Lansing enters first state semifinal with plenty of big-game experience
After hosting the quarterfinal round of the 5A state tournament Monday, Lansing women’s basketball is headed to Emporia for its first-ever appearance in the semifinal round of the state tournament.
The Lions (19-3) advanced to the final four with a 64-51 win against Bonner Springs, in a change from previous years where quarterfinal games were played at host sites, rather than the tournament site.
“It’s kind of a double-edged sword,” head coach KC Simmons said, “being able to host another game in our house is always beneficial because we haven’t lost at home in two years now, but part of going to state is actually going so I’m glad we won and get to go Thursday.”
Despite missing out on traveling to Emporia for the quarterfinals, plenty of Lions already carry state tournament experience from volleyball.
Juniors Caitlin Bishop, Kamryn Farris and McKenzie Moburg have already captured third- and second-place finishes with the Lions while sophomore Skylar Weaver and junior Mackenzie Manthe joined the team last season for the runner-up finish. Simmons said having that experience is important for a team in its third-ever state appearance.
“If you’re a winner, you’re a winner,” he said. “They know what it takes to win and I think that is one of our strongest attributes this year. They’ve been through so many competitive events and they just know how to win.”
A recent example saw the Lions trailing Piper 31-30 with less than 10 seconds left in the sub-state championship Friday. After a handful of attempts to take the lead in the final minute, the Lions inbounded the ball underneath their basket for the final possession. Simmons said they ran a play that normally goes to Farris but the Pirates anticipated it, leaving the door open for Manthe to slide in and make a layup to clinch the state berth.
“We’ve kind of been in situations all year where we feel like maybe things aren’t going to go our way but we never hang our heads,” Simmons said.
After knocking down the game-winning shot Friday, Manthe stole the show again Monday in the quarterfinals. She went off for a game-high 25 points and sparked the Lions in the first half with 11 straight points.
“She’s super coachable and always willing to work,” Simmons said. “Having a six-foot girl that can come in and score and do some things we weren’t really expecting to have at the end of last year has been nice.”
It’s not just one scorer getting the job done for the Lions as Farris and Bishop each reached double digits Monday and the entire team dished out 19 assists.
“When we start to click, it feels like we’re the only ones that can stop us,” Simmons said. “If we get the ball moving, ourselves moving and play unselfish, we’re a really hard team to guard.”
The Lions face a mountain of an opponent in the semifinals as they take on St. Thomas Aquinas (18-2) – winners of four straight state championships – with three rotation players taller than six feet. Simmons said they have to play virtually mistake-free in order to hang with the Saints.
“We’ve been really emphasizing that we have to take care of the ball,” he said. “Aquinas is not going to beat themselves, they will not turn the ball over, and if you want to win games, you need to be close to even in the turnover battle.”
In a normal year, reaching the semifinals of the state tournament usually guarantees two games with the semifinal matchup, followed by either the championship or third-place game. Due to the circumstances surrounding the pandemic, the third-place game was eliminated this year, meaning the Lions will have to win Thursday or go home.
“We haven’t talked about there not being a third-place game because the focus is on playing in the championship,” Simmons said. “I’m getting our kids excited for the opportunity to end Aquinas’ streak. They are the four-time state champions for a reason but they’re not going to win every state title, they’re going to lose some time and how cool would it be if we were the team to knock them off that pedestal.”
The Lions and Saints are scheduled to tip at 7 p.m. Thursday at White Auditorium on the campus of Emporia State University. The game will be broadcasted on the NFHS Network.