As a talented freshman M.J. Buschmann got a taste of what the Missouri state playoffs was like, as she played a reserve role for the St. James High School girls' basketball team that reached the Missouri Class 4 Quarterfinals.
And with all-staters back and a talented group coming up, it appeared that Buschmann may play a part in several state playoff runs.
However, thanks to a pesky conference rival and a season-ending knee injury, Buschmann spent her next two seasons on the sidelines, watching another team attempt to reach the Mizzou Arena and the state tourney Final Four.
As a freshman Buschmann was the next star-in-the-making for a Lady Tiger squad that had a rich tradition of all-staters. She began that season by helping the STJ junior varsity team level all comers and eventually worked herself up to the varsity rotation, where she played a role in helping the Lady Tigers advance to the Class 4 Quarterfinals, where they lost to eventual state champion Webb City.
As a sophomore Buschmann's role was expanded on a team that featured all-state point guard Rachel Connell and eventual all-state forward Brittany Harris-Conway. However, Connell missed much of the season with injury and St. James ran into red-hot Four Rivers Conference rival Hermann in the district finals. Hermann won the district and eventually advanced to the Class 3 championship game.
And last season Buschmann was expected to be one of the area's top performers in another Lady Tiger run. However, around the holiday break Buschmann suffered a knee injury which required season-ending surgery, and the painfully-young Lady Tigers again fell short in the district tourney finals against Hermann.
That led to this season and a hungry Buschmann, now a senior, wanted another taste of the state playoffs.
The 5-10 left-handed forward with a smooth three-point stroke finally gets another crack at it on Wednesday. St. James captured the Missouri Class 3 District 9 Tournament championship by besting Dixon 64-49 Saturday at Cuba High School.
The Lady Tigers, 23-4 and ranked No. 7 in the final regular-season state poll, will stay in their county to take on Licking in Class 3 Sectional action Wednesday, starting at 7:45 p.m. at S&T's Gale Bullman Multi-Purpose Building in Rolla.
"It was fun, my freshman year," Buschmann said. "But it's definitely more special this year, especially being one of the leaders of the team. I'm just really ready to be there."
But for a while earlier this month it appeared Buschmann and the Lady Tigers may be frustrated again. The squad was cruising during the season, unbeaten and ranked No. 1 in Class 3. However, over the final six games of the regular-season St. James lost four times. Thoughts of the previous two disappointments started creeping in.
Certainly not the way a squad wants to enter the postseason.
Page 2 of 2 - "Actually I think it helped us a lot," Buschmann said of the team's late losing skid. "I think we were a little overconfident. We came out (in the district tournament) with a vengeance; ready to win."
To do so the Lady Tigers had to get past a strong Dixon squad, led by two-time all-stater Hunter Yoakum; a team that hadn't lost since December.
Buschmann matched Yoakum's 23-point total on Saturday and the Lady Tigers defeated Dixon for the second time this season.
"We realized Yoakum wasn't the only one we had to worry about," Buschmann said. "Everybody helped on Hunter, Mattie (Whitaker) and their other shooters."
Buschmann would dearly love another shot at the state quarterfinals and a chance to help get the Lady Tigers to their fifth Final Four state tournament appearance.
St. James will have to go through the Licking Lady Wildcats on Wednesday to accomplish that goal. The Lady Tigers defeated Licking 72-54 Dec. 20 at Licking.
"I don't think we have to do much different than our first game with them," Buschmann said of Wednesday's game plan against Licking. "But we've got to rebound better than we did last time."