Under new management, Lions to rise/Player profile: Megan Ernzen
Over a handful of years, Christine Robinson turned around the Lansing High girls’ basketball program to where it was a consistent challenger in the Kaw Valley League (KVL) and the wins bumped up annually.
Now she has moved on and former assistant KC Simmons took the helm this summer after two years sitting next to Robinson after coming to Lansing following a year coaching the boys of Class 3A Belle Plains.
“It’s super exciting, there’s so many different aspects to approach,” Simmons said earlier this summer. “The kids here are awesome. One thing that is exciting about the job is that I knew the kids I’d be working with and we have had a good relationship having worked with them on the JV. I wanted to build on what coach Robinson has in place and hopefully take us the next step farther.”
Simmons takes over during an exciting time as the Lions are set to wrap play in the KVL and move to a new league beginning in 2018-19 which will include Leavenworth High.
“People talk about the league, but you play who you play,” Simmons said. “It doesn’t matter who’s on your schedule and you play who is on the court the same time as you. We play who is in front of us.
“The one thing that I am excited about the league: I want to play Leavenworth because they are one of the best teams in the state. Why do we not play a school a few miles away? It’s just asking to be a great rivalry. It will be a great opportunity for the kids and community, I don’t see any downside of that. We’ve wanted to test ourselves the last few years, so getting to play Leavenworth, we are looking to doing that.”
This opportunity for Simmons came a lot quicker than he expected.
“I was excited, because I always wanted to be a head coach,” Simmons said. “Last job, I kind of chased and I went to it, this one kind of came to me. I didn’t think the opportunity would come again so soon. I really like coaching girls the more I’ve done it. They are totally different. They are more coachable, they will listen to you. They are more competitive and don’t have the ‘I know it all’ attitude.”
The players, like senior Kennadee Sommerla, have appreciated having Simmons take the position and add his own touch.
“(Robinson) definitely improved the program and she definitely put her stamp on it,” Sommerla said. “I think coach Simmons, and the fact he is new this year, will build off what she’s done the last five years.
“(The teams before Robinson) were pretty bad. The best thing she did for us was to use players (in their best roles). She built on us to not only get individually better, but as a team.”
“He’s definitely bringing in togetherness and increased fun,” Sommerla said. “He’s focused on the little things and communication. He wants us to hustle. He wants us running in drills and working hard so we don’t have to run extra.”
The Lions did well during the summer at some team camps and at the Blue Valley summer league.
“We have five key players coming back from a .500 team and that’s exciting,” Simmons said. “They had a good finish, so it’s nice to have them back. We have some younger kids coming in. The height is definitely going to be an issue. We didn’t have height last year too, so it’s always going to be an evolving question how we will deal with the height. We are hoping to play even faster than we have the last couple years.
“Hopefully we can get out and run and wear teams down for the fourth quarter. If you thought we were fast last year, there is always another level you can go.”
One of those returning players is senior Megan Ernzen.
“It’s definitely exciting, we’re going to have a lot of good things happen this year,” Ernzen said. “We have some changes that have come, but I know this team is ready to work this summer and I am excited to lead the team and hopefully make some good things happen.”
Things have come a long way since the current Lions were little girls watching those Lansing players before them.
“(Robinson) brought the intensity to the game,” junior Taylor Lang said. “They were slower and bigger and didn’t push up the court like we do because we are all guards. We probably score a lot of our points on the fast break. My group that came up as freshmen, came up and played together so she kind of took that and built off of that. “
Simmons is now in charge, but he appreciates the work it took to get the program here.
“She had everything in place,” Simmons said of Robinson. “The kids know what’s expected and have the same high expectations if not raising the bar a little bit. Most people don’t realize you have to organize camps, shoes and so many other aspects. It’s not just coaching that goes into all of it.”
Player profile – Megan Ernzen: Taking her game to the next level
Like a battery with legs and basketball handles, Lansing senior Megan Ernzen may not be the tallest person on a court, but she brings a lot of heart and tons of punch to the fray.
The senior Lansing High Lion has taken the reins of the program along with two other classmates and she is starting to realize her time in the program is winding down.
“It didn’t really hit me, until the beginning of camp, being the oldest one here and realizing all the older ones were gone,” Ernzen said about her and fellow seniors Regan Gatson and Kennadee Sommerla. “It’s scary to think that’s it almost the end. It feels like my time on the Lansing basketball team has flown by. I have grown from it and it’s been life changing for me. You realize you get older through the program and it has definitely helped me get better.”
Ernzen has quietly developed into a steady force for the Lions in her years on the varsity.
“Megan impressed us a lot last year, she dealt with a lot of different things, and I would never have guessed she’d be our leading scorer, she’s known as a defensive player,” new head coach KC Simmons said. “Her defense led to a lot of her offense. If you look at her shot selection, it’s super tight, she never took a bad shot. Her shot selection is as good as you can get. Hopefully, she continues to keep that direction and keeps getting better and better.
“She is a great kid to be around. She’s a lot funnier and has a lot more personality since she was stoic when I first met her. The more you get to know her, there is so much more to her. She’s in charge of leadership off the court and a 4.0 and is everything you want in a player. She is the only player who hasn’t played a minute for me on JV so now I get to finally coach her in a game.”
She hasn’t had a lot of opportunities to just be a kid as the program has expected her to step up for three years now. Ernzen laments how she could have taken some things to heart during that process.
“I wish that, now being a senior and seeing how close I am with my teammates, it could have been that way my freshman and sophomore year, because that feeling of family you get with your team, you don’t realize how important it is until your older,” Ernzen said. “I should have appreciated it more when I was younger. Finding myself, growing up has helped and playing basketball has made me realize what I want to do in the future.”
She wants to play college basketball and is trying to hone her craft to make that happen.
“Maybe not go somewhere super big, but it’s something I really want to do and I have to work harder to get there,” Ernzen said. “I’ve got one recruiting letter, but I hope to reach out and I have someone helping me.
“Last year I definitely improved because I finally realized how to score for myself. Because I’m short, it’s hard to score inside, but I found a way to get inside and score easier, because I have never really been a shooter. I have to work on that to get to the next level. I have to get my shot to work and expand my range as a player from the defense to the offensive end. Next year you’ll probably see me knock down a 3-point shot, because I have never made one. That’s what I am working on: extending my range.”
Ernzen does find time to stay in basketball shape in the offseason and also enjoy life’s little pleasures.
“I do go to the gym twice a week during the offseason and in the summer a lot more,” Ernzen said. “This summer I am working a 4-H camp for kids at the ag center in Kansas City. I am going to a few leadership camps because that’s what I want to study when I go to college. It’s my passion.
“I normally just spend time with my friends in the free time that I do have. Normally I am at home with my family or we have a lot of animals at home, so being in 4-H, I’ve kind of grown up around animals and have had to take care of them.”