Chrisman relaxed as it prepares for first final four since 1993

Bill Althaus
The Examiner

The girls on the William Chrisman High School basketball team are preparing for the biggest game of their lives, yet you couldn’t tell it by the way they were getting ready for a Monday practice session.

Head coach Scott Schaefer, assistant Jim Underwood and birthday boy Greg McGhee, the school’s activities director, were dusting the floor with massive brooms, and players were giving critiques of their style and professional manner.

Senior guard Amanda Szopinski was lacing up an ankle brace and fellow senior Gia Moore, whose range from downtown could be a key in an upcoming game that has the entire school buzzing, was visiting with some young teammates.

William Chrisman senior point guard Amanda Szopinski celebrates the Bears' 42-23 win over Smithville late in the fourth quarter of their Class 5 state quarterfinal Saturday. Szopinski says the key to the Bears' postseason run has been the defense and that will need to be the case in the final four this week as well.

And Jacque David – the rock-solid senior center whose return from a torn ACL has sparked the team to a 16-game winning streak and the 23-5 mark they are taking to the Class 5 state final four – is just taking it all in.

The Bears used a crisp defensive performance in their state quarterfinal matchup against Smithville last Saturday to claim a 42-23 win that helped them earn a spot in the final four for the first time since 1993.

Photo gallery:Class 5 girls state quarterfinal basketball: William Chrisman defeats Smithville

Chrisman will play No. 5-ranked Whitfield (22-4) at 7 p.m. Thursday in the Class 5 state semifinals at JQH Arena on the campus of Missouri State University in Springfield.

If there are any jitters or nervousness among the players, you would never know it. Once the floor is cleaned, the Bears hit the court with the same determination that helped them overcome a mediocre 7-5 start to earn a spot in the final four.

William Chrisman's Jacque David, center, fights Smithville's Lilly Wornson, left, and Christina Walsh, right, for a loose ball in Saturday's Class 5 state quarterfinal. David totaled 12 points and 10 rebounds as Chrisman went on to a 42-23 win to advance to the state final four for the first time since 1993.

“It’s all so exciting,” said David, who suffered a torn ACL last year that led to month after month of gruelling rehabilitation sessions. “At this time last year I didn’t know if I was even going to play basketball again, and now we’re going to the final four. It’s all unbelievable. To watch all of us grow up and develop as players and individuals has been an amazing journey.”

And now, with the biggest games on the horizon, they are playing some of their best basketball of the season.

More:Seniors Szopinski, David power Chrisman to sectional victory

“The thing that makes this team so special,” said Schaefer, who led a 25-0 McPherson High School team to a state title in Kansas in 2005, “is how much they care for each other.

“They really do care about each other, and that’s important. Because we have a lot of talent on this team, and one or two selfish players could ruin everything we’ve been working so long for.

“If Jacque (who averages 13.3 points) wanted to take all the shots, she could easily average 20 or more points a game. And Gia and Amanda are the same way – but they would rather get an assist than a basket, and Jacque loves to kick the ball back to either one of them for a 3-point shot.”

More:Chrisman fends off No. 1 St. Pius X in OT to capture district title

The Bears now face Whitfield, which has won 15 of its last 16 games and rallied past Cardinal Ritter for a 65-50 win Saturday to earn its fourth final four appearance in the last five years.

If the Bears can find the same defensive intensity they have shown throughout the playoffs, they could bring back some impressive hardware from Springfield.

“It all starts with our defense,” Szopinski said. “We all love to play defense. I think the win over Smithville was one of the best defensive games we’ve had, and we have to keep it going in Springfield.”