As the Lee’s Summit North girls basketball team tried to hold off North Kansas City during their Class 5 state quarterfinal last Saturday, Broncos senior forward Jaden Powell thought about trying to get back into the game during the final minute, despite just taking a nasty spill that busted a tooth and caused a bloody mouth.
“Imani (Johnson) was at the (foul) line, and I thought ‘If she made this one, I don’t need to go back in.’ She made it, and it was a five-point game.
“I think it will be even more worth it when I step on the Mizzou Arena floor,” Powell said, proudly grinning to show her chipped-away dental display. “I’ll forget about the tooth.”
When Powell and the Broncos (23-5) step onto that floor at 3:30 this afternoon, they’ll be facing third-ranked Eureka (28-3) in the Class 5 state semifinals. It’s a new setting for North’s players, but not for coach Tricia Lillygren, who guided the Broncos to three straight trips to Columbia 2000-02, winning a state title the third time.
Given that experience, she’s trying to impart a calm, businesslike demeanor for her team.
“Once we get there, I’ll enjoy it,” Lillygren said after practice Tuesday afternoon. “We’re working non-stop right now, but it’s definitely a good problem to have. We learned some things the last time – what to do and what not to do.”
One thing North will want to do is hang with, if not rein in, the pace of Eureka’s offense, which features four double-figure scorers and two others above 5 points per game. The Wildcats look to push the ball whenever possible, including secondary breaks after opponents’ baskets.
“It seems to be they like to run, so we’ve got to be ready to get up and down the floor,” Lillygren said. “They’ve got kids that can dribble-penetrate, penetrate and finish. They’re very balanced and seem to play a lot on the perimeter.”
Powell said the team knows its biggest emphasis all season will be of the utmost importance against Eureka.
“Defense, that’s what pretty much sustained us all season,” she said. “They can all drive to the basket. They get the ball out of the basket and just go so fast.”
The Wildcats’ top four scorers are all seniors: 5-foot-9 guards Kelsey Tepen (13.6 ppg) and Jessica Moore (11.9), 5-7 guard Tori Allen (10.7) and 6-foot forward Lindsey McCoy (10.7). Allen and Moore are the top threats from long range; McCoy averages 7.8 rebounds and Tepen 5.8; and Allen and Tepen have combined for more than 150 steals.
Lillygren’s team isn’t planning on stall ball, but she said her team has to be careful about getting into a track meet.
“It depends on which direction we’re running,” she said. “If we have a chance to run, we need to be sure we’re pushing the pace not because Eureka wants to, but because we do. It’s one thing we’re good at, but we’ll pick and choose our moments.”
Johnson, the 6-foot senior forward who earlier this week was named a finalist for the DiRenna Award as the top player in the Kansas City metro area, leads the Broncos with 17.6 points and 6.7 rebounds.
Her team’s biggest key, she said, is, “Just realizing that if we stay together, play the game of basketball that we practice, we’ll be good.”
Erica Nelson, 5-8 senior point guard, averages 12.3 points and 5.2 assists and has made 54 3-pointers, while the 5-9 Powell averages 7.8 points and 6.2 rebounds. Stevie Anderson (5-8 senior, 6.1 ppg) and LaChelle Parks (5-3 sophomore, 4.5 ppg) round out the starting five, and Johnson’s sister Aaliyah, a 6-foot freshman, has contributed 4.5 points and 3.9 rebounds off the bench.
The second Class 5 semifinal features St. Louis St. Joseph’s Academy (16-14) against top-ranked Columbia Rock Bridge (25-3). The winners meet in the championship game at 2:40 p.m. Saturday. The third-place game is at 11 a.m. Friday.