Lawrence High's Kristin Mallory likely won't forget her first game as a head high school girls basketball coach.
The Lions open tonight against Overland Park Aquinas, the defending Class 6A state champion and top-ranked team in the state this season. Tipoff is 7 p.m. in the LHS gym.
"There's nothing like a big challenge to start off a coaching career," said Mallory, former head coach at Southwest Junior High.
The Lions are coming off a 3-18 season, the worst in program history, and Aquinas handed LHS three of those losses.
Starting with a 59-27 setback to Aquinas on Jan. 16, LHS lost the final 14 games of the 2000-01 season. Aquinas beat LHS by an average score of 65-31, including a 69-28 decision over the Lions in the sub-state semifinals.
The Saints, 24-1 last season and 43-7 combined the past two years, remain loaded. Aquinas features all-state guard Lauren Wenski, a 5-foot-9 junior; Kansas University signee Emily Haliburton, a 5-11 senior forward; and Emily McCullough, a 6-1 sophomore center.
"I don't know if you're ever prepared to play the defending state champion in the opener," Mallory said.
The Lions return 5-10 senior forward Mandy Amyx, who averaged 10.4 points a game last season to lead LHS. Also back is 5-4 junior guard Leigh DeBiasse, who ranked third on the team with an 8.3 scoring average. DeBiasse hit 13 three-pointers to rank second on the team.
Mallory plans to start Amyx, DeBiasse, senior Rachel Severance and senior Hallie Fitzgerald tonight.
The LHS coach, who has 15 players listed on the varsity roster, has yet to decide on a fifth starter.
"Their enthusiasm has been great," Mallory said. "I think we'll be playing quite a few girls. I think they appreciate the change. I think the effort is there and enthusiasm is there. Skill wise we're having to work more."
Senior guard Ashley Burnett is on the LHS roster. Burnett suffered a knee injury last season and her status for this year is uncertain.
"She's not able to make full cuts," Mallory said. "Hopefully, after Christmas she'll be full strength."
Mallory hopes LHS can snap a skid of five consecutive losing seasons.
"A realistic goal would be going .500," Mallory said.
"When I asked the girls what their goals were, a lot of them put down a winning season."
Free State features new look
Fresh off the program's first winning season and state tournament berth, Free State High's girls basketball is rebuilding.
Free State, 16-7 last season, lost 97 percent of its scoring. Senior guard Stacie Garland (5-6) and junior forward Jayme Lisher (5-8) are the only Firebirds back with points scored and will likely start tonight when the Firebirds open at Kansas City Wyandotte. Tipoff is 7 p.m.
"We've always been more of a passing team where we try to get someone posted up with their back to basket," fourth-year Free State coach Craig Hershiser said. "We really don't have that capability this year. We'll try to flash people to the post and get our scoring opportunities in the lane."
Senior guard Julie Seidel (5-5) and senior wing Lauren Wright, a 5-8 transfer from Topeka Hayden, likely will join Garland and Lisher in the starting lineup. Hershiser was unsure on a fifth starter.
"Lauren fits right in," Hershiser said. "She has good shooting range and is a legitimate three-point threat."
Next week, the Firebirds will play three games on consecutive days at the Olathe East tournament. FSHS opens the tourney on Thursday against Shawnee Heights.
"We're going to take a look at this first game, see how we played and address the things we need to work on," Hershiser said. "I'm not a big Kansas State football fan, but coach (Bill) Snyder always says he wants his team to get better every week. That's the attitude we're adopting right now."
FSHS, 35-52 all time, has gotten better each season. Since going 0-21 in its inaugural season, the Firebirds have improved their record every year, going 9-13 and 10-11 before last year's breakthrough season.