Lawrence High girls basketball coach Nick Wood downplays it. So does his counterpart at Free State, Bryan Duncan
An eight-game City Showdown streak — four years of winning for the Firebirds and four years of losing for the Lions — has to mean something to someone, right?
Well, she might not have been a part of the whole streak, but tonight at 5:15 at LHS, Lions senior Kionna Coleman will play her fifth City Showdown. She has experienced nothing but losses and plans on doing her part to make the skid stop now.
“I want to win so bad,” the LHS forward said, “and I really feel like we can.”
Most years, Free State has a top-10 team, and for the past four years, Lawrence’s girls have struggled to come up with consistent success. When the rivalry is renewed this evening, Duncan realizes the Firebirds (1-4) and Lions (1-3) will be much more similar than they have been in recent memory.
“A lot of coaches will tell you when you’re the heavy favorite, ‘Oh, that’s a terrible position to be in.’ I don’t buy that for a second,” Duncan said. “I’d much rather be heavily favored every time, because there is a reason you’re heavily favored.”
Right now both teams are looking for players to blossom, and beating an in-town rival would help foster the growth the coaches have sought.
While FSHS seniors Millie Shade and Scout Wiebe know nothing but success in the City Showdown, Wood hopes his players who have been on the other side of those games, such as senior forwards Coleman and Makayla Bell, and junior guards Marissa Pope and Jolona Shield, will lead the charge for LHS.
“Marissa played in this game as a freshman. The hope is she can talk to our freshmen about that game. She’s a junior and she’s been through it,” Wood said. “She knows what that felt like, emotionally, to be out there playing in front of thousands of people.”
Coleman, for one, thinks the difficulties LHS endured versus its rival might finally work in the Lions’ favor.
“Losing to them just gives us more motivation for the next year,” Coleman said.
Wiebe said the Firebirds, who opened this season with four straight losses, are looking forward to facing the inspired Lions.
“We know this game’s gonna be tough,” Wiebe said. “But we know that we need to win.”
A forward, Wiebe is used to fighting Coleman in the paint for post position and rebounds.
“Playing with Kionna is fun. Just because we used to play basketball at West (Middle School) and now we’re playing against each other,” Wiebe said. “It’s definitely a battle. I’ll come out with a lot of bruises.”
As little as the coaches are interested in talking about the showdown’s streak, both know how important a win would be for their current teams.
Said Wood: “It’s important for us and our program to try and change some of that momentum.”
Duncan, meanwhile, has a roster full of girls who are about to play significant minutes in the rivalry game for the first time, including Madison Piper, Adriana Jadlow, Maren Kahler, Naomi Hickman and Hannah Shoemaker.
“I know there are probably some seniors at Lawrence High that would like to have a shot at beating us for the first time,” Duncan said. “That doesn’t downplay the significance of it for us, but we’re focused on this season, because the truth is a lot of these girls, they don’t care what happened four or five years ago. I was the only one who was here.”