The Lady Bruins celebrate after beating Martinez Middle School 34-16. (Photo courtesy of Burns Middle School.)

The Burns Middle School girls basketball team made history, going undefeated and winning its first county championship.

“I thought winning the county championship was a satisfying way to end my time playing middle school basketball,” said team captain and leading scorer Noelle Mengel. “I’m proud of how hard the team worked to go undefeated this season.”

The Lady Bruins were dominant, going undefeated (8-0), outscoring opponents 260-90 all season. They beat Mulrennan, Turner Bartels and Martinez Middle Schools on their way to the title. Mengel led all scorers with 14 points in the 34-16 championship game win against Martinez. Fellow team captain and leading rebounder Madison Rothenbush had eight rebounds (six offensive) and four steals.

“What makes me most proud of being on this team is that we play as a family,” said Rothenbush. ”Everyone gives 100 percent at practices, trying to become better players, and everyone plays, not for themselves, but for each other. Our bench is one of the best in the county, always cheering and lifting up our teammates, even though they might not be in the game at the moment.”

The team consists of 16 players from sixth through eighth grade, including: Mengel, Rothenbush, Isabella Tirri, Aydan Walker, Alexa Serniotti, Lindsay Cable, Jayla Watt, Elizabeth Waters, Grace Miller, Sara Golden, Icyss Lopez, Isabella Phan, Kimayja Frank, Nisaiah Jackson, Natalie Cable and Aviance Torres.

First-year Head Coach Wes Knauer was impressed with how quickly his team came together, making defense its calling card. He built his team on four principles for his players —being coachable, being a good teammate, working as hard as you can and having fun. Knauer, who is also an assistant for the Bloomingdale High School girls basketball team, had two assistants, his daughter, Ava Knauer, who plays for Bloomingdale, and Michaela White, who is the head junior varsity coach for the Bulls as well.

“There’s not a lot of practice time and the season is very short—by the end of the season we truly were a team,” said Knauer. “We had a lot of talent, but we played as a team and had great chemistry.”

Rothenbush said that she plans on trying out for her high school team next season while improving upon her craft. She will never forget her time as a Burns Bruin.

“These girls have become my family,” she said. “Part of the reason we won this year isn’t just because we had skill, it’s also because we stayed playing as a team during the tough times and trusted each other. I plan on being at all the Burns games next year to cheer on my girls.”

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Nick Nahas has written for the Osprey Observer since 2016. He has lived in the Valrico area since 2002 and has his bachelor’s degree in mass communications from the University of South Florida. He is dedicated to covering sports in Hillsborough County at every level.