Led by senior guard Caely Kesten, Free State girls basketball beats Lansing, 51-32

Free State girls basketball coach Nick Wood talks to his team in pregame. Free State defeated Lansing 51-32 in the 810 Varsity Sunflower Showcase on Saturday, Jan. 4.

Kansas City, Kan. — Near the end of the first quarter, Free State senior guard Caely Kesten saw a pass fly just over her head. Kesten hustled down the other end, though, blocking a Lansing shot and ending the impromptu back-and-forth with a layup of her own.

“That was one of the points of emphasis over the break,” Free State coach Nick Wood said. “We need to get the ball out in transition and make plays that way and she really got the point home. She did a really great job with that.”

With hustle plays like this, Kesten was pivotal in the Firebirds’ 51-32 victory over Lansing on Saturday at the 810 Varsity Sunflower Showcase. Kesten led the way for Free State with 22 points.

“It was a lot of fun watching all the girls play really well together,” Wood said. “They passed the ball, gave up the extra pass to get their teammates open. They were playing hard and competing and we’re a lot of fun to watch when we play that way.”

Both the Firebirds and Lions got off to a slow start, with a combined 15 turnovers in the first quarter. This also resulted in a low-scoring affair to start, with Lansing opting for a timeout to regroup up 3-2 at the 3:01 mark.

“You have to create your own energy and it took us a little while to do that,” Wood said. “We talked about that like, ‘Girls, we have to have an attack mindset.’ Then we flipped that switch and they were great.”

This timeout proved to be a turning point for Free State, as the Firebirds ended the quarter on an 11-0 run to take a 13-3 lead at the end of the first quarter.

While Lansing outscored Free State 11-10 in the second quarter, Free State still remained in control thanks to Kesten and junior guards Evy Harrell and Daeci Jaillite-Walker. Kesten even grabbed a pair of steals, with the second resulting in a transition 3-pointer.

The Firebirds took a 23-14 lead going into halftime — waking up after a bit of a sluggish start.

After the break, Kesten caught fire with 11 points in the third quarter. Free State coach Nick Wood also brought in junior forward Shannon Clarke off the bench, providing some extra help on defense and rebounding.

“She was a great teammate in the first half and supported us, then got out there in the second half and did great — did the things that we expected her to do,” Wood said. “She’s going to be awesome for us.”

Free State extended the lead over Lansing to 39-22 at the end of the third quarter.

As for the fourth quarter, it was more of the same as the Firebirds stayed in control, with Clarke scoring a couple of layups in transition. And with the lead stretching to 20-plus points, the Firebirds rolled to the convincing victory.

Given the difficulty of the Firebirds’ schedule to start the season, Wood said his team has learned a lot about themselves the past couple weeks over winter break.

“And to see the girls come out and execute what we’ve been working on and see them play for and support one another is a great way to start,” Wood said. “Now we’ve got to continue to build on that.”

Free State will next play Shawnee Mission South at home on Tuesday. Tipoff is at 5:30 p.m.

Free State (51)

Caely Kesten 8-16 2-2 22, Evy Harrell 4-13 2-5 10, Daeci Jaillite-Walker 2-4 2-4 6, Shannon Clarke 2-4 1-2 5, Joy Nunoo 1-9 2-2 5, Anna McIntire 1-1 0-0 2, Robin Todd 0-3 1-2 1, Mackenzie Moore 0-2 0-0 0, Thayu Kimori 0-3 0-0 0, Nyasha McVay 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 18-56 10-17 51.

Lansing (32)

Sam Caldwell 6-12 3-6 17, Jailynn Brooks 4-9 1-5 9, Moriah Thomas 2-7 0-1 4, Trinity Richardson 1-9 0-1 2, Shannon Jessup 0-7 0-0 0, Ericka Linaweaver 0-2 0-0 0, Cassidy Woods 0-2 0-0 0, MacKenzie Krause 0-0 0-1 0. Totals 13-48 4-14 32.

Free State 13 10 16 12 — 51

Lansing 3 11 8 10 — 32

3-point field goals: Free State 5-22 (Kesten, Nunoo); Lansing 2-22 (Caldwell). Turnovers: Free State 20, Lansing 19.


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