When the Firebird Classic tips off today at Free State High, the girls basketball teams entering with the best records might be considered the favorites to win it. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they will turn out to be the teams playing for a championship come Saturday afternoon.
At least that’s the theory being posed by FSHS coach Bryan Duncan, who said the “favorites on paper” to win the classic are probably Wichita Bishop Carroll (8-2), Topeka Washburn Rural (7-3) and his Firebirds (6-3).
“But, you know, I’ve seen some strange things happen in these tournaments,” Duncan said. “A couple of teams in the field don’t have a real strong record but have played a very strong schedule, including Lawrence High.”
The Lions (4-5) return to the tournament field this season, and coach Nick Wood said he and his players are looking forward to the challenge of opening against one of the favorites, Washburn Rural, at 8:15 tonight. Wood said the game should let LHS find out exactly where it stands about midway through the season.
“Are we ready to start competing against really good teams,” he asked, “or do we still have a lot of work to do?”
Free State, meanwhile, opens with Blue Valley West (1-9) at 6:30 tonight. FSHS has been idle since its Jan. 17 home victory over Emporia, and Duncan wants his team’s return to the court to show off the players’ aggressiveness on offense and defense.
“We feel like we’ve got to set the tone for the whole weekend in that first quarter of the first game,” Duncan said.
If Free State is able to do that, it will help the Firebirds accomplish their goal, which Duncan said is to win the tournament. According to the coach, the Firebirds’ past few practices have been excellent as seniors Jackie Garcia and Lynn Robinson, juniors Kennedy Kirkpatrick, Abbey and Chelsea Casady and A’Liyah Rogers and sophomore Scout Wiebe prepare for their three-day stretch of home games. FSHS took second place last year as a young team, and Duncan said they want to win the classic this season.
“I think the kids are really primed and ready to go,” Duncan said.
The Lions, too, are feeling good about where they’re at entering the tournament. LHS won its previous two games and Wood said the girls — seniors Christina Haswood, Bri Anglin and Mutiyat Hameed; juniors Monica Howard, Anna Wright, Bri Anderson, Emma Kelly and Kylie Seaman; sophomore Kionna Coleman and freshman Marissa Pope — have played well in their past three outings. The coach said the Lions hope to give WRHS a competitive game and see what happens.
“If we go out and lay an egg, it’s going to be disappointing,” Wood said.
The Firebird Classic, the coach added, could serve as a turning point for the Lions.
“We’ve had our ups and downs for sure,” Wood said, “and if we could somehow find a way to be really competitive this weekend and have consistency all three games, that would be a really good sign for the rest of the season.”
In other first-round games today, Bishop Carroll (8-2) plays Junction City (0-10) at 3 p.m. and Leavenworth (4-5) plays Kansas City, Kan., Sumner Academy (4-7) at 4:45 p.m.