HAYS, Kan. - The Thomas More Prep-Marian girls’ basketball team went 69-9 the last three seasons and reached the state final four each winter.
TMP defeated Oakley 45-37 in Hays on Friday, December 14, 2018. (Photo: Everett Royer, www.ksportsimages.com)
This year, the Monarchs graduated the bulk of its team, notably Kayla Vitztum, who tallied 1,293 career points. Only three experienced players returned, lone seniors Emily Schippers and Jillian Lowe and junior Adell Riedel.
On Friday, the Monarchs’ starting five featured one player from each of the four grade levels. Multiple freshmen and sophomores saw time. Paced by Lowe, the balanced effort led a 45-37 league victory against Oakley at Al Billinger Fieldhouse.
“The chemistry, we have got to get used to each other and we are getting better at it,” coach Rose McFarland said. “The first few games, I don’t think they were just used to that group together.”
TMP moved to 3-3 overall and 2-0 in league contests. The Monarchs have captured 37 straight regular season/midseason conference tournament games versus Mid-Continent League foes. The last time the Monarchs lost to a MCL team was a 45-42 home defeat to Hill City on Dec. 11, 2015.
“It’s a different situation than last year,” Lowe said. “So right now us seniors are trying to figure out what’s best for our team and just kind of help those younger girls get to their full potential.”
The Monarchs received 11 points from sophomore Kyleigh Allen and Riedel. Schippers, hurt with some foul trouble, had eight points. Lowe, a vocal leader, had a strong all-around game with seven points, six assists and four rebounds.
She had tough defense on Oakley point guard Danielle Allison, who finished with just three points and had multiple turnovers.
“Both her and Emily Schippers both are leaders on the floor, and defensively, Jillian is just really outstanding,” McFarland said. “She put the pressure on their point guard the whole game, had us get us into our offense, run the show out there, thought she did a really good job tonight leading us through everything. Emily got in foul trouble, had to sit out a little bit, but she gave us some really good minutes, too.”
Allison helped the Plainsmen reach the Purple and Gold final in the WaKeeney tournament last weekend. Oakley is 2-4, 0-3 in MCL play.
“I have always loved to be on the defensive side,” Lowe said. “I have always been good at it. I like to go scrappy. I like to steal obviously. I just like to pressure the girls on defense.”
TMP never trailed, forced 21 turnovers and finished plus-eight on the glass. The Monarchs had a 17-8 lead after the first quarter and 27-19 at halftime. Entering the fourth quarter, TMP held a 40-28 advantage.
However, Oakley’s press and inside play from junior Jordyn Lowrie forced seven fourth quarter turnovers. TMP had just five in the first three quarters.
“We’ve been starting off real slow this year,” McFarland said. “We dig ourselves in a hole, and then we’d fight back. So today our focus was to start out quickly, and get a good run going early, and we did that, and then at the end, we just kind of got real tentative.”
The 5-foot-9 Lowrie is highly athletic and delivered a big game with 13 points, nine rebounds and eight blocks. TMP missed its last nine shots of the game, including all seven in the fourth quarter.
“There is no doubt about it, she is a competitor,” coach Mike Zimmerman said. “She wants the ball, and she wants to do well, and she wants to lead the team, and she kind of cramped up there a little bit at the end, but that’s what happens when you play like she does and play as hard as she does. She has got to do a lot of things for us, and she is OK with that.”
Oakley cut the deficit to 43-37 inside a minute when Lowrie missed a shot. Lowe grabbed the defensive rebound, was fouled and made both free throws.
Then, Lowe forced another turnover on Allison, who lost the ball out of bounds on the left side.
“I knew that she always wanted to go right, so I wanted to make sure to push her left, so she could kind of struggle,” Lowe said. “She always liked to cross over, and I was ready to take that any chance I got.”
Oakley had another opportunity, but Lowrie had an offensive foul. The Monarchs, which joined the MCL before the 2014 season, moved to 5-0 against Oakley. Friday was easily the closest matchup in the series.
“We know we have got a target on our back, because we have done well since we have been in the league, and so I think everybody is gunning for us, but that’s what makes it fun,” McFarland said. “We just have to step up and be ready for every game. I think our league is more balanced this year than it’s ever been.
“The teams are getting better,” she added. “So it will make the season more competitive, and I think that will help all our teams in our conference better at the end of the year when we all go into postseason.”
In the first quarter, Lowe stole the ball from Allison and found Schippers for a trey and the game’s first points. Lowe and Allen sunk 3s in the first quarter.
Additionally, freshman Emilee Lane, a starter, had nine rebounds. Sophomore Sasha Wasinger, the team’s tallest player at 6-2, led a solid bench effort with five points. TMP shot 5 of 14 (36 percent) from beyond the arc.
“We haven’t shot that well,” McFarland said. “Especially the first half, we shot really good. Got a little tentative the second, but we held on. We are learning. There’s a lot of inexperience out there, and games like this are good for us.”