Free State High senior Hannah Shoemaker didn’t have much time to prepare for girls basketball camp this week.
Last weekend, Shoemaker was busy finishing seventh in the discus at the state track and field meet in Wichita. By Monday, she was already back on the court with her teammates.
Now that Shoemaker is a senior, there is no time to relax. She wants to lead by example for the rest of her teammates and underclassmen, as more than 25 girls showed up for team camp.
“It didn’t really hit me until I got to camp that I was a senior and that people were actually going to look up to me now,” Shoemaker said. “I feel like it builds my confidence, almost makes me play better, because I see these people are looking up to me. I just want this team to be really good this year.”
There’s a lot of excitement around the team with the opportunity to improve upon last season. Free State returns four players from the varsity rotation: Shoemaker, sophomore Madison Piper, senior Adriana Jadlow and junior Hannah Walter.
Piper earned plenty of postseason honors last year after finishing second in the Sunflower League with more than 15 points per game.
The Firebirds hope to get contributions from junior varsity starters: Lexci Kimball, Morgan Gantz, Lauren Johnson and Naomi Hickman. They also picked up a transfer, sharp-shooting sophomore guard Jaycie Bishop, who started several games for Lawrence High.
“I’m definitely excited,” Jadlow said. “We have a lot of new players coming up. It’ll be different, but it’ll be good.”
Injuries have plagued the Firebirds early in camp, including Piper, but it has allowed them to focus on the defensive end of the floor, as it’s difficult to get a rhythm offensively when so many players are in and out of the lineup.
“All three days have been really good, and energy and intensity have been great,” FSHS coach Bryan Duncan said. “It’s been fun seeing some of the kids we have coming back step in new leadership roles and just to see the progress we’ve made, particularly on the defensive end. We’ve really stressed that all week, and it’s just getting tremendously better.”
Free State played a couple of summer league games on Monday and lost to St. Thomas Aquinas and Olathe South, two teams that earned berths in last year’s state tournament. However, Duncan found plenty of positives with his team’s play.
“Particularly on the defensive end, we just look a lot sharper,” Duncan said. “We’re a lot more prepared to play the way we want to play. The reality is, too, that we’ve got three or four potential varsity kids that are injured right now. … Defensively is what we can really concentrate on, and that’s where we’re getting a lot better.”
Several Free State alumnae have been participating in camp and helping the current players, including Chantay Caron, who played at Kansas State; Ashli Hill, who played at the University of Missouri-Kansas City; and Bowling Green red-shirt freshman Kennedy Kirkpatrick. Last year’s starters Maren Kahler, Millie Shade and Scout Wiebe also have shown up throughout the week.
“It’s a lot of help,” Jadlow said. “It makes us work a lot harder, and instead of them being on the same team playing with us, we can actually go against them and work harder.”
“It really helps our practices, too, with the teaching and the coaching,” Duncan added. “It’s fun. They’re good role models for the kids.”
As the team continues to improve throughout camp, Shoemaker also hopes the Firebirds can create a bond to carry them throughout the winter.
“I definitely feel like this year is going to be pretty solid for us,” Shoemaker said. “I feel like it’s going to be more like a family atmosphere. Therefore, we’re going to play better.”