Bryan Duncan is a positive guy.
It's nearly impossible to chat about his Free State High girls basketball team without the phrase "glass half-full" finding its way into the discussion.
He did sidestep those words Thursday while looking ahead to tonight's Class 6A sub-state showdown against Olathe East. Still, there's no denying his outlook as the Firebirds prepare for a rematch that will determine their postseason fate.
"We watched a large part of that tape today, and I think our girls realize we can play with them," Duncan said of the Hawks. "They're the number-two seed and finished second in our league. We're the number-three seed and finished third in the league. If you look at it from that perspective, it's obviously a pretty close matchup."
It will take place at 5 p.m. today at Topeka High. The winner will earn a berth in next week's Class 6A state tournament in Emporia.
Olathe East using a flurry of late free throws to seal a 49-41 Sunflower League victory Jan. 10 on the Firebirds' home floor.
Free State (14-7) would lose just one more league game - against Shawnee Mission South - before embarking on its current seven-game winning streak, including Wednesday night's victory against Lawrence High in its sub-state opener.
To make it eight, the Firebirds must contain Olathe East's two-headed monster of senior Danielle McCray - a Kansas University signee - and junior Morgan Boyd, who's also receiving Division I interest.
"Everyone talks about the big two, but they are a much better team than that," Duncan said. "And so are we."
Still, the game may rest with Free State's talented twosome: junior guards Lauren Kimball and Jenna Brantley.
Defensively, they'll be counted on to pressure the Hawks into turnovers. On offense, they must take care of the ball against Olathe East's preferred 1-1-3 defensive set and provide consistent perimeter scoring.
Again, Duncan is optimistic - not just about those facets of the game, but his squad's ability to tune out the pressure of a high-stakes affair.
"Honestly, our kids are pretty loose and ready to play, and they really have been all year," Duncan said. "Our kids really have shown great composure throughout the year, and I think that experience will lead into the same experience (tonight)."