The talents of Abbey Casady, a junior guard on Free State High’s girls basketball team, aren’t limited to the court.
Known among the Firebirds for her natural singing ability, too, there had been a running joke on the team that she should serenade the crowd with the national anthem.
It turns out her teammates and coaches weren’t kidding.
Casady added one more thing to her pregame routine Thursday at FSHS, belting out “The Star-Spangled Banner” before helping her team beat Blue Valley West, 69-45, in the opening round of the Firebird Winter Classic.
In the hours leading up to Casady’s 10-point, four-rebound night, she learned Free State coach Bryan Duncan had suggested she take the mic and open the game in song before having her name announced in the starting lineup. The opportunity provided her a chance to combine two of her personal hobbies — hoops and choir.
“A lot of times, choir and basketball kind of get in the way of each other,” she said.
That wasn’t so on this occasion, even though Casady feared she would be too focused on singing during warm-ups.
“Usually, whether it’s playing basketball or singing, I do terrible when I’m nervous,” she said.
The 5-foot-9 junior managed to calm her nerves and, after knocking out her vocal responsibilities, Casady came out and hit her first two jumpers, helping Free State (7-3) take a commanding 19-5 lead by the end of the first quarter.
Duncan was pleased to see Casady contributing on the offensive end.
“That’s crucial for us, to make people have to come out and guard her on the perimeter like that,” the coach said.
There were plenty of Firebirds making things difficult for the Jaguars (1-10). Casady was one of five FSHS players to score in double figures. Junior Kennedy Kirkpatrick led all scorers with 18, junior A’Liyah Rogers scored 13 off the bench, and Chelsea Casady and Lynn Robinson each finished with 10 points.
Duncan described Rogers as outstanding throughout the 24-point win.
“She brought tremendous energy on defense like she always does,” the coach said, “but tonight she really showed a good aggressive attitude on the offensive end of the floor.”
BVW crept back in the game in the second quarter, but Free State quickly regained control in the third, outscoring the Jaguars 12-4 in the first three minutes of the second half. Jackie Garcia crossed over a BVW defender and hit a short jumper, then assisted on Free State’s next two buckets as the Firebirds got back on track.
“We just needed a little more energy,” Duncan said. “We didn’t need any strategy changes.”
Abbey Casady had energy all night after pulling double duty and even set a season-high point total for herself. After finishing 5-for-7, she said big offensive outings aren’t usually her thing.
“It doesn’t happen very often,” she joked about making shots.
At 6:30 tonight, Free State will play Topeka Washburn Rural, which handed Lawrence a 46-34 first-round loss, in the tournament semifinals.
In Thursday’s other first-round games at the Firebird Winter Classic, Wichita Bishop Carroll defeated Junction City, 55-30, and Leavenworth rolled to a 61-33 victory against Kansas City, Kan., Sumner Academy.
At 3 p.m. today, JCHS will meet Sumner in a consolation semifinal. At 8:15, Carroll will take on Leavenworth, with the winner advancing to Saturday’s championship game.
— Check out Benton Smith's "Prep Appraisals" from the game.