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Smith Center wins MCL Girls title with complete effort

Smith Center defeated Norton in the MCL Tournament Championship Game 64-47 in WaKeeney on...
Smith Center defeated Norton in the MCL Tournament Championship Game 64-47 in WaKeeney on Saturday, January 23, 2021. (Photo: Everett Royer, www.ksportsimages.com)(Everett J Royer)
Published: Jan. 25, 2021 at 3:09 PM CST
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WaKEENEY, Kan. (Catch it Kansas) - Smith Center has zero seniors on varsity. SC returned junior Tallon Rentschler, a second team all-conference player, along with sophomore Maile Hrabe and multiple talented freshmen.

At times, Smith Center has delivered frustrating moments, such as a road loss to Ellis on Jan. 8. On other occasions, Norton coach George Rossi has seen the Lady Red look “really, really good.”

Smith Center showcased its high level in a complete 64-47 victory against Norton on Saturday in the Mid-Continent League tournament championship game at WaKeeney-Trego High School. SC captured its first MCL league tournament crown since 2012.

“Their offensive execution was just near perfect it looked to me,” Rossi said.

The Lady Red posted an 11-9 mark last season. Smith Center is expected to be extremely strong in the next three seasons in volleyball and basketball. In the fall, the Lady Red finished a surprise state runner-up in volleyball.

“Young kids like that, they are going to be a tough team down the road,” Rossi said.

For basketball, the MCL is particularly challenging this winter, though Phillipsburg, Trego and Thomas More Prep-Marian were considered the favorites entering tournament week.

The trio of ranked teams all lost. On Tuesday, Smith Center won at TMP, 47-44, and then defeated Hoxie, 40-27, in the semifinals Friday. Norton upset Phillipsburg in the semifinals, and Hoxie beat WaKeeney in the quarters.

“Great tournament for us,” Linn said. “We are happy.”

Smith Center made four treys in the first quarter, all by junior Ashlyn Long. SC improved to 9-2. Long had sunk just two total 3s in the season’s first nine games.

“In the games that we have had along the way, we couldn’t say we have played a complete game,” Linn said. “Then, today we come out firing away on 3s. We do a drill in practice, it’s called five ball drill. We shoot a lot of 3s, and I told them in the locker room, I said, ‘It looked like our drill in practice. Haven’t seen it for like seven years in a game.’ But it was awesome to see.”

Overall, Rentschler finished with a game-high 27 points along with nine rebounds and four steals. Smith Center shot 40 percent from the field, including 6 of 16 on treys. Smith Center built a 21-12 lead after the first quarter. Norton dropped to 9-4.

“Rentschler just took it to us, and they hit a lot of 3s in the first half, and we couldn’t get our offense going, and they took us out of our game,” Rossi said.

Long went 4 of 4 from long range in the first, her only points for the game. She also delivered two steals and a pair of assists. With 1 minute, 51 seconds left in the quarter, Long had a steal and then found Rentschler for a basket.

“We are young, but you know what though, they have a strong will to win,” Linn said. “And it’s fun to have them in the gym and practice every day, because the work ethic is unbelievable.”

Norton started five seniors: Tessa Hauser, Addison Brooks, Courtney Jones, Hannah Bailey and Sarah David. Hauser has signed with Division II Colorado Christian and has led Kansas in double-doubles throughout the winter.

“I have known all those kids their whole lives,” Rossi said. “My kids baby-sat a lot of those kids when they were babies. It’s a great group, they work hard, and I feel bad for them tonight. They really, really wanted this.”

They fought for their opportunity to get into the finals with a great win against Phillipsburg, and sometimes that mental part of you have a big win the night before, it’s tough to battle back and kind of get yourself back up,” he added.

She finished with 14 points and 15 rebounds against Phillipsburg. Versus Smith Center, Hauser had 11 points and nine rebounds against the Lady Red’s matchup zone. She and Jones tied for the team high.

“Our focus today, though, was to front her when the ball is in the corner, and have help side,” Linn said. “I think she was frustrated.”

Rossi labeled Hauser, like Norton, “physically and emotionally tired.” Norton struggled corralling several passes and committed 19 turnovers.

“It was showing,” Rossi said. “She is her hardest critic, and if things aren’t going good, she gets down on herself a little bit. You don’t want to see that either. But you have to battle through that, and she does a good job of it at times, but I think she just got worn out.”

Smith Center was ranked ninth in 2A but dropped out after a 52-50 road loss to Ellis. SC put in a new defense just for Ellis and had some turnovers at the end.

“We were frustrated from that,” Linn said. “Me in particular.”

Since then, Smith Center is 5-0. Outside of a 70-11 win versus rebuilding Plainville, Smith Center averaged 42.7 points a game in the other three victories.

“Tonight they came out, defensively, and offensively, they did everything I think really, really well, and we couldn’t answer it” Rossi said.

At halftime, Linn emphasized working the ball inside to Rentschler more. Smith Center led 36-25 at halftime. Norton closed to 39-34 before Rentschler scored six points to finish the third. Overall, freshman Dakota Kattenberg had three assists, and Hrabe and Long tallied two apiece. Long finished with five steals.

“She was the one that really hurt us bad,” Rossi said. “I mean, we couldn’t find her, and when we did, we fouled her. She caught everything that was coming to her. She has got great hands, great footwork. They play really well together.”

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