Lee’s Summit North seniors Aiyana Johnson, Micaela Dickerson and Alexis Griffin remember how a magical season ended in stomach-turning fashion last year.
The Broncos seemed unbeatable as they went into the Class 5 District 13 tournament unbeaten at 24-0. And then they ran into Belton in the semifinals and lost 47-46 in a stunning upset.
That has served as a motivation to North’s six seniors – who have put together a great 2017-18 campaign.
“We learned not to take things for granted after last year,” Griffin said. “We were undefeated last year, so it seemed like no one could touch us. And this year, we have to prove to people that nobody can touch us.”
After starting 3-3 this season, the Broncos have gone 18-2 since and have had a much better postseason result than a year ago. They defeated Lee’s Summit West 57-43 in the district final and then upended the state No. 1-ranked North Kansas City Hornets 47-46 in overtime in Wednesday’s sectional game.
The Broncos now have a chance to advance to the state final four for the first time since 2014 when they will face Liberty in the Class 5 state quarterfinals at 1 p.m. Saturday at Silverstein Eye Centers Arena.
A senior-laden squad has been the driving force in North’s postseason run and 10-game winning streak. Those seniors include Johnson, Griffin, Dickerson, Tiana Gipson, Erica O’Dell and Zakiyyah Winston, who account for six of the team’s seven primary rotational players.
After a rocky start to the season, the chemistry among the seniors was bound to improve, especially since all of them but Gipson, a transfer from O’Hara, had played together for several years.
Johnson has been at the forefront of the Broncos’ run as she’s playing her first year without her sister Aaliyah. She is having a monster season, averaging 18.4 points and 9.2 rebounds per game. At 6-foot-3, there are few forwards who can match up with her size, and she’s taken advantage.
“It’s been a little different (playing without Aaliyah). Our style of play has changed a little bit since last year,” Johnson said. “We are moving the ball a little bit more and recognizing who’s open and who the defense is targeting.”
Helping her power the offense is Gipson, an all-state player with the Celtics last season. The senior has helped North move at a faster pace at times after mostly being a half-court team last year, utilizing her speed and ability to run the fast break. So far, she has averaged 12.8 points per game and has shot 33.8 percent from 3-point range.
“We’ve known T for years,” Dickerson said of Gipson. “It was great to have her on our team. We are happy to have her.”
The other two senior starters – Dickerson and Griffin – have been big contributors as well. Even as guards, they have been a tremendous help on the boards, combining for 9.2 rebounds per game. Dickerson helps keep opposing defenses honest by hitting mid-range jumpers from the line, while Griffin poses a threat from behind the arc.
“(Micaela) has gained more confidence (since being a starter at the beginning of the season) and has been more productive during the last half of conference,” North coach Tricia Lillygren said. “She’s done a good job with her back to the basket and getting shots off post moves.
“As a guard, (Griffin) plays post defense as good as anyone we have. She has really stepped up her rebounding game. That was the weakest part of her game coming into the season. Now, she is picking up four, five, six boards a game.”
Winston and Odell don’t put up the gaudy stats, but have provided a spark off the bench.
“Erica is our energy off the bench,” Dickerson said. “When she gets out there, she’s willing to do anything.”