Tonganoxie High junior Elizabeth Baska does a little bit of everything on the basketball floor for the Chieftains.
Standing 5-foot-9, she's a rare interchangeable part who is equally comfortable playing the point or in the post, just as likely to pull down an important rebound as dish a meaningful assist.
Unfortunately for the Chieftains, she wasn't available to do any of those things last season at the Class 4A sub-state tournament, sent to the sidelines when a shove from a Basehor-Linwood opponent on a breakaway layup attempt during the final game of the regular season left her with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee.
Tonganoxie subsequently lost to Kansas City Sumner in the sub-state championship game, leaving Baska to wonder whether she might have made a difference.
She'll finally get to answer that question this week as she tries to help the Chieftains - who finished fourth at the 2005 4A state tournament during her freshman campaign - back to the big dance.
You missed getting to play in the postseason last year. How excited are you to play tonight and be out there on the floor in the postseason?
I'm very excited, because with not being able to play, I was not able to help my team advance to state, and that was a really tough loss for us. We're just really excited to see how everything goes this year. ... Hopefully it's going to be a good week.
Tonganoxie goes in as the No. 1 seed, playing at home and ranked second in the state. Does that give you extra confidence that it's your tournament to win this year?
We try not to pay so much attention to all the rankings. Of course we have an idea, and of course being in our own gym will be a big advantage. But we hope to win. We're going to take it one game at a time, but we definitely hope to advance.
Looking at the bracket, which team is the one that worries you the most, and why?
I don't know a lot about the other side of our bracket. We haven't played Baldwin or Eudora, so I don't really know enough to worry about them. But I know that Basehor (Basehor-Linwood), if we do run across them, they'll be a good game, just because we are rivals and it's always a high-emotion, high-energy game.
Last year Tonganoxie got caught in the same regional as another ranked team with Sumner. Are you excited you don't have to go through them this season?
I actually think that we would like a rematch just to see what happens. When I was a freshman, we played them, and we advanced in overtime, and last year they won by one or whatever. I think that we wouldn't mind playing them this year at all.
Was your knee injury difficult to come back from this year, or did you feel like you picked up right where you left off?
It was definitely a struggle just going through. It's a six-month rehab. It was definitely hard. I had a lot of support from my physical therapist and our (athletic director) and our trainer and, of course, my basketball coaches and my teammates. It was hard, but when I started basketball again, I felt like I was right back to where I had been.
Do you find yourself having any worries while on the court about re-injuring the knee?
I think I play with a free mind. I had volleyball before this season to kind of get me through the first jitters. So I don't really think about it at all. Of course, last week being the last two regular-season games, I was like, 'Oh, this is same time last year.' I didn't really think about it while I was playing, but I definitely had that run through my head. But I'm not worried about it.
You and Ali Pistora often switch positions on the floor depending on matchups. How much does it help your team to have that type of flexibility?
I think it's a very good advantage because it's not just Ali and I. It's also the Bogard twins and Christy Weller and Tracie Hileman and Shannon Carlin. We don't run a real specific offense. Everyone just goes everywhere, whoever has the ball runs it. It doesn't really matter. I think that gives us a really big advantage, because a lot of teams, they need it in their point guard's hands, and we're not really like that.