Shooting for a state title

Success in the regular season yields high expectations for tournament


Joseph Anderson

Maneuvering past an Olathe Northwest player, junior Justin Roberts helped lead the Lions to a 70-34 victory at home on Feb. 13. Roberts scored 13 points.

By Cortlynn Stark and Zia Kelly

The fourth day of spirit week took Lions back in time with “throwback-Thursday.” The boys basketball team might have the same time-traveling power as they approach the post-season.

The destination? Back to 1995 when the Lions last won the state championship.

The team looks to follow up its most successful season in recent years with a just-as-impressive post-season performance as they enter the tournament as a major prospect for the state championship.

“I make the comment to people that life is always good when you’re winning, but we’ve got a good group of boys and we’re working hard,” head coach Mike Lewis said. “We played a really competitive schedule and played a lot of good basketball games, and we’ve come out on top. We’re having a good year.”

The boys currently hold a 19-1 record and the top seed going into sub-state, which starts today.

Since their final regular season victories over Shawnee Mission East and Free State last week, the team has been gearing-up to take on their two sub-state opponents.

“You can look at is as a five-game tournament,” Lewis said. “You have to win two in your sub-state and then you have to win three in the tournament to be state champion.”

The team is ranked at top seed in its sub-state class.

However, the last thing the Lions want to do is get tripped up in the tournament. The team concentrates on specific tactics to keep their plays strong as they go into these vital match-ups.

“What we’re really focusing on is our team defense right now,” senior small forward John Barbee said. “Defense and making sure we’re being in help and help side and making sure someone gets around one person to stop them from going to the basket.”

Keeping up the solid foundation, the varsity players have built will be key, but strategy is only half the battle when going into a high-pressure situation. Players are making sure that the team mentality is where it needs to be.

“[We need to work on] just tightening up little things,” senior guard Kyle Hoffman said. “Keeping our heads screwed on straight and focused on the mental aspect. We definitely have the talent to get there.”

The five-game tournament Lewis described is the accumulation of all sub-state and state games that lead up to the championship.

Kansas has 32 6A schools that KSHSAA divides into four, eight-team leagues. LHS will be up against all Shawnee Mission schools, Free State and Wyandotte.

“Our sub-state is a good sub-state in terms of there are a lot of teams that are capable on a given night,” Lewis said.

The two teams that LHS plays are determined by rank, and since the Lions are the top seed they will be playing one of their games at home.

Two of the eight teams in each sub-state league will advance to the state tournament in Wichita at Koch Arena on March 14 and 15. The eight teams will play a quarter, semi and final round to determine the state champion.

Although the Lions have dominated the Sunflower League this season, the post-season will open them up to some harder competition, including the opponent in their one lost game, Wichita East, which remains neck-and-neck with LHS in state 6A rankings.

The success of this season succeeded the turbulence of last year that included the firing and rehiring of Coach Lewis as well as the passing of junior varsity coach Kermit Aldrich, who died of cancer last spring.

The team took the loss of the beloved coach with difficulty but continue to play in his memory, pledging to pursue the state title in his name.

The team devoted their first home game, which was against Emporia on Dec. 5, to his memory.

“When Coach Aldridge passed, it was huge,” Barbee said. “We came together as a big team and knew we had to do it for Coach Aldridge, and every night that was on our minds.”

Overcoming the events of last year brought the team closer together.

“I think we have a really good camaraderie about us,” Lewis said. “I think if you can mix good camaraderie with good basketball players you have a pretty special team. There are teams that have a lot of good basketball players but don’t have camaraderie like this team. That is the way I will remember this group, as one that stuck together for three years through good times are bad times and found a way to really play a lot of good basketball.”

This season is the sixth Lewis has spent as head coach, and it is his most successful record to date. The three year build-up of his players and his record have also led to the build-up of community support and fan expectations.

The team has empirically excelled under the expectations and looks to keep straight faces as they head into tough match-ups.

“We kind of like the pressure, I think,” Hoffman said.

For now, the team’s task is to get through their sub-state games, the first taking place at 7 p.m. tonight at home against Shawnee Mission Northwest.

“Nothing will be given to us, and we will have to work extremely hard,” Lewis said. “If we are blessed to get there, we will have to work extremely hard to figure out how to win three games.”