Although the Leavenworth Pioneers girls’ basketball team fell just short of the team goal of reaching the state tournament, head coach Derek Bissitt still said it was a positive year.

Leavenworth went 10-0 and won the first conference title in the new United Kansas Conference and finished the regular season with a 14-6 record. The Pioneers rolled past Shawnee Mission West 58-36 in the sub-state semifinals before falling in the sub-state finals to Olathe East in overtime 43-41. 

The team finished the year with a 15-7 record.

Bissitt said the Olathe East game was the best game the team played all year.

“Our best overall game of the season was probably our game against Olathe East in the (sub-state) finals,” Bissitt said. “We didn't necessarily score a lot of points or shoot the ball well, but we had everybody playing their butts off defensively against an excellent team. Everybody was on the same page and playing for the same cause. That’s what you like to see as a coach.” 

Bissitt also pointed out that Olathe East had just won their third consecutive Sunflower League title.

The Pioneers had a veteran group returning, but Bissitt said the team had not had much time together. This led to growing pains early on, but the coach said the team developed good chemistry. With only a limited number of players who Bissitt said were ready for varsity minutes, it was key for each player to play their role and have at least three get into double figures to be successful. 

“Usually that was McKenzie Brown, who also averaged nine rebounds,” Bissitt said, “and Alyche Brown and Aleshia Jones, who led us in steals and who were scoring points. But it was just as important that MicQuasha Riddle take care of the ball and set the offensive tempo by pushing the ball and delivering pinpoint passes for easy looks for her teammates. Or that Saniyah Hammonds bring great defensive energy and rebounding or Faith Wright bringing energy off the bench.”

When Bissitt was asked to name a team MVP, he mentioned Jones, Alyche Brown, McKenzie Brown and Riddle. Jones was the UKC Player of the Year and received first-team all-conference honors. 

She also was an honorable mention on the all-state teams released by the Topeka Capital-Journal and Wichita Eagle. McKenzie Brown was first-team all-UKC and honorable mention all-state by the Capital-Journal. 

Alyche Brown was on the all-tournament team for the Pioneers’ December tournament in Joplin, Missouri, and second-team all-UKC. Riddle was an honorable mention all-UKC.

With the season now over, the Pioneers will send off four seniors – McKenzie Brown, Alyche Brown, Riddle and Wright. Bissitt said the four seniors were a class that persevered through a lot. 

“This senior class persevered,” he said. “They had to deal with moving up from 5A to 6A, which is much tougher competition. They moved from the Sunflower League to the UKC, where they went undefeated. They dealt with a lot of selfishness by others who could have made their teams better the past two years, but chose to pursue their own avenues rather than stay with the team and help it to continue the program’s success. That said, these seniors persevered and played very good basketball, losing in the sub-state finals the past two years. Unless you finish the season with a win, which only two teams in each class get to do, sometimes the end of the season can leave a bad taste in your mouth. But this team grew and got a lot out of themselves for all the obstacles they faced. They weren’t the fastest, strongest, tallest or most athletic team. People doubted them, but they learned to play together, to fight and not give up. I personally was very proud of every one of them for showing the guts to work as hard as they did and keep fighting and move forward.”

Looking ahead to next year, Bissitt said the younger players will need to learn from the commitment that the older players showed this season to grow their game by getting in the gym to get better. 

The team will be led by Jones, who Bissitt said is a winner. 

“(Jones) is a winner,” he said, “and knows how to work. She is a great leader, but where she leads, these underclassmen have to be willing to follow.”