When the Free State High girls basketball team knocked off Olathe East by 16 points at home earlier this season, it had 13 more points in its lineup than it will tonight.
When the fifth-seeded Firebirds (8-12) travel to Olathe East (9-11) for tonight's 7 p.m. sub-state tipoff, guards Sarah Craft and Maggie Hull won't be in uniform.
Both players have reached the end of their season after ACL surgery. Both played key roles in the first meeting between these two Sunflower League foes, but FSHS coach Bryan Duncan said his team was not worried about who wouldn't be in uniform tonight.
"It's been an up-and-down season," Duncan said. "We've had some experiences that certainly weren't in the gameplan, but that happens. That's a part of sports. I think the strength we take from that is that through it all we've stuck together."
The injuries to the only experienced guards on Free State's roster have put the ball in the hands of a quartet of players new to the varsity level. Sophomores Wren Wiebe and Susan Wilson have teamed with junior Rosie Hull and senior Chelsea Morgan to form the Firebirds' backcourt. For the most part, all four have done a nice job filling in, with Hull and Wiebe taking the bulk of the playing time.
"The thing about our injuries is now we don't have as much depth," said Rosie Hull, twin sister of injured Maggie. "But I really think we all realize the position we're in, and we're ready to go over there and give it all we've got. We don't want our season to end yet, and we're planning to play that way."
Even before the bad breaks, Free State's strength lay in its frontcourt. Junior forward Taylor Manning and sophomores Ashli Hill and Chantay Caron often have created mismatches for opposing defenses. Throw into that group the tenacity of junior newcomer Ashleigh Allam, and it's no wonder Duncan likes his team's draw.
"There's no doubt that we're a better team than we were at the beginning of the season, particularly in the post," Duncan said. "I think our players know that we've had some success in the postseason the past few years here, and our intent is to win two games this week and not just be happy to get to Friday night."
Winning two - tonight at Olathe East and Friday vs. the winner of the match-up between top-seeded Olathe South and No. 8 seed Shawnee Mission Northwest - would give the Firebirds their third straight trip to the Class 6A state
To get to Friday, FSHS must take care of business tonight. According to Duncan, that means one thing.
"The key for us is to play our game, control the tempo and take care of the ball," he said. "We do that, and I like our chances."
So does Allam, who could barely contain her excitement when talking about the promise and fresh start that comes with the postseason.
"Nothing we've done, nothing that's happened means a thing right now," she said. "We know that everyone starts at 0-0, and this next stretch shows your character and how hungry you are. And we're hungry."