Free State High girls basketball practice was about to start Monday evening when coach Bryan Duncan got the call.
Preparing for the Firebirds’ sub-state opener against Olathe North would have to be put on hold — at least for Duncan.
The coach’s mind went from X’s and O’s to fatherhood as he left practice to take his expecting wife, Angela, to the hospital. Tuesday morning, the couple’s daughter, Bienna Maralene Duncan, was born.
Without Duncan Monday and Tuesday, FSHS assistant coaches Matt Frost and Lauren Kimball made sure the Firebirds didn’t miss a beat at practice. And it was easy for Free State (15-5), the No. 3 seed, to prepare for its match-up with No. 6 O-North (8-12) — 7 p.m. tonday at FSHS — because the Eagles were just in town Feb. 17 for Senior Night.
Senior guard Jackie Garcia said she, Lynn Robinson, Kennedy Kirkpatrick, Chelsea and Abbey Casady, Scout Wiebe, A’Liyah Rogers and the rest of the Firebirds spent some time reviewing video from the 62-46 home victory, and they will be plenty familiar with O-North for the postseason opener.
“It definitely gives us an advantage since we’re not new to what they do,” Garcia said.
Frost agreed that the Firebirds, winners of 10 of their last 12 games, should benefit from having an O-North game fresh in their collective memories.
“If it would’ve been the first or second game of the season, it would be different, because teams change so much between now and then,” Frost said. “But I think it’s good for us, especially the kids. They remember what worked and what didn’t.”
Garcia said Free State had success pressuring the ball, trapping, forcing the ball out of the hands of the Eagles’ primary guards, forcing perimeter shots and keeping O-North post touches to a minimum.
“It’s a good match-up,” she said.
Free State’s biggest concern, Frost said, comes in the post. The Firebirds have been working on ways to stop the Eagles’ 6-foot-3 junior, Jessica Sheble.
“If we let her catch it deep, she can hurt us,” he said.
The Firebirds think their sub-state bracket draw is one that could play out in their advantage. FSHS, should it win tonight, would face either No. 2 seed Olathe South or No. 7 Lawrence on Friday in Leavenworth with a chance to go to state. The Firebirds swept LHS and lost, 52-50, at O-South on a buzzer-beater.
Said Garcia: “We’re definitely excited. It’s definitely the match-ups we wanted.”
However, the anticipation of a rematch with the Falcons, Frost warned, could be problematic.
“The kids really wanted to play O-South,” Frost said. “That’s good if you get there, but the trouble with that is we have to win (tonight) and O-North, they’re not a bad team. If we come out and do what we’re supposed to do, then we have a good shot, but if we come out just wanting to play O-South it could be a long night.”
There is some added motivation for FSHS against O-North. The Firebirds weren’t happy that a 15-point first-half lead was trimmed to one in the third quarter. Frost said the Firebirds should be looking forward to a chance to play up to their capabilities tonight, when Duncan plans on being back with the team.