ELYRIA — The Elyria Christian School girls are entering the great unknown.
The Eagles became the school’s first team, boys or girls, to advance to state as they’ll play Axtell at 4:45 p.m. Thursday in the first round of the Class 1A Division II Tournament at Dodge City’s United Wireless Center.
“ECS was not a part of KSHSAA until 2004. We had some excellent basketball teams before that, but we have not had a team make it to the KSHSAA state tournament,” said ECS coach Greg Fields, whose team takes a 17-6 record into the first round while Axtell is 20-3.
Also on the Eagles’ side of the bracket, Sylvan Lucas (14-9) takes on Ingalls (21-2). The other half finds Wetmore (12-12) taking on No. 1 seed Norwich (22-1) and the other game matches Golden Plains (18-5) against 19-3 Dighton.
Fields is hoping his team’s difficult regular-season schedule, including three titanic games with Central Christian, prepares it well for Axtell.
“I hope that our girls will have a little confidence since we have played some 2A and 3A schools this season,” Fields said.
The opener certainly will be a challenge.
“Axtell looks like a very quick, athletic team,” Fields said. “They will apply pressure on both sides of the court. It looks like they will try to penetrate to the basket rather than settle for a lot of outside shots, so we will need to make sure we are in position to stay out of foul trouble. I hope to take advantage of our size on offense. We will need to be patient and wait for open shots to develop close to the basket. Not turning over the ball and staying out of foul trouble will be the key for us to have a chance to continue on in the tournament.”
The Eagles may go as far as seniors Rachel Adamyk and Moriah Redenbaugh take them. Adamyk is the school’s all-time leading scorer and averages 20.7 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.8 steals, 2.5 assists and 1.5 steals, numbers that should earn her All-State honors. “The best all-around player I have coached,” Fields said. “She is unselfish and is willing to do whatever it takes to get a win. Very high basketball IQ.”
Redenbaugh, like Adamyk standing 5-10, averages 7.7 points, 7.6 rebounds and 3.4 steals. Fields said she’s “the best defender I have seen our our level of play. She earned the nickname ‘Spidey’ several years ago because she will scoop up any loose ball on the court.”
Bailey Unruh, a 5-5 sophomore guard, has really stepped up her game. She averages 6.6 points, 2.6 assists and 2.5 steals and Fields said few girls play with more tough and grit.
Rounding out the lineup are 6-0 sophomore Christin Vetter (5.2 points, 5.8 rebounds and 22 blocked shots) and 5-6 senior Katherine Ropp, who stepped into the lineup when Abbey Rush was lost for the year with a knee injury.
The Eagles’ bench is painfully young, including three sophomores and two freshmen who are likely to soak up the experience and be ready when their turn comes. They certainly will be counted on to be team leaders next year.
As for the other teams in the field, there are no perfect teams unlike some of the other tourneys.
“There are some very good teams in the top half of the bracket,” Fields said. “They all have one to three losses, so they are beatable. We will have to play good, fundamental basketball and hope that our shots are falling to get some wins."