Unfortunately, a few scoring droughts combined with an efficient Kickapoo offense led to an 85-65 defeat to bring Camdenton's playoff run to an end.
Camdenton knew it would be a battle when the Lakers faced Kickapoo (27-3) in the Class 5 state quarterfinals at Southwest Baptist University on Saturday.
After coming up just short in an 82-75 overtime loss on the Chiefs’ home floor in late January, the Lakers knew there would be little room for error in the rematch on a stage where a trip to the Final Four was on the line. Unfortunately, a few scoring droughts combined with an efficient Kickapoo offense led to an 85-65 defeat to bring Camdenton’s playoff run to an end.
“I felt like we did not play without a fight. We knew what we had to do and I felt like we executed some things, but at the same time when it came to finishing shots early we missed some big shots and I think it played a role in our offense for a while,” Camdenton coach Staci Caffey said. “I guess we kind of went slow without getting any points on the board, but our defense was there and we kept trying to fight. We came back on a run and that just shows what kind of heart those girls play with.”
A few missed shots early did loom large in a game where the Lakers never captured the lead. The Lakers and Chiefs traded the first couple of buckets, but the Chiefs took the lead for good at 5-4 in the middle of an 11-0 run to jump out to a 17-10 lead after the first quarter. Camdenton chopped the deficit back to three, but Kickapoo employed another 14-5 run and extended its lead to 40-27 by halftime.
If there was any constant narrative in the first half it seemed to be that once Camdenton turned the ball over or missed a shot, it was off to the races as Kickapoo flew down the floor in transition to get some easy fast break points.
“I definitely think they (Kickapoo) flew two back… and we had two girls that were supposed to fly with them, but they did not always do it because all season long they’ve had the mentality of getting up on the ball,” Caffey said of her team’s mindset when it comes to defensive pressure. “We had a plan and I felt like the girls did a great job as far as sticking to it after we tried to calm the storm a little bit.”
That storm continued to brew, though, as Kickapoo knocked down seven total 3-pointers as a team and five different Chiefs finished in double figures. With Camdenton senior Kylie Meier in foul trouble, picking up her third with over six minutes left in the second quarter, Kickapoo did not hesitate to attack the paint either in her absence.
After the lead grew to 15 at the start of the third and as high as 19 in the fourth, Camdenton managed to cut the deficit down to 13 twice but that was as close as the Lakers would get.
“Kickapoo is a great program and the girls are good. It was not like we came in and fell short to a team that is mediocre,” Caffey pointed out. “We came in fighting, but Kickapoo just has the girls inside and we got ‘out-horsed’ inside.
“You cannot leave the post open, but we gambled a little bit with the help-side (defense) and that burned us a little bit. Overall, they (Kickapoo) have more than one athlete to stop and all the way around, I felt like our girls did everything they could.”
Camdenton senior Coley Rezabek knocked down 11 of her 17 points in the first half and sophomore Shelby Kurtz added seven of her nine points in the first as well to keep the Lakers within striking distance. If there was going to be any spark from Camdenton in the second half, junior Natalie Basham was going to provide it as she scored 21 of her 25 points over the final two quarters to lead the Lakers. Meanwhile, senior Abbie Miller finished her night with 10 points and Meier put up four.
“I talked to Natalie at halftime and said, ‘Hey, go get you 20. What is wrong with that?’ I think sometimes she kind of drives and is looking for the pass ,” Caffey said of the junior. “I am like, ‘Pull up and shoot it.’ If they start closing in, then that is when it is going to open on the pass. I can honestly say I felt like we just ran out of time and ran out of clock on that.”
The coach also commended the efforts of her senior captain in Rezabek who suffered a knee to the head while going after a loose ball midway through the third quarter. The senior was briefly pulled to the side to make sure there was no concussion, but the last thing on her mind was coming out of the game.
“She just kept running and I am like, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, sit down and let me see you for a second.’ She was already checking herself in,” Caffey recalled. “They (players) did not want to come out and even with a minute to go when I brought them out just so they could see how much support was behind them, they wanted to go back in.”
And that support was fairly evident as a sea of purple and gold surrounded a majority of the stands at Southwest Baptist University. Sure, the Lakers were just one win away from the Final Four, but Caffey said that support started long before Saturday night’s game.
“This whole season these girls have just played with all their heart and played with a lot of desire and passion. I think the crowd that we had following us shows that because you follow a team that is fun to watch and this team is definitely fun to watch,” the coach noted. “I think they felt it (support) all along. All the students and teachers coming and supporting and the coaches calling practices off early or having morning practice to get kids there, it has been an amazing journey all the way through.”
And just like any season, the end of the journey is often the most bittersweet for the seniors and for this class it will be no exception. After all, the Lakers (20-7) won their first district title since 2015 and advanced further in the state tournament than any other team in decades.
“They are just an outstanding group of young ladies… These young ladies are going to be successful in everything they do,” Caffey stated. “Abbie led us in prayer each day. If somebody steals the ball from Kylie she will just snap her head and get it back. She has that determination in everything, her studies or whatever sport she plays, she is just top-notch. Coley is going to go on and Bemidji State University is very lucky to have her. She is an outstanding leader and I tell the girls, ‘I don’t care win or lose, just give me everything you have.’ I’m sure they walked out and could have wrung sweat out of their jerseys. They did exactly that and I feel like they followed Coley’s lead.”
But while veterans depart and new players come in, a proverbial torch has been lit. It was ignited when Camdenton won its first district title in 30 years back in 2015 and that torch has been carried on with yet another district title and run to the state quarterfinals this season.
“They (seniors) passed it down and challenged the girls next year to step up and carry it on. That is what I love about our young ladies is just that they are all in and all in together,” Caffey said. “I don’t want it to be another 30 years before we get back to this position so hopefully the girls will continue this and make this a yearly tradition.”
Time will soon tell if the returners can rise to the occasion, but Caffey said she feels good about this next group.
“Megan (Vest) and Sabrina (Schesnol) are strong post players behind Kylie and Coley. They have to follow some big shoes, but I have no doubt in my mind they are going to be able to step up and be an inside presence next year,” she said. “The same thing with our guards. We had Abbie out there on the outside and she came along with her shot and challenged Darby (Roam) and a lot of these other girls like Shelby and Natalie. We have a good core back too and I think we’ll just take off running with it.”