Before the season, the Manhattan girls basketball team set a goal: win a state title.
The Indians reached that goal on Saturday, bringing home the first girls basketball title in school history with a 44-42 win over Derby (20-5).
It didn’t come easy, though.
“From the first day of summer, they had this as a goal,” veteran head coach Scott Mall said. “They made posters right away at the beginning of the summer … this is what they were working for, which is something considering we’ve never even been in the championship game in their lifetimes. But they set that as a goal, and they did what it took to get here.”
Manhattan (24-1) cruised through the first half before encountering Derby’s almost airtight press. Manhattan recorded most of its 26 turnovers in the second half, and Derby was finally able to take advantage of that in the fourth quarter, chipping away at the Indians’ 18-point lead until the Panthers tied it late in the fourth quarter. However, Haleigh Harper found Kennedy Wilson under the basket on the next possession, and the senior forward hit the layup with seconds left on the clock to send her team into the record books.
“I was just praying that the ball would go into the basket, and that I wasn’t going to miss it,” Wilson said.
Manhattan’s season was almost spotless. The Indians won their first 10 games, including taking home the Hays Shootout title, before losing to Olathe South in the championship of the McPherson Invitational Tournament on Jan. 28.
Manhattan couldn’t contain Olathe South’s DejaNae Roebuck or Makayla Gooch, who finished with 17 and nine points, respectively. Only four Indians recorded points in that game, led by Kia Wilson’s 17.
“We hit some 3s, we did a good job on defense,” Mall said after the loss. “We just couldn’t keep it going on the offensive end. (Olathe South) made some plays.”
Manhattan got the opportunity to face the Falcons again, this time beating them, 47-44, in the state semifinal.
Wilson, a sophomore forward, Gigi McAtee and Chrissy Carr could be counted on throughout the season to put up big offensive numbers for the Indians.
Carr, who led Manhattan with 14 points per game during the regular season, is a threat from behind the 3-point arc but also can drive in and score in traffic. She recorded a season-best 27 points against Olathe Northwest in the state tournament quarterfinals. Kia Wilson also averaged in double figures with nearly 11 points per game. The sophomore led Manhattan on the glass, pulling down 6.9 rebounds per game. McAtee averaged 8.9 points per game and a team-leading 3.6 assists per game. Manhattan cruised through Centennial League play, going a perfect 13-0 to capture the league crown. The Indians’ toughest opponent was Washburn Rural, which the Indians trailed by as many as 18 points before a McAtee buzzer-beating 3-pointer to steal the win.
“As soon as it left my hand, it felt good,” McAtee said after the Feb. 6 game. “I wasn’t hitting all game, but it felt good.” Two hallmarks of Manhattan’s game all year were its stifling press and defense. The Indians only gave up 50plus points three times and allowed as few as 22 points against Shawnee Heights on Jan. 10.
Next year, Manhattan returns much of its core. Four seniors, including two starters, depart, but Mall can easily elevate pieces from his deep bench into a starting role. He touted his bench for much of the season, which features solid scoring numbers from sophomore guards Harper and Taylor Johnson as well as junior forward Megan Worthington.