The Grain Valley girls basketball team has gradually been making progress over the last three years.
After being eliminated in the semifinals of the district tournament to Notre Dame de Sion in 2014, the Eagles won the district title in 2015 to qualify for the sectional playoffs. Last season, they went 22-6, won another district title and made it to the Class 4 state quarterfinals before losing to eventual state champion St. Joseph Benton.
Could this be the year that Grain Valley gets over the hump and makes it to the field of the final four teams in the Class 4 state tournament?
Seniors Claire Rose and Kendyll Bailey certainly think it’s a possibility.
“We want to get past that game,” Bailey said of the state quarterfinals.
With those two playing for the Eagles, it could certainly happen. Rose and Bailey have been the linchpins that have held the team together the last few seasons and will have one last crack at a deep run in the playoffs.
Both have scored more than 1,000 points in their respective high school careers and combined for 34.7 points, 7.7 rebounds and 8.5 assists per game during the 2015-16 season. Bailey is the solid rebounder who was good at scoring in the paint and could also occasionally step outside and shoot 3-pointers, while Rose is adept at driving to the basket, drawing double teams, finding open teammates and hitting shots from the perimeter.
“They both know how to play,” Grain Valley coach Randy Draper said. “They both have 1,000-point careers already. Kendyll in the district tournament and Rose in the state quarterfinal game. It was funny that they did it so close together because you always think of them together. It’s always Rose and Bailey, Bailey and Rose.”
At the beginning of last season, Grain Valley had trouble getting scoring out of anyone outside of those two, but Maiya Randle and Paula Williams eventually provided some scoring punch.
Those two have now graduated, so the Eagles will be looking for others to increase their roles in the offense. Maddie Knust, a post player who came of the bench last season, likely will take over at center. Kendra Sibert, who was mainly a defensive player off the bench last season, will see a lot of time at guard this season. Draper also expects the athletic Brittney McKay to be a factor.
“I think Knust has the ability to do it,” Draper said. “”She’s shown signs that she can be a consistent scorer for us. I think Kendra Sibert has gotten a lot better. She and Brittney McKay played in some really big games for us last year. I think both of them will have really nice seasons for us.”
Rose and Bailey have similar thoughts about their supporting cast and feel that the chemistry amongst the players is at an all-time high.
“(McKay and Sibert) bring a lot of energy to the team. They will start for us,” Rose said. “We have the heart and feel we can compete with anybody.”
Added Bailey: “We will be a lot quicker than we were last year. I think we mesh better. Everyone’s talents, everyone’s job, they know what to do. We work really well together.”
Without the 6-foot Williams, the Eagles will lack size, so Draper and his players expect the frequency of their full-court presses and pushing the pace on offense to ramp up even more.
“We play that way anyway and it really fits this team,” Draper said. “It’s a lot easier to press a lot and pressure a lot if you’ve got people who can do it and don’t blink.”
Even without size, the Eagles seem like they have the potential to make their deepest playoff run in school history. It won’t be easy though, Draper said.
“If we can get to that game (the quarterfinals), that’s hard to do,” he said. “I think it helped last year’s team that we got to sectionals the year before and I think it could help this year’s team that we got to the quarterfinals last year. We know how hard it is. It’s a great goal to have and keep yourself motivated in practice.”