Wristen: Future a mystery for LHS girls
Rachel Darrow, Amanda Radovich and Nichole Twitchel had tears in their eyes as they walked off the basketball court for the final time Saturday.
The Lansing High seniors were devastated that their high school hoops careers had ended one game short of the Class 5A state tournament.
The sting of the 66-48 season-ending loss to Shawnee Heights - last year's state runner-up - will wear off during the next few weeks and the seniors will be able to look back and appreciate just how much they truly accomplished during their final season. They snapped a six-year string of losing seasons for girls basketball at Lansing. They placed second in the Kaw Valley League. They posted a 15-7 record. Their team even spent three weeks ranked in the top 10 in the state and finished the year ranked No. 10 in 5A.
Considering LHS was just 7-14 two years ago, those accomplishments should be considered remarkable progress. Second-year coach Keith Andrews certainly thinks so, and he said it would hurt losing three players who were so instrumental in the program's revival.
"Moreso than basketball, they're great kids," he said. "They're great basketball players, too, but it's really going to hurt just not having them around."
More than scoring points, Darrow, Radovich and Twitchel brought leadership to the court. Just like the senior class before them, they learned that playing team-ball worked much better than playing me-ball. In fact, that was their final message to their younger teammates after Saturday's loss.
"We told them, 'Ladies, this will show you where teamwork will get you,'" Darrow said. "The first two years at Lansing we had so much drama and stuff that didn't belong in team-ball. We told them, 'Do not ever look back, and don't put up with any of that. Play as a team, and it will get you a lot further.'"
The three seniors also were arguably Lansing's toughest competitors. It's that aspect that may make them most difficult to replace. Twitchel was the Lions' best perimeter defender and most aggressive player off the dribble. Darrow was the Lions' conscience as she always played with a scowl on her face and endless intensity. Radovich was the Lions' strongest player and sacrificed her body constantly - whether it was diving for a loose ball or slamming into an opposing defender while driving to the basket - for the sake of winning a basketball game.
The leadership and toughness are the two things the Lions will miss most from this senior class. Sure, the trio combined for almost 40 points per game, but offense can be found elsewhere in the future. It's the core values that must find new caretakers.
Darrow, Radovich and Twitchel knew what it was like to play in atmospheres they deemed positive and not-so-positive. The returning Lions only know the new tradition, the up-tempo, feel-good style that has permeated the program for the past two seasons and contributed to 25 victories during that span. The reins are in their hands now. It's their job to keep things going and take another step forward.
Fortunately for Andrews, he has a tight nucleus of players returning who played instrumental roles on this year's club. Two starters - junior Elizabeth Cristiano and sophomore Katie Nietzke - were everyday starters. Nietzke is the primary returning scoring threat with an average of almost eight points per game. Four others - sophomores Morgan Chiles, Christine Cordes, Amanda Darrow and freshman Brittney Lang - played major varsity minutes. They know the offense. They know the defense. They know the expectations.
Still, leadership is something that comes from within. Andrews can't coach it. The players have to step up and embrace that role. Whether or not they will is the question. Fortunately, we won't have to wait until next year to know the answer. You'll know it based on who is in the weight room this summer, who is playing summer basketball and who is organizing pick-up games.
The Lions lost three great leaders in Darrow, Radovich and Twitchel. Now it's time for new ones to emerge.