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WISCONSIN RAPIDS (WAOW) -
Assumption girls basketball players are celebrating a state title win by remembering someone who was once a big part of the team.
A popular former Assumption high school basketball player passed away earlier this year and girls head coach Joe Birkhauser came up with a unique way to celebrate her impact.
"She's the type of person that you want to know and if you had the opportunity to know, you were blessed. There's no doubt about it," he said.
Kiley Flugaur was a senior in 1998 when the Assumption girls basketball team won a state title. It was Joe Birkhauser's second year leading the team.
"I don't think anybody could ever say a bad thing about Kiley," he told Newsline 9.
Kiley was a three-sport athlete, involved in the community and Birkhauser said she always kept in touch with her alma mater and the team. He said. above all, she was a woman of strong faith.
"I mean, there are so many things that stood out about Kiley," he added.
But earlier this year, a tragedy occurred. Kiley suffered a cerebral blood clot and passed away on March 3. The team was determined to honor her, bringing her jersey to playoff games and keeping it on the bench.
"I'll never forget it. I went and got the jersey, knew it was 22, and went back on the bus and asked the girls if it would be ok...without hesitation they all said, coach, that would be great," Birkhauser said.
"We're all a family and just because she graduated doesn't mean she wasn't a part of it anymore. We wanted to keep her a part of it and show our support for her," junior guard Brittney Birkhauser said.
Players said Kiley's story inspired them and that her jersey served as a reminder of what's really important.
"When we would sub into the game we would run past the jersey and yes, it's just a game, basketball is just a game, but it gave us motivation to play for each other and play for our Assumption family," senior forward Hannah Skibba said.
"She always came back to our games and if she would have been here, I know she would have been at the state tournament supporting the kids," Birkhauser added.
Team members said the title they just won is in honor of Kiley. Assumption school officials plan to hang her jersey next to the state title banner in the high school gymnasium as a permanent tribute.
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