From beginning to end, the Johnston Dragons were perfect.
Johnston completed an undefeated ride through the basketball season by winning its second state championship in three years, beating Waterloo West 51-31 to claim the Class 5A title.
The championship caps a 26-0 season for the Dragons, who became the first large school to go unbeaten since Des Moines East went 26-0 in claiming the title in a four-class tournament in 2011.
Johnston won it by playing sound defense, making some timely 3-pointers and staying with the athletic West players on the boards.
West (23-3), finishing as the state runner-up for the third time, trailed by only four at halftime but missed its first nine shots of the second half and never recovered.
All-tournament captain Anna Gossling led Johnston with 13 points, part of a line that included four rebounds, three assists and two steals. Aili Tanke, a sophomore who has committed to Iowa State, went 3-for-4 from 3-point range and scored 11 points. Molly Noelck, a junior who comes off the bench, also scored 11 with three 3-pointers.
University of Iowa recruit Jada Gyamfi led the Dragons with 12 rebounds and scored six points.
Johnston outrebounded West 32-28, committed only five turnovers and held the Wahawks to 26.2 percent shooting.
Sahara Williams led West with 14 points and pulled down nine rebounds. Halli Poock added nine points for the Wahawks and Brooklyn Smith had eight points and 10 rebounds.
Poock hit a jump shot 15 seconds into the game, but that was the only time West led. Johnston ran off the next nine points and the Wahawks had to play catchup the rest of way.
They did make a run late in the first half, getting two baskets each from Williams and Smith in an 8-2 run that cut the lead to 24-20. But when the shots didn’t fall in the third quarter, Johnston took advantage.
Tanke knocked down two 3-pointers and Noelck made one as the Dragons ran off 13 straight points to open a 37-20 lead. They outscored West 16-2 in the period to go up 40-22 and coasted from there.
Johnston returned to the championship game after two straight appearances in the finals against Waukee, winning in 2020 and losing last year.
Gyamfi joined Gossling on the all-tournament team along with Williams, Poock, West Des Valley’s Elise Jaeger and Pleasant Valley’s Halle Vice.