FSHS girls excited for bonding opportunity during trip to Garden City

photo by: Carter Gaskins

Free State Shannon Clarke (3) shake hands with teammate Caely Kesten (13) after she made a 3-pointer in the second quarter on Nov. 29, 2018 at FSHS.

For a few days, the Free State girls basketball team is going to understand what it feels like to play for a college squad.

After being listed as a No. 9 seed in the 6A west bracket, FSHS (10-10) is forced to travel for its first sub-state game. The Firebirds will take on Garden City, the eighth seed, at 6 p.m. Thursday. It’ll be a drive of more than five hours.

Free State will leave Thursday morning on a charter bus, and will have a shootaround in Great Bend. The team will check into a motel before the game, and plans to stay overnight regardless of the result.

“They have been complaining the last three years that they never get to take a road trip,” FSHS coach Ted Juneau said. “I think it is good, and I think they are excited about it. We can’t forget the whole reason why we are going, and we have emphasized that with them, as well.”

A win over Garden City (11-9) could likely mean an extended road trip for the Firebirds.

Liberal is the No. 1 seed with a perfect 20-0 record, and will play No. 16 Wichita West (4-17) in the other game of Free State’s sub-state bracket. If Liberal wins, FSHS would face the top seed in the sub-state championship at 6 p.m. Saturday. In that instance, the Firebirds plan to travel to Liberal on Friday.

“I told them that they are going to get a sense of what it is at the next level,” Juneau said. “It should be a good experience for them.”

A lengthy road trip such as this one is a good chance for the Firebirds to bond as a team. Players plan to bring plenty of games and music to entertain themselves on the ride down there.

“It will be great team bonding, especially for a younger team,” junior point guard Caely Kesten said. “We love each other, so it is super fun. We will bump to music and play games with each other. It will be a fun atmosphere.”

This Free State team has had no problem taking advantage of bonding opportunities, either.

Before every home game this season, FSHS hosts a team dinner, with games played afterward. The most popular choice is usually hide-and-seek, which can sometimes take place across town.

“I’d say we are one of the closest teams in Kansas,” junior Haley Hippe said. “When we bond outside the court, that also translates onto the court. You have to have good ball movement to be a good team.”

That chemistry has been evident, particularly down the home stretch of the regular season.

When healthy, Free State has shown it can beat just about anyone. The Firebirds won three of their last four games. Sophomores Shannon Clarke and Evy Harrell, along with senior Sam Lawrence, were crucial down the stretch.

And that’s a credit to how close-knit this team is this season.

“Last year, we didn’t quite know each other,” Hippe said. “This year, we have gotten together and hung out outside of basketball. That bond is definitely growing, you can tell.”


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