WAKEENEY, Kan. - WaKeeney-Trego Community junior Tillie Malinowsky and sophomore Madison Walt are first cousins. They have grown up together, stayed close and always played on the same sports teams. The duo has both battled through injury.
Malinowsky suffered a concussion in December 2018 and didn't play nearly all of January. Walt severely broke her nose playing quarterback in a Powder Puff football game this fall and required surgery.
The two are healthy for basketball season and each delivered a signature performance in Friday's 53-39 home comeback victory versus Victoria in the Purple and Gold tournament semifinals at WaKeeney-Trego High School.
“It's great to be out on the court with her, and it's awesome,” Malinowsky said.
WaKeeney-Trego, ranked fourth in Class 2A in the Kansas Basketball Coaches Association coaches' poll, improved to 3-0. The 5-foot-10 Walt wore a mask to protect her nose and finished with a game-high 20 points, along with six rebounds.
“Madison Walt did a fantastic job,” coach Donnie Shubert said.
At 5-11, Malinowsky brought great energy throughout the contest, and delivered eight points, eight rebounds, two blocks and a pair of steals.
“She can bring it up,” Shubert said. “She can play outside. She can play inside, and her energy...is fantastic, and I think our team feeds off her.”
The Golden Eagles finished plus-seven on the glass and committed seven fewer turnovers. Victoria, which led 22-11 in the second quarter, shot 38 percent overall.
“They are great players, and obviously they are tall girls,” Victoria coach Kristin Werth said. “And they know what to do with the ball. They are a great team. They move the ball well. Lack of talking on defense is probably what cost us that game right there, too.”
Trego is known for its squelching pack line defense, popularized by Virginia men's basketball coach Tony Bennett. Virginia won the NCAA national title last spring. The defense is largely predicated on helping.
“I really like watching them play,” coach Shubert said. “They are methodical on offense, and that's kind of what we are, because we are not going to light it up a lot of nights, and we know that's why we have to play the defense.”
The Knights didn't make a field goal for more than 18 minutes – a stretch that began in the first 90 seconds of the second quarter and lasted until four minutes remained in the contest. Shubert called Trego's defense “the biggest difference in the second half.”
“We work as a team, that's what we do everyday in practice,” Walt said. “We work hard on D, more than anything else, and rebounding, that's what our team is about – defense. That's what we strive to be perfect at. Offense will come, but defense is what we work on.”
Last season, WaKeeney defeated Oakley, 32-24, in the Purple and Gold finals in a defensive-minded game. The Golden Eagles will again face undefeated Oakley in the championship Saturday. Start time is 6 p.m. Many of the key players are back from '18-19, including Trego junior Lili Shubert and Oakley senior Jordyn Lowrie, both returning first team all-league players.
“Coach (Mike) Zimmerman does a fantastic job with them,” coach Shubert said. “They are hitting outside shots this year, so we are really going to have to close out on the shooters and contain Lowrie.”
Victoria, with zero seniors, dropped to 2-1 and into Saturday's third-place contest. Werth (nee Huser), a standout for the Knights in her playing career, has turned around her alma mater in her fourth season.
Victoria posted marks of 0-20, 7-14 and 12-9 in the previous three years and had just one senior on the team last winter. Junior Lydia Sander and sophomore Melany Huser, Kristin's sister, paced the Knights with seven points.
The Golden Eagles trailed 17-11 after the first quarter, and 24-19 at halftime.
“They are a great team,” coach Shubert said. “They are a high-powered offense, and they hit every shot they took.”
WaKeeney's top-two players, Lili Shubert and senior Libby Frost, both had to sit for significant first-half minutes because of foul trouble. Shubert, with more than 670 career points, didn't score in the first half. She finished with six points, and Frost had seven. Trego senior Gracie Pfannenstiel also eventually fouled out.
“We didn't really come out with energy, and we just knew we had to fix it and take this like a challenge,” Malinowsky said. “I mean, we are not going to get every game handed to us.”
Last winter, the Golden Eagles won 20 games and finished fourth in 2A with its best showing in 42 years. Malinowsky, cautious once she returned, averaged 5.3 points and 4.1 rebounds. Walt finished with 4.6 points and four rebounds a contest. Walt never scored more than 10 points in any game last winter.
“I was a little bit scared and timid to hit it again, because it's not fun to be out that long,” Malinowsky said.
In the fall, WaKeeney held its Powder Puff football game. Walt played quarterback. On a play, she tossed the ball backwards, turned her head and was hit by someone in the nose.
“It was sideways for a few days,” she said.
Walt required surgery and missed several weeks of volleyball. Shubert called Walt's “more of a comfort” for basketball.
“I really have to turn my head to see,” Walt said. “I can't really like look. It's difficult. It was an adjustment to be able to play without the mask, and then go and play with the mask.”
WaKeeney opened the second half on a 12-0 run. Malinowsky delivered the first basket of the third quarter off a Lili Shubert assist.
“We have a mental block on the third quarter,” Werth said. “Last year, we noticed it, come out, they score a couple points on us, and we kind of let that dictate the rest of the game.”
Trego held an 11-6 edge on the glass in the third, and Malinowsky had five rebounds. Malinowsky tied the game at 24 after she grabbed an offensive rebound, drew a foul and made 1 of 2 free throws.
Shubert had her first field goal for a 26-24 advantage with 3 minutes, 17 seconds left in the third. She collected a steal in the half court, drove the length of the court, split the defense and made a layup.
“These girls are way too hard on themselves,” Werth said. “They don't give themselves enough credit. They try to be perfect, and I as a coach probably expect a lot from them, and they have that on their shoulders, too. They are doing everything that they can. I love that they are so hard on themselves, but sometimes it hurts just a little bit.”
Walt added a free throw later in the quarter for a 31-24 advantage. She collected eight more points in the fourth to cap a big win for the Golden Eagles – and the cousins.
“You never want to go into half behind,” coach Shubert said. “But I knew we had a shot, and you know, I think that experience for some of the younger girls was invaluable. We are not going to have Lili every night. We are not going to have Libby every night.