It was hard not to be impressed by the Wamego High girls’ basketball team last week at the Class 4A state tournament.
Admittedly, I had not watched the Red Raiders play prior to last weekend. My focus is always Manhattan High as long as the Indians are still in contention. So when the last remaining area team happened to be Wamego, sending me to Salina last week, I was excited.
I’d heard and read plenty about the Pages, how talented Kaylee and Lanie are and the dynamic on the team with their father, Jim Page, as coach. I’d also read how cohesive the team was, despite being led by a pair of young stars who just happened to be the coach’s daughters.
Honestly, I didn’t believe it.
Maybe it makes me a cynic, but I’ve covered too many teams with serious ego problems to believe that the rest of the Red Raider squad could be content — and even thrive — in a situation like this.
And I’ve heard great players and coaches on teams from the past talk about how well the team gels, when in reality, the role players are bitter that they never had the chance to do more and just choose not to speak up.
In this case, I was happy to be proven wrong.
Now I can’t read minds. It’s entirely possible that despite the excitement on their faces after winning a title and the insistence by anyone you ask that this team is just happy to win no matter how, there could be some that aren’t content in their role.
And it is true that Kaylee and Lanie combined to score more than half of Wamego’s points all weekend at the state tournament. In fact, Kaylee and Lanie each outscored the entire rest of the team in the title game, a 60-53 win over McPherson. But when you watch them play, you realize the Red Raiders almost always look for the highest percentage shot they can find. If you choose to play them straight up, the Page sisters usually take those shots because of their outstanding 3-point shooting and their ability to create their own shot. But all of their starters are good shooters, so if you double team a Page sister, which Pratt did early and often in last Thursday’s opener, somebody else will be wide open in the corner or under the basket.
Which is the other thing impressive about the way Wamego plays.
The rest of the team is so used to the junk defenses and odd strategies to stop Kaylee or Lanie that they are quite adept at finding the open spot on the floor, wherever that might be, and getting open shots.
It’s pretty hard to stop either of the Pages from getting to the paint off the dribble without double-teaming them, and it seemed like Wamego knocked down an awfully high percentage of the shots stemming from those kick outs.
Wamego’s title run is made more impressive by the relative difficulty of Class 4A. The simple fact is, 4A is one of the hardest classes to win because of the wide variant in enrollment numbers for each member school.
Sometimes those statistics are irrelevant. Wamego opened with eighth-seeded Highland Park at sub-state, which just happens to be the highest enrollment in 4A with 729 students. Wamego won in a rout that was never close.
But sometimes it does matter. McPherson has been bouncing between 4A and 5A in recent years and has 690 students. The city of McPherson had more than 13,000 residents in the 2010 census. Wamego? 4,372.
Needless to say, for a school like Wamego, it takes a perfect storm of talent for a team like the Red Raiders to win a title.
Which makes the 2013 run, and the hopes of a return trip next year, all the more special.