Indians prepare for big test

By Grant Guggisberg

The undefeated Manhattan High boys’ basketball team has been good all season, but its biggest test yet comes Friday at home.

With five blowout victories won by an average of more than 20 points per game, the Indians have yet to play a game that’s been close in the fourth quarter, where pressure situations come into play.

Shawnee Heights (4-3) isn’t state ranked or favored to win the Centennial League, but the Thunderbirds have played in several close games and have several dynamic scorers, including Tony Barksdale Jr. and Jovan Barksdale. The team also features Braeson Sester and Tevin Downing, though Downing didn’t play Tuesday due to a back injury.

“It’s a crazy matchup, because they’ve got four guys that can any night go off for 20,” Manhattan coach Tim Brooks said. “The Barksdales have been the most consistent, but Sester and Downing can go out and do the same things. It’s a tough matchup because they play primarily guards.”

Shawnee Heights is under the direction of first-year coach Sam Stroh, and has been up and down to start the year. The T-Birds lost 51-37 to league-favorite Highland Park on Tuesday, but played without Downing and Jovan Barksdale, who was out with what his coach described as a “violation of team policy”.

Brooks said to counter the guard-oriented play of the T-Birds, his team will have to thrive in the post.

“We’ll have to establish the paint, like we want to every night, and see what happens,” Brooks said. “I think that our length could cause them some problems, at least we hope.”

In the girls’ matchup, the Indians must prepare for a dynamic freshman in Jazz Sweet, who leads the team in scoring and at 6-foot-1, causes a matchup problem for the Manhattan defense.

“They’re tough,” Manhattan girls’ coach Scott Mall said. “They beat us at home last year by spreading it out and going after us. They have a lot of good girls back and they have a freshman that’s a 6-foot-1 girl who can play guard, and all they were lacking last year was height.

“She’s really helping them inside. They’ve been playing some good games, so it’ll be a tough one.”

In addition to Sweet, Shawnee Heights has Bailey Wells at guard. One player the Indians won’t have to worry about is Danielle Poblarp, who is now at the Navy Academy.

“That point guard that hurt us so bad is at the Navy Academy now, but they’ve got the one Wells girl back on the outside,” Mall said. “And a forward back and that freshman girl is their leading scorer and averaging double figures.”

Manhattan hosts Shawnee Heights at 6:15 p.m. Friday, with the boys’ game to follow.

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