‘We just needed time’: LHS seniors detail road to state hoops tourney

photo by: Chance Parker/Journal-World

Lawrence seniors Serenity Keo (23), Lucy Hardy (20), Amaya Marshall (5) and Daphne Bracker Sturm (42) celebrate their substate championship win on Saturday, March 4, 2023.

A state title was just an abstract vision for the Lawrence High girls basketball team a year ago. Today, though, after finishing third on the west side of the Class 6A standings and adding a substate championship to its list of accomplishments last Saturday, the Lions sit just three games away from the crown.

Last year’s nine-win campaign left much to be desired from LHS (18-4), but not from a talent standpoint. LHS’s four senior leaders – Amaya Marshall, Lucy Hardy, Serenity Keo, and Daphne Bracker-Sturm – will be the first to tell you it’s that same depth that led the No. 4-seeded Lady Lions to the state quarterfinal with No. 5 Washburn Rural (16-5) on Thursday.

LHS coach Jeff Dickson, soon to close his ninth year in charge of the girls program, returned nearly all of his 2021-22 roster this season. Before that, the road was much worse. During the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons, muddied by injuries and the COVID-19 pandemic, LHS won just seven combined games.

“These four seniors have been through hell and back,” Dickson said. “Their freshman year, they come into a program that’s graduated a group of seniors that were as good or the best that’s ever been in the school.”

After defeating Wichita South by 23 points in last Saturday’s substate final, LHS will have to push its current six-game winning streak to nine if it wants to bring home some state hardware. It’s only fitting that all four LHS seniors will end their high school basketball careers in Wichita – after all, Dickson predicted it.

photo by: Chance Parker/Journal-World photo

Seniors Amaya Marshall (5) and Daphne Bracker Sturm (42) celebrate Lawrence High’s substate girls trophy with sophomore Brynnae Johnson on Saturday.

Asked about that prediction during Tuesday’s practice, senior guard Amaya Marshall said those words ring a little bit louder now.

“We just needed time,” Marshall said. “We were so young, but now that it’s right there it’s so surreal. It’s only three games away and, obviously, we all want our season to last as long as it can.”

Bracker-Sturm, a senior center, had never played basketball before high school. She was already transitioning from a smaller, private junior high school at the time and said Dickson’s warm environment stood out because it emphasized more than just what happens in the win column.

When all four seniors pack their bags for Wichita on Thursday, Bracker-Sturm knows they’re setting the bar for the next girls in line, such as breakout sophomore guard Brynnae Johnson.

“I fell in love with basketball,” Bracker-Sturm said. “It’s nice to be a leader in the program and I feel like I’m giving back what I got freshman year. No matter where you start in this program, if you put all of your effort and all of your heart into it, you can become a leader. We do have a lot of seniority things, so a lot of people respect the seniors the most, but then there are people like (Johnson) on the team where you can just see how hard she works and that she’s meant to be a leader.”

photo by: Chance Parker/Journal-World photo

Lawrence High seniors Amaya Marshall (5), Daphne Bracker-Sturm (42), Lucy Hardy (far right) and junior Destiny Savannah (4) are jubilant after advancing to the state tournament by defeating Wichita South to win the substate championship on Saturday, March 4, 2023.

All four seniors described the past three losing seasons as a grind – two games a week in arguably the toughest league in the state for girls’ basketball.

“It was really hard,” Keo said. “Season-wise, the winning and losing, but we all improved and worked together as a team to get where we are now.”

It was the work done behind the scenes, whether in Dickson’s classroom or in practice, that paved the way for this season’s success. After opening this run by winning nine of its first 10 games, LHS has been barreling toward a state sendoff for its four seniors for a while.

Regardless of the outcome against the fifth-seeded Junior Blues, LHS took strong steps forward both as a basketball team and as a group that became closer than ever.

“That sister-type of love, we all understand that,” Hardy said. “We all understand each other, no matter what. Someone gets down, someone’s always there to pick someone else up.”

LHS and Washburn Rural are slated for a 4 p.m. tipoff on Thursday at Koch Arena in Wichita.


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