This isn’t about being a superstar or being the best player we’ve seen in forever. No. This is a story of a young woman put in the position of taking the reins of the most successful girls’ basketball run produced in the area this century.
Leavenworth High senior Cierra Robinson – the team’s lone 12th-grader – was given a job she didn’t want, leading a roster full of turnover, a loss of three heavy hitters – one of which she thought might play this year – to hopefully not just make a sixth-straight Class 5A state tournament, but, heck, just have a good year.
With young kids running all over the place and having to play against the toughest schedule of any local team, Robinson battled along, scoring 12.7, grabbing 3.2 rebounds, dishing just shy of three assists and hitting a number of important shots a game to not only lead a team, but bring it to the cusp of yes, another, state qualification.
Alas, the season ended last Saturday with a sub-state final defeat at St. Thomas Aquinas, but not before the Pioneers made things interesting until their season wrapped with a 13-9 record – 7-6 in the final season of Sunflower League play.
It’s for all of that responsibility and lack of experience around her that, combined with her performance on the court, more than makes Robinson worthy of being named the 2017-18 Leavenworth Times’ Select Girls’ Basketball Player of the Year.
In the offseason, it was hoped that Robinson and classmate and blossoming superstar Aarika Lister would be the seniors of the squad. When Lister made other plans and did not play, it put Robinson in the position to lead the team on her own.
Her performance was duly noted.
“She was our only senior, she led us in scoring all season and she has been our intensity leader on and off the court who has taken care of all of the little things that need to be taken care of,” Leavenworth High head coach Derek Bissitt said. “She is a survivor. She stuck with the program for four years and I appreciate that immensely as a coach. It's hard when almost everybody you have played with through your high school career is gone and you are playing with a very young team. She had to learn to be patient with her teammates and trust them and understand that it was a different group of girls she was playing with and new coaches. She is a smart kid who understands how to play the game.
“That intelligence will take her to the United States Air Force Academy next year.”
The future cadet showed the signs of someone willing to step up to the plate – despite her protestations – and reflect on a season that gave back.
“It was definitely a tough position to be in, not a high comfort zone,” Robinson said. “In the past we had Terrion (Moore) or Zoie (Hayward) and my job was literally just to go out there play defense, rebound and get them the ball. The little things.
“I had A completely different mindset this year, having to be a leader and do everything. (Saturday) was a little disappointing because I wanted to achieve something that wasn’t expected. I wanted to show people that we are not chumps like everyone thinks we are. We played hard, but I think experience really came in and did us in. Aquinas was a really experienced team.”
Not having Moore or Hayward playing huge roles the past two years along with Alicia Brown and Destinee Robinson in 2015-16, was a big hole to fill, but the Pioneers did what they did with only Robinson to look up to.
“It was a tough season and there were multiple times where I didn’t want to be the leader this year, I am going to be completely honest,” Robinson said. “That’s not something I want to do, I don’t want to get after people. It’s not a fun job all the time, especially when you are by yourself. It’s easier when you have someone, like if Aarika was with me or someone else. Terrion had Zoie, Destinee had Alicia, the Big Three (Rachel Blackburn, Toshia Jones, Tyler Johnson), you know? It’s easier when you have that and when you are the only senior, it all falls on you.
“I definitely had help from my teammates and coaches who encouraged me to keep going when I didn’t want to. It was tough. It was all worth it. I am up to go to the Air Force Academy and everyone there is a leader. It was definitely preparation for what is about to come in the future.”
As the season wound down, Robinson became more of a go-to player, taking control when the team struggled or demanding the ball in clutch situations.
She admits that it was born out of a knowledge that her prep career was about to come to a close. She still might play at Air Force as a walk-on after originally being recruited, but seeing them move on to sign others, the door is still open.
“It’s not guaranteed that I won’t play next year or ever again,” she said. “It was a reality check that it was my last couple of games in a Leavenworth jersey, on my home floor, with my parents watching. Hearing ‘Cierra Robinson, number 15.’ It was like, ‘Oh my God, this is crazy.’”
Rest of the Select
McKenzie Brown, junior, Leavenworth: Brown was just short of a double-double with 9.8 ppg and 9.4 rpg and shot 58 percent against some tall timber across the schedule. She slowly became a more unstoppable offensive player as the season went on, forcing more double-teams down the stretch of the campaign. “Kenz has grown up so much and matured this season,” Bissitt said. “She was really our rock. Coming into the season she had pretty much only been asked to defend, rebound and that was it. It was fun to see her develop her game and become a more complete player. She developed a nice 15-foot jump shot and when she really learns to play with her back to the basket consistently she will be a force to be reckoned with offensively to complement her defensive and rebounding prowess. She had some games when other people were out when she stepped up and dominated people. When all of that comes together next year I think she has a shot to have an amazing senior season.”
Lindsey Heim, junior, Pleasant Ridge: Everyone knew who she was, the opposition continued to game plan for her and quite frankly, it didn’t matter. The Rams had one of their better seasons in quite some time and it added up to a sub-state final appearance due in large part to Heim’s 18.5 ppg average and fulfilling a number of roles that the team needed. “She is our go-to player,” Pleasant Ridge head coach Mike Koontz said. “She does everything for us.”
Aleshia Jones, freshman, Leavenworth: In a year that gave the area a number of good freshmen, Jones was the best of them all. She averaged more than nine points and five rebounds a game, forced 2.2 steals a night and improved as a facilitator as a young lady thrown into the gauntlet. “Aleshia had a great freshman season,” Bissitt said. “Because of our lack of overall size, she was forced to spend a lot of her time in the post. She often was asked to guard much taller players, play on the front of the press, score points and rebound. Her game was really centered around her athletic ability, her effort and hustle. When she really develops a consistent outside jump shot, 3-point shot and grows, which I think she will, she is going to be a tough person for opponents to guard. I am confident she will develop that type of game because she wants to be good. Not too many freshmen have multiple 20-point games offensively, but she did. She is an awesome kid to coach. A coach’s dream and I hope she never changes.”
Taylor Lang, junior, Lansing: Lang was a major ballhandler for the Lions and averaged 12 points, six assists, four rebounds, three steals and three deflections a game for one of the best Lansing teams in recent memory. “She’s a junior that stepped up into a larger role this year due to graduation and has made the most of the situation,” Simmons said. “Taylor had multiple double-digit assist games and did a good job running the offense and pushing the ball up the floor. She fills up a stat sheet in a variety of ways each game.”
Gerenda Smith, junior, Lansing: Smith averaged 15 points and 10 rebounds a game this season and was a force on the defensive side. A double-double machine can only get better. That’s exciting to think about. “She got the opportunity to step into a larger role this year and has shined bright,” Simmons said. “She is the model of consistency, averaging 15 points without a game higher than 22 points. Gerenda averaged a double-double on the season which is an accomplishment in its own right. She tied the record for most rebounds in a game with 19 early in the year. She was a difficult matchup for anyone in the state.”
Katie Yankovich, senior, Basehor-Linwood: Yankovich’s final year ended with her averaging just shy of 11 points and 7.6 rebounds a night, while hitting 42 triples – a school record for 3-pointers. “It’s a no-brainer, we will miss Katie,” BLHS head coach Jason Tatkenhorst said.
Megan Ernzen, senior, Lansing
Regan Gatson, senior, Lansing
Adell Gore, freshman, Basehor-Linwood
Julie Miller, junior, Pleasant Ridge
Kaija Nutsch, sophomore, Pleasant Ridge
Riley Tinder, sophomore, Basehor-Linwood