Leavenworth girls prepare for first state trip since 2003

It has been nearly a decade since the Lady Pioneers last competed for a state basketball championship.

That will all change at 3 o'clock this afternoon. At that hour, the Leavenworth girls will have the honor of playing in the opening contest of the 2013 Class 5A state basketball tournament.

"I believe this is our first time back since 2003 and second time in the last 23 years," LV coach Derek Zeck said. "We try not to talk too much about that. We are just trying to get better each and every game and not make a big deal about any one game."

Still, the moment will be pretty memorable, even if a tall task follows behind it. And that chore starts today for the Lady Pioneers, when the squad faces the tournament's top seed, St. Thomas Aquinas, at 3 p.m.

The Saints are ranked No. 1 thanks to a 21-1 season record and Eastern Kansas League season and tournament titles.

"They are obviously really good, but I think we matchup with them really well," Zeck said. "They have two really good post players, 6-foot-3 and 6-foot-2. They have a really good wing, who is probably the best player in the EKL, and good guards. But height-wise, I think we matchup with them as well as anyone in the state."

Thus, the game's biggest showdown will come inside the paint, which Leavenworth knows it must defend with tooth and nail.

"I think defense is a big factor for our success at state," Pioneer guard Emma Zeck said. "We've tried really hard to work on defense all year and now is the time to show that."

Her coach, and father, wholeheartedly agrees.

"They are a team that is old-school and likes to run offense over and over until they get a good shot," the LV coach said. "We will need to stay disciplined defensively. We also need to really make sure we are efficient on the offensive end."

The Lady Pioneers also referenced the need to stay together, no matter what they face today or later this week inside the Topeka Expocentre.

"We have to have confidence in ourselves," Pioneer senior guard Rashayla Mathis said. "We need to believe in each other and always lift each other up when things are going wrong."

So, for the first time since 2003, the Leavenworth girls' will chase after the ultimate prize.

"Ultimately, we really need to stick together on and off the court," LV senior forward Emily Ruble said.

For up-to-the-minute scores and news from this week's state action, follow Twitter.com/LVTSportsGuy.

Class 5A Girls' State Basketball Tournament

No. 1 Aquinas (21-1) vs. No. 8 Leavenworth (14-8) — 3 p.m. today

No. 4 Newton (18-4) vs. No. 5 Andover (18-4) — 4:45 p.m. today

Winner of Aquinas/Leavenworth vs. Newton/Andover — 3 p.m. Friday

5A State Championship — 4 p.m. Saturday

* All games will be at the Topeka Expocentre*