Archive for Thursday, January 10, 2008

Wristen: New Year’s resolution should be state berth

January 10, 2008

Bulletin board material is a dangerous thing in sports.

If someone runs their mouth a bit too much, those words can be used against them by the opposition. At the same time, rarely do coaches mind if an opponent talks a little pre-game smack. They'll just tell their team about it, and then let their players stew for a bit and use that anger to spark a stronger performance.

The Lansing High girls basketball team needs a good dose of billboard material right now, even if it isn't coming from the opposition. So let me throw it out there.

The LHS girls need to believe that they belong in the Class 5A state tournament this year. State should be more than a goal - it should be an expectation.

They have the talent. They're tested. All of the pieces are in place. The substate lineup is ideal.

There is no reason this team should doubt whether it belongs in the Big Dance.

Earlier in the season I sensed doubt from the Lions, however. They played their most difficult pre-Christmas schedule in four years and came away 3-3. Their losses were to Class 5A defending state champion Bishop Miege, four-time defending Kaw Valley League champion Tonganoxie and undefeated Basehor-Linwood. They were neck-and-neck with Miege for more than three quarters, and kept it close the whole way against Tonganoxie.

During that difficult early stretch, however, the Lions were mired in a team-wide shooting slump. They were playing good basketball, and they were a few made jump shots away from being 5-1.

Still, doubt lingered.

"I think since we've played those rough teams early, we know we can hold them," senior Katie Nietzke said. "It was really early in the season, and we're definitely going to progress during the season. It's just whether or not we're going to do something with it."

Senior Morgan Chiles said the Lions had the potential to make this the best Lansing team in her four years, but she said they had plenty of work to do.

So, why the doubt?

"I think we're still in a state of, 'Oh, we're Lansing. We always come out and put up a fight, but we never pull through,'" Nietzke said. "I think we know that we can do it. It's just we have to get that confidence and that work ethic to make it happen."

Keep in mind, Nietzke's words were spoken during winter break. Interestingly, she said them during an interview that was delayed a bit while she and some of her teammates stuck around after practice to do some extra shooting. She also said a hot streak in January would give the Lions plenty of optimism.

That extra shooting seems to be paying off, and as a result the Lions' confidence is improving.

The shooting slump seems to be over. Junior guard Brittney Lang exploded for 23 points on Friday against Mill Valley, and four Lions scored in double-digits Tuesday against Santa Fe Trail.

That hot streak she talked about? Lansing is 2-0 in January with victories by 12 and 22 points, and the streak should hit three if LHS stays focused for Friday's game against a struggling Turner squad.

Winning games is beneficial for the Lions' confidence, but it's also helping them position themselves for a high seed in the substate tournament. Unlike two years ago when they lost a heartbreaker in the substate finals, this year's bracket won't be loaded with six quality teams. Instead, the picture should be clear-cut. As far as talent and experience are concerned, Lansing and Shawnee Heights stand out as the teams to beat, and both are beginning to distance themselves from the rest of the pack as the top two seeds. The other six teams have a combined 9-27 record.

Sure, it's still early in the season and there are lots of games remaining to be played, but the road map is clear for the Lions. If they take care of business game by game and don't let a few rough shooting days rattle their confidence, then their dreams of making it to the state tournament should become a reality.

And if they run into a few bumps along the way, a little billboard material reminding them of their potential just might come in handy.


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