“Whatever it takes” — speed, quickness, tough defense and rebounding — could be the slogan for the Incarnate Word basketball team this season.
The Catholic high school in north St. Louis County has a state-record eight state basketball championships, including last season. Current University of Connecticut star Napheesa Collier leads a long list of former star players. A loyal following packs the gym for home games.
“What’s special about this team is we have multiple people who can score and defend,” coach Dan Rolfes said after a 57-18 win Jan. 16 against Cardinal Ritter College Prep, Incarnate Word’s 10th win against three losses. “To me, the successful teams we’ve had are the ones that are the most balanced, not relying on one or two kids. That’s a huge attribute about this team — our balance.”
Nine Incarnate Word players scored against Cardinal Ritter, with three reaching double figures — Marisa Warren, 13; Rickie Woltman, 12; and Tyler Flowers, 10.
A strong defense set the tone for the win at home Jan. 16, as Cardinal Ritter made only 14.8 percent of its shots. “We just kind of slowly did our thing and built the lead each quarter,” he said.
The team treasures its home games. “Our students support us extremely well, they’re loud and they get into the game, so it’s a fun environment for our kids to play in,” Rolfes said. The players “put in a ton of time and hard work into it, so they want to show off what they’ve been working hard on all year.”
In sports, Rolfes said, “there’s more to it than just the wins and losses. We talk about how we conduct ourselves on and off court and the life lessons we’re learning from athletics.”
Flowers, one of three seniors on Incarnate Word, said “we play at a fast pace, but everything is very particular. We’re calm and know what we’re doing. We have a certain way of playing basketball, and we just have to execute.”
The team is close off the court, and that helps on the court, Flowers said.
The Red Knight’s tradition is important to the players, she added. “Being able to play where some of the greats from St. Louis have played is really and honor, to be on a team with phenomenal basketball players,” she said.
As for her own game, she said she keeps her faith, knowing that “everything happens for a reason. God has plans for me. I know He will make a way, and that has happened.”
Sonya Morris, who starred in last year’s championship game with 17 points, said the players’ athleticism gives the team a clear advantage, and the chemistry of teammates on and off the court leads to knowing where players will be at various parts of the game.
“Effort and energy always is the biggest thing,” she said. “And our defense always gets our offense going.”
She praised Cardinal Ritter’s team, which moved to 9-3 after the game Jan. 16. “It’s always good playing against teams like this who have a lot of energy and make it fun,” Morris said.
The game also is fun when players encourage each other, she said, such as when a teammate is praised for making “a good pass, a good finish or a good catch.”
The team is humble and doesn’t let the hype of success get to it, explained Morris, who is headed to play basketball next season at DePaul University in Chicago.
The senior said it’s a blessing to go to Incarnate Word, which offers a good education and strong foundation. “It makes me accountable for my actions on and off the court,” she said.
The faith aspect is important as well. Players pray together before each game, that no one gets hurt, that everyone has fun and has a good game, Morris added.