By Todd Fertig
The Washburn Rural girls will have a chance to defend their Class 6A state title next week, thanks to a sub-state title-game win over rival Topeka High, 45-29, on Saturday night at Topeka High.
Seeded fifth in the 6A West bracket, the Junior Blues had their work cut out for them to reach the state tournament. They would be required to defeat, for the third time this season, Centennial League foes Manhattan and fourth-seeded Topeka High.
The phrase, 'It’s hard to beat a team three times,' was uttered frequently, but the Junior Blues did it.
Washburn Rural jumped on the Trojans out of the gate and didn’t let up.
Topeka High was held to just four points in each of the first three periods, finding themselves in an insurmountable deficit of 32-12. The Trojans were limited to just three field goals prior to the fourth period.
“It’s a big testament to what these kids are like,” Washburn Rural coach Kevin Bordewick said. “The toughness, the resiliency facing adversity. This might have been our toughest game, having to come to their place, after what we’ve been through.”
Foremost in the challenges the Junior Blues have overcome was the mid-season loss of senior point guard Zoe Canfield. An injury to the Kansas University-commit deprived Washburn Rural of a ball handler and consistent outside shooter. Canfield wouldn’t be replaced by any one individual and Bordewick pointed to the play of sophomores Kate Hinck and Tenly Bunck and junior Destiny Ochs as instrumental.
“They had some big shoes to fill,” Bordewick said. “They had to pick up a lot of slack. If they hadn’t, we aren’t here.”
Leading the Junior Blues over Topeka High was senior Brooklyn DeLeye, one of the mainstays of last year’s title team. DeLeye scored 17 points on six of 10 shooting Saturday.
Seniors Chloe Carlgren and MaRyah Lutz added 11 and eight points, respectively.
“This was a huge win for us,” DeLeye said. “(Topeka High has) been our rival for four years. We wanted to just play our normal game, but step it up a notch. The energy we had and the momentum, we kept the pressure on them.”
Leading the way at the defensive end was Carlgren, who drew the assignment of dogging the Trojans’ high-scoring senior Kiki Smith. Smith was limited to just four points until the fourth period, when she got untracked for three 3-pointers to finish with 13 points.
Noting that the previous two meetings between the Topeka rivals had been closely fought, Bordewick credited his team’s defensive execution.
“We can look at film for some tendencies, and we did that. But T-High didn’t hit shots that they normally hit,” Bordewick. “Kiki was kind of held in check until the last three minutes. We know she’s a great scorer, and I thought Chloe did a great job on her. I thought we were locked in on what they were going to do and held true to our game plan.”
The Junior Blues will await the schedule of the 6A tournament in Wichita. In preparation, they can draw on lessons learned a year ago.
“Anytime you experience something, it’s great,” Bordewick said. “But we won it last year when we hadn’t been there two years in a row. So experience helps, but it’s not the end all. What we have in terms of our leadership and our tenacity to play defense, I like our chances. But everyone has a 0-0 record there, and it’s one game at a time.”
Is this a team capable of winning another state title?
“Well, we’re sure going to think we are,” Bordewick said. “We’ve got a lot of things we’ve got to go over and cover. But I wouldn’t bet against us.”
DeLeye will have a lot to say about whether the Junior Blues can repeat. But she credits her new teammates for making it possible.
“Losing those seniors last year really put a dent in us, but those incoming players just came in with that same fight, like ‘We want that state championship again,’ ” DeLeye said. “It’s been (important) for us seniors to lead the way for them. But we’re all varsity players, so we all treat each other the same way.
“Honestly, we have a lot of new faces, but we have one set goal, and we’ll just take it one game at a time.”
WASHBURN RURAL GIRLS 45, TOPEKA HIGH 29
Washburn Rural 9 14 9 13 -- 45
Topeka High 4 4 4 17 -- 29
Washburn Rural (16-5) – Lutz 1-3 5-6 8, Hinck 0-3 1-2 1, Carlgren 2-5 7-8 11, Bunck 2-4 1-2 6, DeLeye 6-10 3-5 17 Ochs 1-2 0-0 2. Totals: 12-27 17-23 .
Topeka High (16-6) – Leesman 3-10 0-0 6, Baird 0-11 2-2 2, Caryl 1-3 0-1 0, Shields 0-2 2-2 2, Smith 4-9 2-2 13, Marshall 1-6 2-2 4, Benning 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 9-42, 8-9 29.
3-point goals – Washburn Rural 4 (DeLeye 2, Lutz 1, Bunck 1), Topeka High 3 (Smith 3). Total fouls – Washburn Rural 10, Topeka High 15. Fouled out – None. Technical fouls – None.