Victoria girls continue impressive turnaround, win ninth straight

Victoria Knights
Victoria Knights
Published: Feb. 13, 2021 at 12:35 AM CST
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VICTORIA, Kan. (Catch it Kansas) - Victoria senior Brooklynn Kuhn has greatly enjoyed her four years with the Knight girls’ basketball program. Kuhn has loved the friendships built with her teammates and coach Kristin Werth, a Victoria alum. The Knights finished 0-20 in Kuhn’s eighth-grade year. Since then, Victoria has marks of 7-14, 12-9 and 12-10.

This season, Victoria opened 0-2, though has lost just once since Christmas. On Friday, Kuhn, post Lydia Sander and Valerie Dome continued Victoria’s winning streak and celebrated a memorable Senior Night in a 48-45 home win against St. John in Central Prairie League action.

“A bond that I will never forget, and it will stay with me forever,” Kuhn said.

Kuhn delivered the game’s last two field goals and finished with a Knight-high 17 points. She tied her career best and recorded a season high. Immediately afterward, Kuhn and Victoria’s winter sport seniors celebrated senior festivities on the court. A teary-eyed Kuhn gave Werth a hug.

Then, Victoria walked down the hallway and into assistant coach Kate James’ room. After a team meeting, Victoria’s seniors presented Werth with gifts, including a written note. Kuhn told her coach: “Thank you so much for everything throughout the season.” Once the boys’ game started, Kuhn wore an effervescent smile.

“It’s just an experience that’s like none other,” she said. “You are just so overwhelmed with joy and happiness and the adrenaline is still going through even after it’s been like 20 minutes.”

Victoria, known for its experience and athleticism, improved to 13-4 and captured its ninth straight win. The Knights won the midseason Hoisington tournament in January, which gave the team confidence.

“That made the girls realize how good they are, because sometimes I think that they underestimate themselves,” Werth said.

The only loss since play resumed in 2021 was a 42-36 defeat to Central Plains on Jan. 15. CP is ranked No. 1 in Class 1A, Division II. Traditional power St. John, limited to just six players because of injuries, dropped to 9-8.

Victoria was 1-9 against St. John since 2010, including a 24-point loss last year. The Tigers, led by 5-foot-10 junior Darby Smith, have plenty of experience. Smith has averaged around 15 points a game and has received junior college interest. The Tigers have just one senior. Smith tallied 11, and freshman Heidi Fisher recorded 25.

Ten minutes before SJ arrived, the Tigers received news that junior Bailee Hudson, a starter all year, would be out. On Tuesday at La Crosse, Hudson severely injured her pinkie finger. She had a x-ray and requires surgery. Sophomore Jade Portillo has missed all year with a knee injury.

“That kind of put a damper on our spirits,” St. John coach Danny Smith said.

Victoria led 15-11 after the first quarter, though trailed 26-24 at halftime. The Knights led 38-35 after three, and the contest was tied at 40 with 4:07 left. Kuhn sunk a jumper to break the stalemate 20 seconds later, and then delivered her fifth trey for a 47-43 lead with 2:38 remaining.

“I really am proud of where the girls have come as far as previous seasons, too,” Werth said. “So yeah, I am just really happy with the way they played tonight, and the way they pulled through. Like I told them, ‘I didn’t feel like that was our team out there tonight, and so the fact that we still pulled through against a good St. John team, I think just says something about the girls.”

The Knights returned its entire roster from last season. In the first four winters under Werth, Victoria had zero, two, one and zero seniors.

“Finally getting offense and defense figured out together,” Werth said. “Last year, it was either defense was one game, and then offense was the next game.”

Victoria has made impressive weight room gains under Dan Rogers, the Knights’ longtime strength and conditioning coach and lead football assistant. Rogers tracks nine measurements. Six school records are currently held by basketball players. Sander has the best medicine ball throw (27 feet, 1 inch) and vertical (25.5 inches).

Sophomore Macy Hammerschmidt has four marks: 40-yard dash (5.09 laser time), 3-cone drill (7.56 seconds), pro agility (4.54) and broad jump (94 inches). Hammerschmidt has the fastest 40-yard dash ever by a girl at the High Plains Sports Medicine Combine in Hays, an event that’s been held for more than a decade.

The point guard averaged 4.1 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.5 steals as a freshman. Before St. John, she is up to 8.5 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.2 steals this winter and scored nine points Friday. Kuhn took third at Class 3-2-1A state tennis last fall.

“They’ve got really good athletes,” Smith said. “Just keeping them playing and keeping them learning. She’s done a good job with that.”

Werth (nee Huser) was a four-year starter for Victoria and helped the Knights to state appearances in ’12 and ’14. Those are Victoria’s lone state showings since ’92. She earned second team all-state as a senior and briefly played at Fort Hays. Now married with two young children, Werth still often joins in for practice.

“It’s so much fun playing against her in practice,” Kuhn said.

On Wednesday, Victoria prepared for Macksville on Thursday and St. John on Friday. Werth joined practice and helped the Knights watch for Macksville’s back screens and back cuts. Then, to simulate St. John’s pressure, Werth played in practice for a six-on-five drill.

“It makes it a lot easier, because she knows how to show us some of those moves,” Kuhn said. “… It’s just like she hasn’t stepped off the court.”

Werth has continued stressed defense and rebounding. Victoria has made strides across the board from ’19-20, especially in offensive rebounding. Last year, the Knights had .63 points per possession and allowed .68. Victoria collected 23 percent of available offensive rebounds. Entering Friday, Victoria is up to .76 points a possession and allowed just .59 points a possession. The Knights have collected 33 percent of available offensive rebounds.

With 5:45 left in the third quarter, Victoria sunk a trey to tie the game at 30. A timeout immediately followed. Werth became very animated when she discussed Victoria needed to play better defense. In the next four-plus minutes, Victoria made four steals and forced a five-second call off an inbound. The Knights never trailed again.

St. John had opportunities to at least tie in the final minute. However, Sander intercepted a pass into the lane for a key steal. Sander tallied seven points. Junior Melany Huser, the team’s leading scorer and Werth’s younger sister, finished with 11.

“We knew that no matter what they always come out fighting,” Werth said. “They are well-coached. They know how to play. They are very aggressive, and that’s all you really need is a good defensive team, because offense always seems to come, but defense always has to be there.”

Victoria is part of the Class 1A, Division I Ingalls sub-state that features Hodgeman County (14-4), Quinter (13-4), Victoria and Ingalls, 10-5 and a returning state qualifier.

Victoria lost, 52-42, to Quinter in the season opener and would like a rematch. After Kuhn told Werth thank you, she told her coach “we are still going to keep going.” Werth smiled.

“We are not done yet,” Werth said.

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