In 1995, Jim Johnson, then the basketball coach of Incarnate Word Academy, guided the Red Knights to a 51-50 victory over Helias High School of Jefferson City for the Missouri Class 3 girls high school championship, their first title in a long — and historic — run of success.
Eight more state titles as well as eight additional Final Four finishes followed under coach Dan Rolfes, who succeed Johnson in 2000. The nine state championships overall give Incarnate Word the Missouri record for girls high school basketball, while Rolfes has the coach’s record with eight. Forty-four Red Knights have gone on to play college basketball, including 21 in NCAA Division 1 under Rolfes, and several others under Johnson.
Incarnate Word’s long-term success led to the program’s and Rolfes’ induction into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame last month in Springfield, Mo. The school commemorated the honor Dec. 3 at the school in ceremonies that also included retiring the uniform number of alumna and current University of Connecticut player Napheesa Collier. The 2015 graduate and teammates from UConn, which is ranked first in the nation, drew cheers and also cheered along as Incarnate Word celebrated its basketball program.
“It’s a huge honor playing for Incarnate Word, a great experience, and it’s awesome that Napheesa is here,” said 2016 graduate Ivana Easley, who scored 10 points in the 2015 state title game. Collier scored 30 points and grabbed 19 rebounds in that game for the team’s third consecutive state championship, and seventh overall.
Robin Lacefield attended the ceremony representing her daughter Katie Lacefield, a 2016 graduate who played on those teams. Now a softball player at Indiana University, Katie regularly keeps in touch with her former coach. “We were so blessed to have the opportunity for her to play for Incarnate Word and for Dan,” Robin Lacefield said.
After the ceremony, Collier accommodated well-wishers and autographs-seekers. Basketball enthusiast Avelina McKinzie, a sixth-grader at All Saints School in St. Peters, called Collier “one of my big inspirations and leads me to play harder in the games.”
The UConn forward, who is averaging 18 points and 10 rebounds this season, was praised by speakers as much for her humble, caring personality as for her accomplishments. Later, Collier confided that the attention was a bit embarrassing but that she felt “so much love. I feel so special and blessed to be here, to be coached by Coach Rolfes and all the other staff and play with all the girls I did and (be with) the girls who were there before us.”
Though she isn’t Catholic, she cherishes values taught at the school “to be morally just and to try to be the best person I can be,” she said. Collier also commended her family’s support, noting that every season they asked whether basketball was still something she wanted to do and stressed that they’d support whatever decision she made.
Rolfes appreciates such support, crediting the “great kids and great families that have put a lot of time and effort into our program,” where success is reaped off the court as players move into other phases of life.
“So many of these girls are great mothers, engineers, nurses and doctors,” he said. “It’s just fun to see what they’ve accomplished.”
His predecessor, Johnson, now dean of students at Incarnate Word, agreed, saying, “It’s a blast to see them successful with their families and great lives.”