The Manhattan High girls’ basketball team starts its title defense Friday.
After going a perfect 13-0 last season in Centennial League play, the Indians will travel to Emporia to open this season’s league schedule.
After beating Great Bend last week in what was a physical game with plenty of hard fouls, head coach Scott Mall expects the matchup with Emporia to be even tougher.
“Our league is very physical,” he said. “If (Great Bend) was physical, when we play Emporia, that will seem like nothing. They play very physically and that’s the way our league plays. We’ve got to get used to it.”
Manhattan has made its living so far this year with Elayna Spilker driving hard to the basket and Darby Price muscling her way inside for easy baskets. Against teams that are more familiar, finishing those plays becomes more difficult, meaning secondary options like Caroline Ballard and Kristen Thompson will need to make their presence felt.
“It makes a big difference, because the girls are used to having that part in practice,” Mall said. “If we can get the rest of them, like Kristen Thompson, who hasn’t been shooting 3s as well as she can, if we can get that included, it’ll make a big difference.”
If Thompson can knock down open 3s and Ballard can take some of the heat off Price in the paint, suddenly the Indians have a balanced team that is tough to slow down offensively.
The Spartans will counter with two returning starters in Brianna Knight and Kayna Hastings. Knight was the league’s newcomer of the year last season after scoring nearly 16 points per game to lead the Spartans.
Emporia is 2-1 on the young season, with wins over Rose Hill and Lawrence and a loss to Hesston, which is ranked No. 4 in 4A.
After playing four games in eight days to start the season, Mall and his team had six days to prepare for the Spartans and rest their legs. The Indians have been solid on defense and offense in the first four games of the year, but have one glaring weakness: free throws.
Spilker has been solid from the line, which is good because she lands there often. But the rest of the team has left something to be desired from the charity stripe.
“We need to shoot free throws better,” Mall said. “We could be winning by much larger margins if we hit half of the free throws, which we ought to be. We’re a good enough shooting team to be hitting those.”