Following a season in which the Free State High girls basketball team set a program record with 16 wins, coach Bryan Duncan knew this summer would be crucial if the Firebirds wanted to carry that success over into 2012-13.
With an upperclassman-heavy roster, FSHS finished its summer league schedule 8-2, with victories over a couple of the Sunflower League’s better teams, Olathe Northwest and Shawnee Mission Northwest.
What made that possible, Duncan said, was an understanding on the part of Free State’s players that if basketball is a year-round commitment, victories come easier in December through March. Returning seniors such as Kennedy Kirkpatrick, Abbey and Chelsea Casady, A’Liyah Rogers and Ariana and Summer Frantz, like many of their younger teammates, had plenty of obligations but made sure to commit time to the basketball program.
“I was impressed from Day One in camp to our Wednesday workouts throughout our summer,” Duncan said, “with all of our players and all the maturity they showed.”
Having years of experience on their side, the coach added, helped the players understand their roles. Kirkpatrick led the team of guards with her scoring, while others ran in transition, moved the ball and rebounded.
Duncan said Rogers stood out with the jump she has made from the end of last season, showing a greater ability to attack the basket and defend.
“Everybody has really bought into winning,” Duncan said, “and being the best team we can possibly be.”
From Firebirds who have varsity experience, such as Scout Wiebe, Courtney Parker and Milly Shade, to younger players such as Ciara Carey, Adriana Jadlow and Lily Ross, FSHS got plenty of contributions this summer. Madison Piper, a future Firebird who will be in the eighth grade this coming school year, even played with Free State.
Said Kirkpatrick: “We’ve definitely had people step up and realize that they need to take bigger roles.”
But the style of play hasn’t changed with the departure of starting guards Lynn Robinson and Jackie Garcia. Summer Frantz said FSHS looked the same in its June outings as it did last season, with a lack of post players and a lot of running.
For league games on Monday nights, Duncan always had the sense that the Firebirds were excited to play and determined to win. As he put it, there weren’t a lot of nonchalant moments.
“It makes my job easy,” he joked.
The coach acknowledged the team’s weekly June scrimmages had much to do with the Firebirds’ stellar play. Duncan tried something new this summer with the help of some other nearby coaches, including Lawrence’s Nick Wood. Though the Lions and Firebirds never faced off, each Wednesday a few teams, including LHS, would get together with FSHS to scrimmage in a practice-like setting. Score wasn’t kept, there were no officials and coaches could stop play at any time to address whatever issues came up. A number of schools from the Topeka area, as well as Holton and Blue Valley Southwest, participated at one point or another.
Frantz said the players appreciated the unique format.
“When we go in we don’t know anything about the other teams,” she said. “We just have to try to come together right there.”
Plus, Duncan said the coaches loved it because they could work on so many different aspects of the game.
“I believe it may be the best thing we’ve done this summer,” he said.