The Paola Panther Girls will face a seasoned Rose Hill Rocket team on Thursday afternoon in the opening game of the Kansas Class 4-A State Tournament at Salina. The Rockets posted an undefeated league record in the Ark Valley-Chisolm Trail Division IV this year, and an 18-5 overall record on the season.
The Rockets started the season strong, posting a 9-0 record through December and early January, before Andover Central gave Rose Hill their first loss of the season in a close game at home 45-42.
“We got off to a great start to the season,” said Rockets Head Coach Jenny Page. “In January we hit the toughest part of our season, and played some very tough competition.”
Indeed the Rockets found the going tough through the remainder of January and into the first of February, dropping three in a row at one point, including a second loss to Andover Central in the Newton Invitational. After dropping another game in the Newton tournament to Liberal and then suffering a 55-49 loss at Andover, the Rockets were able to right the ship with a 70-44 victory over Augusta at home.
The Augusta win set the Rockets on a four game winning streak and set them up to close the season on an 8-1 run culminating in a 46-39 victory over Andover in the sub-state championship game last Saturday.
“I think we lost confidence in ourselves and our ability to win a big game,” Page said. “After the Andover loss, we regrouped and had to refocus our efforts. The girls buckled down and focused on putting ourselves in a good position heading into sub-state.”
In the sub-state the Rockets carried the number two seed into the tournament, opening with a home game victory over Mulvane. Rose Hill defeated Augusta in the semi-final and then knocked off top seed Andover to secure the trip to state.
“We are playing our best basketball right now,” Page continued. “I think the girls really decided that they wanted to keep playing, and we played our best game of the year against Andover in the sub-state final.”
The Rockets have two starters averaging double digits in scoring, with Kristy Herman a 5’5” senior averaging 10.6 points per game, and Whitney Bates, a 5’5” Junior averaging 10.2 points per game. Rounding out the starters are Kelsey Webber a 5’6” sophomore averaging 9.8 points per game, Kelli Herbel a 5’8” Senior averaging 8.8 points per game and Randi Lucas a 5’11” Junior, averaging 7.9 points per game. Four of the Rockets five starters average five rebounds per game.
Rose Hill will face a veteran Paola squad, which finished the season 22-1 and ranked near the top of the Class 4-A polls throughout the state. The Panthers lone defeat on the season came in the final regular season game, at Gardner. The Panthers swept through the sub-state, downing Prairie View at Paola, and then defeating Louisburg and Ottawa at Ottawa for the tournament title.
“Paola will be a tough game,” said Page. “I know they are a very talented team with some top-notch guard play, so we will have to be ready to play on Thursday.”