Free State High girls basketball coach Bryan Duncan had to admit it: Olathe Northwest is the most talented team his Firebirds have faced this season.
The Ravens have three future NCAA Div. I players — seniors Kelsey Brooks (Arkansas), Michaela Crall (Wisconsin) and Jaylah Jackson (South Dakota). They’ve won eight straight games. They’re 17-4 and ranked No. 3 in Class 6A. And they beat the Firebirds, 64-40, on Jan. 11 at FSHS.
None of those facts, however, has Free State (16-5, No. 9) worried entering a 7 p.m. sub-state championship game today at ONW.
“Certainly, it’s gonna be a challenge, but our kids believe we’re gonna win, and that’s the important thing,” Duncan said. “Frankly, I expect to win, as well.”
Duncan said seedings (the Ravens are No. 2, the Firebirds No. 3) and rankings don’t worry his team, and in part the overall confidence in the FSHS locker room comes from the strength of its senior class — Kennedy Kirkpatrick, twins Abbey and Chelsea Casady, A’Liyah Rogers, twins Ariana and Summer Frantz and Ciara Carey. Plus, Free State beat ONW by two points in a summer-league game months before the season began.
“Our kids know that we can play with them,” Duncan said.
Just playing smart basketball, like the Firebirds did Thursday in a first-round victory over Olathe North, Kirkpatrick said, should help them in their quest to knock off ONW and advance to the state tournament for the first time since 2010.
“We’ve been really successful lately,” she said of a four-game win streak and victories in 11 of Free State’s last 13, “so we’re excited about this game.”
Chelsea said FSHS even is prepared for the Ravens’ distinct size advantage — 6-foot-3 Crall and 6-foot junior Shea Shipman — inside.
“We know how to play against big girls,” Chelsea said. “We’ll just do what we normally do but be more aggressive.”
Free State’s top priority, Duncan added, will be keeping Brooks under wraps. The best solution would be protecting the basketball. Brooks has feasted on mistakes, averaging more than five steals a game, contributing to her 17-point scoring average.
The Firebirds advanced to state in 2001, 2006, 2007 and 2010.