Ask the Lawrence High girls basketball team about playing in a three-day tournament, and one learns the players enjoy the practices leading up to it.
"They can't run us too hard and wear us out," senior Katelyn Hobbs said. "That gives us more motivation to go to practice because we know we won't be run to death."
With less than 24 hours of rest between games, preserving the players' stamina is crucial. And the Lions' ability to endure physically and mentally through the three consecutive days of basketball could determine their performance at the Capital City Classic at Topeka High.
"You need to figure out a way to somehow maintain your energy," LHS coach Kristin Mallory said.
The Lions, who used to play in the Firebird Winter Classic at neighboring Free State, opted to play in the Capital City Classic this year instead. The new venue eliminates the seating capacity problem of having two Lawrence schools play at the Free State High gym and gives LHS a chance to test its chops against some different competition.
"We have a really good shot at winning," Hobbs said. "If we play our basketball, we should do pretty well."
The third-seeded Lions (6-4) face sixth-seeded Kansas City Wyandotte (3-5) during tonight's opening-round game in the North Gym. Should LHS win, more daunting games against second-seeded Blue Valley (5-4) and top seed Manhattan High (6-3) loom.
Blue Valley, a potential second-round matchup, could present a challenge because of its size at every position. The team's guards stand at least 5-foot-11.
"They'll be the most physical team," senior forward Sydnei Tolefree said. "Their posts are pretty good."
Fortunately for the Lions, their focus on rebounding during practice has paid off. During Monday night's victory against Lincoln Prep, they collected 12 offensive rebounds in the second half, and both Taylor Bird (18 points, 14 rebounds) and Tania Jackson (11 and 12) posted double-doubles.
"The last two games," Mallory said, "beating the teams on the boards has been the key."
Having won four of its last five, Lawrence High enters the game with momentum on its side. Monday's victory also demonstrated the team's newfound ability to thrive in the clutch.
Lincoln tied the score at 39 with 4:53 remaining. But Bird drove for a layup to regain the lead, and on the next possession Tolefree scored a three-point play to give the Lions a five-point lead they would not surrender.
"They've been playing with a little more confidence as a group," Mallory said. "They're starting to gel."
In particular, the team has displayed an improved togetherness on the defensive side. If that part of their game remains stout, the Lions could complete an impressive run through the tournament.
"Everyone's looking forward to it," Tolefree said. "We really want to win this thing."