-9 overall.