By: Brent Maycock, KSHSAA Covered
MANHATTAN, Kan. (KSHSAA Covered) – If there’s one aspect of the game that Berean Academy girls’ basketball coach Kristin Wiebe prides her team being better at than their opponents, it’s defense.
Well, in the first quarter of Saturday’s Class 2A state championship, that pride was taking a bit of a beating on the floor of Bramlage Coliseum.
Fresh off upsetting top-seeded and previously undefeated Pittsburg Colgan in overtime in Friday’s semifinals, Riverside carried that momentum right into Saturday’s title tilt. The Cyclones hit their first three shots of the game, including a pair of 3-pointers by Taylor Weishaar and Niahla Duncan.
What’s more, Riverside’s defense was out-Berean-ing Berean, holding the Warriors to just two points through the game’s first five minutes.
“I thought they came out pretty aggressive on defense and I had not seen that,” Wiebe said. “Granted, you see them at the state tournament and you don’t have a lot of time to do film watching. But that was the most aggressive I’ve seen them and I think we just had to weather that storm.”
Its pride perhaps a bit bruised, Berean Academy got back to being itself in plenty of time to not only weather the storm but rain on Riverside’s upset dreams.
The Warriors put own an even sterner defensive clinic in the second quarter and stymied Riverside pretty much the rest of the game. The early deficit became a distant memory as Berean Academy cruised to a 49-31 victory.
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The win not only capped a 25-1 season for the Warriors – the best in school history – but earned Wiebe her second state championship. She won her other in just her third season as Warrior head coach in 2008 when the Berean Academy went 24-1 to capture the 2A state title.
“I just told my assistant coach (Janelle Goodrich, who played on the 2008 title team), it’s great winning both times, but they’re just different teams,” Wiebe said. “I was very young back then. This group, I’ve just known for a long time. I’ve got a daughter (junior Avery Wiebe) here. It’s just a different feel, but it’s a special feeling.”
Wiebe wasn’t always sure this year’s team would be as special as it become, this year’s title following up a 24-3 season a year ago when the Warriors finished fourth at state.
In fact, she distinctly remembers her impression of this year’s six-member senior class when they were in middle school.
“I’m amazed at the progress they have made,” Wiebe said. “When I went back and watched some video of them in eighth grade, oh my. But they have bought in and have come a long ways.”
That buy-in starts at the defensive end. Senior guard Lillie Veer said that has made for some unpleasant practices throughout her career, but ones she knows have paid off in the long run.
“It’s hard sometimes,” Veer said. “Especially in the games where we allow more points than we like, the next day in practice, it’s pretty much a defensive practice. But that has helped us so much.”
Berean Academy was headed for perhaps a special-edition defensive postseason practice the way Saturday’s title game started out. Not only did Riverside hit its first three shots, they stayed hot throughout the period.
In particular, Weishaar – Riverside’s 6-foot-2 junior post – had her way against the Warriors’ proud defense, hitting 3 of 4 shots in the period, capping a 9-point quarter with an and-one in the final minute that stakes the Cyclones to a 14-9 lead at the end of the period.
On pace to give up 56 points – something no team had done against the Warriors this year – Berean Academy did an about-face and got back to being the best defensive team on the floor.
After its hot opening quarter (5 of 9 shooting), Riverside went ice cold. The Cyclones managed just two points in the second quarter, going 1 of 6 from the field with three turnovers.
Things didn’t get much better in the third quarter, either with the Cyclones scoring just six points on 2-of-7 shooting and four turnovers.
Berean Academy outscored Riverside 25-8 in the two quarters to take a 34-22 lead into the fourth.
“I think there’s something to being able to sustain defense,” Wiebe said. “I felt comfortable we could sustain it – I don’t know if somebody else can – but I know we can and I thought we could do that in the long haul.
“(Weishaar), great player and she got hers. But I think on the other players we did a good job of not letting them get into a rhythm. Some of them are rhythm shooters and we took that away. And that’s big.”
Riverside faced an even greater deficit at the fourth quarter of its semifinal game against Colgan, trailing by 14 points before rallying for the win. But the only consecutive baskets the Cyclones could string together in the final eight minutes came when they were down 16 with less than four minutes to play and the 3-pointer from Halle Studer and three-point play from Weishaar only trimmed Berean’s lead to 10 momentarily before the Warriors finished the game on an 8-0 run.
Riverside finished the game just 10 of 32 from the floor, going 7 of 28 in the final three quarters.
“We all knew that we had to dig deep and fight,” Veer said. “Our defense keys our offense and once we got it going, we were back into being ourselves.”
Veer led the offense with 19 points on 7-of-13 shooting from the field. Tayton Smith added 17 points, 8 rebounds and 3 blocks.
After losing to a senior-led Sterling team in last year’s state semifinals, Berean took on the role of the veteran team this year with the Warriors’ only loss coming to Sunrise Christian, an approved school in Wichita that doesn’t compete in the KSHSAA postseason.
“After last year, the loss and everything, we were determined this year,” said Veer, who was joined by fellow seniors Smith, Alexa Timken, Kelsey Koontz, Leah Mullins and Lindsey Edgren on this year’s roster. “I definitely think we we’re a different kind of team (than Sterling was) and we just tried to be us and dominate in our own way.”
Riverside could very well follow Berean’s script next season. The Cyclones, who were led by Weishaar’s 16 points and 8 rebounds, will lose only two seniors off their state runner-up roster and returns all five starters.
“They’re tough and they’ve got players, kind of like a team that we’re aspiring to be,” Riverside coach Craig Burnes said. “Hopefully we can go back, work on it in the summer, get better and come back and see what we can do next year.”
In finishing this season with a program-best 22-4 record, the Cyclones have already made monstrous strides in Burnes first year as coach. Riverside was just 10-12 last season and is just four years removed from back-to-back seasons that produced just a combined five wins.
“It was great,” Burnes said. “You start out as a new coach and you don’t know how the players are going to accept what you’re trying to establish, the culture and hard work you’re trying to make them do to get to this point. Once they started buying in and kept working at it, the wins came after that.
“We lost this game, but we’ll come back and see what we can do next year. I think we’ll be really hungry to get back to Manhattan and see what we can do.”
PITTSBURG COLGAN 36, HILLSBORO 33 — Lauren Torrance made a go-ahead jumper with a minute to play and Colgan locked up Hillsboro late to rebound from its only loss of the season and finish third in Class 2A.
The Panthers led throughout the first three quarters, but saw Hillsboro forge a 26-26 tie early in the fourth quarter. Jakayla Davis and Lily Brown answered with back-to-back buckets to restore a four-point lead and the Panthers were still up 4 with two minutes to play before the Trojans got a 3-pointer from Savannah Shahan and an inside basket from Lauryn Vogt to take a 33-32 lead with 1:17 to play.
Torrance answered and after a Hillsboro turnover, Davis made a pair of free throws with 22.7 seconds left. Hillsboro missed its next shot, but forced a jump ball with 2.4 seconds left to get one last shot. But Zaylee Werth’s desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer was well short.
Davis finished with 13 points and Brown added 12 for Colgan, which finished its season 24-1. Shahan led Hillsboro (21-5) with 19 points.