The much anticipated Class 5 sectional matchup between Suburban Middle Six champion Truman and Suburban Big Six champ Lee's Summit North offers everything that intrigues high school girls basketball fans:
• Two successful veteran coaches in Truman's Steve Cassity and Lee's Summit North's Tricia Lillygren.
• Some future Division I players in the Patriots' Becca Jonas and Abby Hix and the Broncos' Imani Johnson.
• Two programs that have enjoyed final four success and are hungry to get back to Mizzou Arena.
• Two of the top teams in the state as the second-ranked Patriots take a 25-1 record into the contest against the 21-5 Broncos.
“It really does have all you could ask for,” Cassity said before Tuesday's practice session. “We really are a lot alike with Becca and Imani, great players surrounding those players and I have so much respect for Tricia and all she has accomplished at North.
“We've played them twice this year and we were lucky enough to come away with wins each time – but last time, they had the ball at the end and we had a 1-point lead and came away with a victory, so it should be a great game Wednesday.”
Lillygren, who took the Claire Coggins-led Broncos to three consecutive final fours (winning one state title), believes the two teams will put on a great show for area fans at 6:30 tonight at the Independence Events Center.
“I'm heading to practice right now,” Lillygren said, “and I know how pumped up my girls are for the game. So many people are talking about the Becca-Imani matchup, and it will be great, but we have to contend with Truman's great team approach to the game. Coach Cassity does such a great job getting all his girls involved in the game – and he has so much talent.”
In addition to Jonas, a Drake University signee, that talent includes Hix, sophomore sensation Bri Savidge and guard Sydney Paialii, who had the unenviable task of replacing all-around standout senior Kayla Harrell, who tore her ACL and is out for the season.
“Abby can just be devastating from the outside and is an outstanding guard,” Cassity said of the senior who has signed with Division I Georgia Southern. “Bri has been a double-double player most of the season. Syd has come in and done a great job replacing Kayla – one of the most athletic players on the team – and (guard) Ashley McKinney is really underrated because she does so many things you don't see in the box score.
“Then, we can bring in Lexi Hart off the bench, who can jump out of the gym. But we know what North is capable of and we better come ready to play, or we could be in trouble.”
Jonas says that will not be a problem.
“The last time we played them it was a 1-point game, and besides, any time you play a team at this point of the season you know you're playing a great team,” said Jonas, who is averaging 24 points a game in the postseason and 17.9 overall.
“You throw records out the window and show up prepared to play your best game.”
That's what Paialii hopes to do.
“No one can replace a great player like Kayla,” Paialii said, “so all the girls on the team just gave it that much more effort to make sure we make up for her loss. I don't go out and try to be Kayla, I just go out and give the team all I have – and that's what all the girls have done all season.”
The Truman fans are encouraged to wear white to the game to have a “white out” night at the IEC, activities director Eric Holm said.
“Our fans are the best,” Hix said. “And all anyone is talking to me about is the game and wearing white. I hope we walk into the Events Center and everyone is wearing white and it inspires us to play even harder. Nothing gets a team going like great fans, and our fans are the best.”