Lady Titans up for state tourney challenge

Register Sports Editor

Register/Jocelyn Sheets
Third time is a charm for Southern Coffey County High’s Lady Titans. In their third straight attempt, they captured a Kansas Class 1A Substate Championship at Emporia Saturday. That earned them their first-ever trip to state and they’ll play at the 2009 Kansas Class 1A Girls’ State Basketball Tournament in Hays this week. Members of the team are (left to right), back row, Katelyn Rogers, Samantha Jacob, Kaitlin Meyer, Laurie Ohl, Kristin Stephens, Kandace Shields, Kristen Yotz; front row, Kristen Garland, Shelby Birk, Kaitlyn Isch, Jenna Witteman, Ashton Gudenkauf.

LE ROY — No one on this team is satisfied with “just getting” to the Kansas Class 1A Girls’ State Basketball Tournament.
Southern Coffey County High’s Lady Titans made that clear to the Register Monday afternoon.
“Yes, reaching the state tournament was one our team goals, “ said junior guard Kristen Garland. “We’re focused on the ultimate goal, which is winning a state championship.”
The Lady Titans broke down one barrier Saturday night at Emporia’s White Auditorium. After two unsuccessful tries at a Class 1A substate championship, they beat Hutchinson Central Christian 53-33.
“There was no more losing this one. The third time’s a charm,” Garland said.
That earned the Lady Titans their first-ever trip to the Kansas Class 1A Girls’ State Basketball Tournament in Hays. In Southern Coffey County High’s short six-year history, no team has played in a state tournament.
The SCCH football team had played in the state playoffs, getting to the regional round.
The Lady Titans are a young but veteran team powered by juniors and sophomores. The lone senior on the state-bound team is Kristen Yotz.
Southern Coffey County (23-2) earned the No. 5 seed in the tournament. The Lady Titans play the fourth-seeded Dighton High Hornets (23-2) at 3 p.m. Wednesday in Hays.
The Class 1A state basketball tournament is held at Fort Hays State’s Busch-Gross Coliseum.
Top-seeded in the state tournament is defending champion South Gray (25-0) and Argonia, which is also 25-0, is seeded second. Frankfort, the No. 8 seed, had a 20-5 record.
The only other repeat team from last year’s state tournament is seventh-seeded Centralia (22-3), which lost in the first round a year ago. Hoxie (24-1) is the No. 3 seed and St. John-Hudson (23-2) is No. 6.
“It’s what you expect from a state tournament. It’s going to be tough by looking at the teams in the tournament,” said Jeff True, Lady Titan head coach, who also has never been a state tournament participant.
“What I’ve learned about Dighton is that they are a lot like us. They have a pretty young team led by a senior point guard. They don’t press much but play a strong man-to-man defense. They are real patient offensively.”
True said the Hornets are led in scoring by three players. Junior post Kaylee Cramer, who is 5-10, averages 17 points a game while senior point guard Kelsey Hubin averages 13 points. They also have 5-10 sophomore Emily Torson working inside, averaging 14 points a game.
Dighton comes out of the Western Kansas Liberty League. The Hornets’ two losses came at the hands of defending champion South Gray and second-place finisher Weskan.
“They are big and will try to keep the pace of the game down. We want to play a little more up-tempo game,” True said. “They will be a good test for us.”
True said he was trying to keep things “normal” for his team as it prepared for the first round of the state tournament. He said the larger arena shouldn’t bother the Lady Titans since they’ve already played games at White Auditorium in Emporia.
Southern Coffey County’s two losses were to Olpe, the No. 2 seed in the Class 2A state tournament. The losses came in Lyon County League play — regular season and league tournament championship game.
“Playing in the Lyon County League this year prepared us more with tough, competitive games,” said junior post player Kaitlin Meyer. “We made mistakes in games and knew how to correct them when we got into a big game like last Saturday.”
Meyer admitted that it took a while to sink in that “we were substate championship and I just sat there as the game ended and smiled a lot. It was exciting but know we’re focusing on the first game of state and working to win it. We don’t want to waste this opportunity.”
Junior guard Shelby Birk said one of the big lessons the Lady Titans took from the two previous substate championship games was “not to foul as much. We learned to keep our intensity level up defensively without getting into foul trouble.
“At first in the substate final, I was nervous. The last 30 seconds of the game, we looked at each other and knew we did it and we were going to state. We’re confident as a team because we’ve played together for a long time.”
“We work well as a team. When we go on the court, we know we need to focus and that has been a key for us,” said Laurie Ohl, junior post player. “And our pressure defense works pretty well for us.
“When we won Saturday night, it was ‘I can’t believe we’ve finally done it.’ We know we’re going to play good teams at state but we’re not looking past the first game.”
The other starter for the Lady Titans is sophomore Samantha Jacob. She said this year she is closer to her teammates and that has made a difference for her.
“Teamwork is key for us. The substate championship game win was big for us for one reason — they (Hutchinson Central Christian) beat us in the volleyball substate championship match,” Jacob said.
“We’re just focusing on one game at a time and work on our goal of winning a state tournament.”
Other members of the SCCH team are juniors Kandace Shields and Kaitlyn Isch, sophomore Kristin Stephens and freshmen Ashton Gudenkauf, Jenna Witteman and Katelyn Rogers.
“The girls are confident in themselves as a team and that’s good. They’ve been walking around school with big smiles on their faces but when it comes to practice, they’ll be all business again,” True said.
“I’ve said it before. They don’t like to lose. They’re handing this well.”
The Lady Titans left today for Hays. True said they have arranged for a place to practice in Hays tonight to get ready for Wednesday’s game.