Using superior quickness and intense pressure on defense, Incarnate Word Academy won its record-setting eighth state basketball championship on March 18, defeating St. Pius X High School of Kansas City 59-37.
Early on in the Class 4 contest, Incarnate Word's rebounding stood out. St. Pius thrived on accurate shooting and ballhandling. In the second quarter, Incarnate Word took a 22-13 lead but St. Pius pushed forward, nearly evening the score at 22-21 at halftime.
Incarnate Word coach Dan Rolfes said, "We were a little slow and tentative in the first half," then the team turned up the defensive pressure, "and that was the difference in the game."
The aim, he said, was to create a fast-paced game with opportunities for steals. Incarnate Word's players followed through, with 10 steals to three for St. Pius. Incarnate Word made 41.9 percent of its shots and St. Pius made 28.9 percent.
Incarnate Word's quickness forced several St. Pius turnovers in the third quarter, but St. Pius' 3-point shots kept the team in the game. Incarnate's Marisa Warren hit a big 3-pointer at the third quarter buzzer to extend the team's lead to 37-29.
Sonya Morris made a layup and a foul shot to increase the lead to 49-31 in the fourth quarter. Incarnate Word controlled the ball the rest of the way and coasted to the win.
Incarnate Word was led by Morris with 17 points, Kiki Britzmann with 10 and Warren with nine points and eight rebounds. St. Pius' Abby Hipp, a senior, had 13 points and 16 rebounds. She was a constant presence under the boards, and Incarnate Word fought hard for every rebound and point when Hipp was near the ball.
Grace Fortmann, one of two seniors for Incarnate Word, said the team was extra motivated following a defeat in the semifinals last year. The win this year "showed all the hard work we put in every single day," she said. "We want to hang another banner in the gym, that's what it's all about."
The other senior, Naomi Johnson, said the team emphasizes defense. She added this year's team clicked from the beginning on and off the court.
She appreciates how much she's learned at Incarnate Word and having "one of the greatest coaches I ever had," Johnson said with emotion. "I'm going to miss Incarnate so much."
Rolfes acknowledged the significance of the school's record number of state titles, though he wasn't aware of it until the previous day, saying, "Our goal is to win a state championship every year."
The number shows "what great players we've had," Rolfes said, pointing out former player and current assistant coach Felicia Wootton and current University of Connecticut star Napheesa Collier, among others.
Because of its success, Rolfes said, Incarnate Word gets every team's "best shot" during the season, and that helps prepare the team for what it faces during the state playoffs.
St. Pius coach Bob Fenzel was gracious, praising Incarnate Word as a well-coached team that puts "a tremendous amount of pressure" on its opponents' offense. "Give them credit," he said.
Incarnate Word defeated Carl Junction 47-24 in the semifinal game. The team led 29-2 at halftime, with Carl Junction scoring on two free throws. Carl Junction had only lost two games coming into the semifinal. Nakayla Jackson-Morris led Incarnate Word with 11 points and Britzmann had 10 with a team-leading six rebounds. Incarnate Word made 51.5 percent of its shots and held Carl Junction to 26.7 percent shooting.
Earlier in the playoffs, Incarnate Word also defeated Parkway North 62-47 and Warrenton 53-46.
St. Joseph's Academy finished fourth in the state in Class 5 after losing to Rock Bridge 64-51 on March 18. Kelly McLaughlin had 16 points and seven rebounds and Alex Kerr had 14 points. St. Joseph's came close to heading to the finals, falling 48-44 in the semifinals to Lee's Summit March 17. Kerr had 15 points and McLaughlin had 12 and eight rebounds.
Earlier in the playoffs, St. Joseph's defeated Jackson 44-36 and McCluer North 56-51.
In Class 5 boys competition, Chaminade finished fourth in the state after losing to Kickapoo 89-78 on March 18. Chaminade led 42-41 at half before falling behind in the third quarter. Reggie Crawford had 41 points and eight rebounds for Chaminade.
Lee's Summit West defeated Chaminade 74-69 March 17 in the semifinals. Lee's Summit jumped to a 20-9 lead after the first quarter and 39-22 at half before Chaminade closed the gap to 68-67 on a free-throw shot by Jericole Hellems with 55 seconds left. A layup by Jadis White cut the lead to two points with 16 seconds left. Hellems led Chaminade with 27 points and 13 rebounds, and Kerrington Davis had 21 points.
Chaminade won the state championship last year, with Jayson Tatum, now playing for Duke University, getting 40 points and 14 rebounds.
Chaminade defeated Jackson 79-46 and Pattonville 90-75 earlier in the playoffs. Also in Class 5 boys, Christian Brothers College High School advanced to quarterfinals before losing to Webster Groves High School 76-57. CBC ended the season 20-10.
In Class 4 boys competition, St. Mary's High School lost in the first round 72-68 in overtime to Vashon. St. Mary's finished the season 25-4.RELATED ARTICLE(S):Bouncing back: Incarnate Word Academy strives to excel on, off the court