Marissa Pope a fixture for LHS

Marissa Pope (20) goes up for two in the second half as Lawrence girls played Olathe North Friday.

Four years ago, Lawrence High senior point guard Marissa Pope made her varsity debut as a freshman.

She started in the 2011 season opener alongside four juniors to lead the Lions to a 46-point victory over Kansas City (Kansas) Wyandotte.

Since then, there have been plenty of changes. Jeff Dickson replaced Nick Wood as head coach this season. Many of her teammates have come and gone.

The one constant in the past four years has been Pope, the 5-foot-3 point guard bringing the ball up the court. Now she’s preparing for her final City Showdown against Free State at 5:30 p.m. Friday at LHS.

When she was just a freshman, she wasn’t asked to do too much: Bring the ball up the court, limit turnovers and try to set up shots for the team’s older scorers.

Now Pope is setting up shots for herself. Though she takes more pride in setting up her teammates, the passer has graduated to a shooter.

Entering this week, Pope ranked seventh in the Sunflower League with a career-high 11.5 points per game and was third in the league averaging 3.6 assists a night.

“I was never a shooter,” Pope said. “That was something I developed this year, and I didn’t have the confidence. But coach Dickson has really been talking me up, and once he talked me up, I got the confidence to take the shot.”

When Dickson took over as LHS coach last spring, after Wood left for a teaching position overseas in Oman, he introduced radical changes to the girls basketball program. There were daily summer practices at 6 a.m. with different drills than players usually did.

“She came in from Day One and just bought into everything that I wanted to do, no matter how different it was than they were used to doing,” Dickson said. “She didn’t question it. She didn’t hesitate to just dive right in and try to implement all the changes we made to the program.

“When you have someone who cares and loves the high school coach she had for three years like she did with coach Wood,” Dickson added, “that says a lot to have the best returning player just buy into what you want to do.”

Pope put it upon herself to lead her teammates. There are two other seniors — forwards Matia and Rebecca Finley — but Pope was the only returning starter.

“It was really hard to switch. It was,” Pope said. “I wasn’t used to (Dickson) at first, but he came in and he supported me from the beginning. He’d seen how I played, so he knew how to work with me. So from the beginning, I had a lot of trust in him.”

This season hasn’t been as successful as Pope envisioned, but the Lions have won their last three games, their first three-game win streak since the 2010-11 season, one year before Pope arrived.

“It’s been difficult,” Pope said. “I went through four years of bad seasons. But this season definitely changed my view on my high school experience. I’ve gotten closer to the girls. We’ve done things that we haven’t done in a while. So this season has really turned around my thought and views of our school.”

Now with one regular-season game left, Pope wants to go out on a strong note.

“I’ve been coaching for a long time, and I’ve been very fortunate to have a lot of really great kids,” Dickson said. “She’s just another kid that’s just been an amazing person to be around on and off the floor. I feel like we’re getting this program headed in the right direction, getting it turned around, and none of that would have happened if it wasn’t for her.”