LHS girls basketball suffers season-opening defeat at Topeka High

Lawrence High senior Ella Stewart (No. 10) drives through the Topeka High defense Friday night at THS on Dec. 6, 2019.

Topeka — Despite a lopsided final score, the season-opening defeat could end up being an important lesson for the Lawrence High girls basketball team.

For the Lions, the season opener served as the ultimate measuring stick for a team that is experiencing plenty of roster turnover. Topeka High, meanwhile, is coming off a runner-up finish last year and enters the new season ranked No. 1 in Class 6A.

And for the approximately 30 minutes, the gap between those two teams was evident. The Lions were overwhelmed by the Trojans for three-plus quarters in a 62-33 loss Friday night at THS.

“We are Lawrence High; we play the best of the best,” LHS head coach Jeff Dickson said. “Playing the No. 1 team out of the gate is great for us. Our kids didn’t come into the locker room feeling like they couldn’t compete with that team. They know they can compete with that team.”

But for a brief moment, the Lions went back-and-forth with the top team in the state.

Lawrence actually struck first, scoring on the game’s first possession. After junior Ozi Ajekwu won the opening tip, the Lions dialed up a set to get her a bucket. Freshman guard Amaya Marshall lobbed a pass to Ajekwu from the corner. With no help on the backside, Ajekwu was able to net the layup to give LHS a 2-0 lead.

It would be Lawrence’s only advantage all night, but it was still a strong start by the visitors. Senior Sophie DeWitt netted a floater at the 2:34 mark and proceeded to convert on the ensuing free throw. The three-point play by DeWitt pulled the Lions within 7-5.

Yet, even early on, Lawrence struggled with taking care of the ball. On the first possession alone, Topeka swatted multiple balls out of bounds. It was a sign of things to come for the Lions, who were plagued by turnover issues.

“I think we did get a little sped up,” Ajekwu said. “We were in our heads a bit. We handled it wrong today.”

Lawrence struggled to get the ball across half court against Topeka’s full-court press. Even when LHS did get the ball past midcourt, though, players were often rushed into shot attempts.

The Lions coughed up 12 turnovers in the opening period alone, many of which occurred over the last 2:30 of the first quarter. Over that span, the Trojans closed out the first quarter on a 10-2 run to take a 17-7 lead after the opening period.

Topeka High’s tandem of Kiki Smith and NiJaree Canady combined for 12 points to give the hosts a 31-16 advantage by the intermission. The Lions never really had a shot after that, as there was a running clock in the fourth quarter.

LHS finished with 29 turnovers in the loss, which included 23 in the first half. Still, it was an important learning experience for a young team. Marshall and sophomore Layla Harjo started as underclassmen, and they had moments on both ends of the floor.

DeWitt, who was one of two senior starters along with Ella Stewart, led the team with 9 points. Ajekwu finished with 7 points, recording several blocks on the defensive end.

“Ozi was phenomenal. I thought she was one of the best players on the court,” Dickson said. “I thought she had probably the best defensive performance I’ve seen a post player have for us since I’ve been at Lawrence.”

Freshman Serenity Keo notched 6 points off the bench. Freshman Hailey Ramirez drilled a 3-pointer and finished with 6 points as a reserve as well.

“It is one game out of 21; we need to regroup and get better,” Dickson said. “I thought we would play better. We let the atmosphere and pressure get to us, me included. The kids were not alone in that. I thought we had a lot of bright spots too.”

Lawrence High (33)

Amya Marshall 0-2 2-2 2, Ella Stewart 0-3 0-0 0, Sophie DeWitt 1-3 7-9 9, Layla Harjo 1-6 0-0 3, Ozi Ajekwu 3-6 1-6 7, Serenity Keo 1-4 4-5 6, Paiden Bell 0-0 0-0 0, Hailey Ramirez 2-3 1-1 6. Totals 8-27 15-23 33.

Topeka High (62)

Yana Grassity 0-5 1-2 1, Tae Thomas 1-6 0-0 2, Kiki Smith 10-16 2-9 23, Ja’Neysha Hendricks 0-3 0-0 0, NiJaree Canady 10-18 3-6 23, Lilly Smith 3-10 0-0 7, Laryn Murray 1-3 0-0 2, Zoe Caryl 1-4 2-2 4. Totals 26-65 8-19 62.

Lawrence 7 9 12 5 – 33

Topeka 17 14 27 4 — 62

3-point field goals: Lawrence High 2-9 (Harjo, Ramirez); Topeka High 2-18 (Kiki Smith, Lilly Smith). Turnovers: Lawrence High 29, Topeka High 9.


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