2013 Firebird Winter Classic
Today-Saturday, at Free State High
Today's first-round games:
Free State (6-3) vs. Highland Park (2-8), 3 p.m.
Kansas City, Kan., Sumner Academy (3-6) vs. Topeka West (1-8)
Washburn Rural (5-5) vs. Olathe North (2-5)
Shawnee Mission South (4-6) vs. Blue Valley West (2-7)
Free State High girls basketball coach Bryan Duncan hoped the past week-plus would be the ideal time for his team to address any issues it had, tweak some things and head into the Firebird Winter Classic ready to roll.
However, injuries and illnesses kept starters Kennedy Kirkpatrick, Scout Wiebe, A'Liyah Rogers and Abbey Casady from missing a day or more of practice each.
"The down point to this, to be real frank, is for the last week and a half, when we're really trying to make some adjustments and get better for the stretch run," Duncan said, "we haven't been able to have our kids together to practice. That's worrisome."
Still, the Firebirds (6-3) enter their three-day home tournament, beginning today with a 3 p.m. first-round game against Highland Park (2-8), as the top seed. Even better, they plan to have everybody healthy (including Kirkpatrick, who partially tore her left MCL Jan. 11) and available to play. Duncan is glad FSHS opens in that situation and said the goal will be for the Firebirds to successfully defend their title after beating Wichita Bishop Carroll in last year's tournament final.
"I'm also hopeful we can learn on the fly a little bit from day to day," Duncan said, "as the challenges get stiffer."
Given the limited numbers at practices lately, junior forward Wiebe, who averages 13.2 points and 6.4 rebounds, said the Firebirds don't want to look rusty in their first game in nine days.
"It makes it slightly tougher," Wiebe said, "but if everyone plays like they've been playing and plays their spots, we'll be fine."
Plus, Duncan said if role players rise to the challenge with increased practice work of late, FSHS could be in good position to advance to the tournament final.
Both Free State and Washburn Rural (5-5, ranked No. 9 in Class 6A) might be the favorites and "the most known teams," Duncan said. "As we all know, that doesn't always play out how it's supposed to be," he added.
Another tournament contender is Shawnee Mission South, which beat Free State, 49-46, on Jan. 7 at SMS.
Wiebe said the Firebirds wouldn't mind a rematch with the Raiders in the tournament final on Saturday.
"If we play Washburn Rural," she added, "it'll still be a very great game and we'd want to play them, too."