By BRETT MARSHALL
There's nothing like experience for a team to know how to handle unusual situations.
So it has been said.
Coaches, and yes, players, say that it does help when you've been there, done that.
Holcomb girls coach Kenton Tennal knows that, having watched his father, Kimbrook, coach three Centralia girls teams to Class 1A state basketball championships.
Hillsboro coach Nathan Hiebert also is aware, having brought his Lady Trojans to the Class 3A state tournament in each of the last two seasons, losing in semifinal games to Wichita Collegiate (2011) and Burlington (2012) before claiming consolation games each time.
Tennal is completing his first year at the helm of the Lady Longhorns, and a year ago they made their first trip to Hutchinson's Sports Arena since 2005, but made an early exit following a 62-47 loss to Burlington.
But these two powerhouses, ranked all season and now at No. 4 (Hillsboro) and No. 6 (Holcomb), will take on the other at 8:15 p.m. Wednesday in the opening round of the 2013 state tourney at the Arena. They are the Nos. 4- and 5-seeded teams in the field.
"There's definitely pressure anytime you're defending anything or trying to get to that next game," Tennal said on Monday, two days after a 60-49 sub-state championship win over previously unbeaten Cimarron on Saturday at Southwestern Heights. "We felt like if we played our game, and did a good job of defending, we'd have a good chance. The girls played their tails off, it was a fun game to be involved in. We had a couple of minutes of jitters, but I thought we settled in and did a good job. Cimarron's a tough team to defend, and despite the fact they made eight threes, we only gave up five twos. That was a big factor."
As has been the case for most of the season, the Lady Longhorns will be shorter than their state opponent, as the Lady Trojans (21-2) are paced by 5-11 senior Tena Loewen. A superb athlete, Loewen was the Class 3A volleyball player of the year, but missed the 2012 state tourney with a torn ACL. She has fully recovered and has averaged 13.3 points and 6.3 rebounds a game while shooting 60 percent from the field and 77 percent from the free throw line.
"She's extremely smart and a strong athlete," Hiebert said of Loewen. "She understands the game and makes great decisions on the floor. She usually is defending the other team's best inside player."
But Hillsboro is far from a one-player show, as was evidenced in January when the Lady Trojans hosted their own invitational. Holcomb was one of those six teams, and finished with a 1-2 record, losing close games to 4A Hesston and 3A Riley County (in the state field, too). With six teams ranked at the time and five of those now qualified for state competition in three different classifications, the Lady Trojans captured the title of what has been described as one of the best mid-sized class basketball tournaments in Kansas.
"We went to the tournament with the express goal of seeing what the teams were like and what it takes to win at that level," Tennal said. "I'm grateful to Mr. (Jerry) Johnson for scheduling that tournament. It's been a big help to us throughout the season."
Hillsboro's leading scorer is 5-8 junior Addie Lackey, who averages 14.3 points. Danae Bina, the team's point guard, averages 10.9 points, four rebounds and three steals per game. Hiebert said his team will go about eight deep in its rotation.
"Holcomb's very dangerous offensively," Hiebert said. "They've got seven girls who can all shoot the threes. I think in our tournament they had four or five girls who all averaged double figures. They're an up-tempo, high-energy group and they like to press. How we handle that press is a big factor for the game. We've certainly got be aware of where No. 4 (Katie Pfeifer) is."
For Pfeifer and her senior teammates, this is what they've worked for during the past four seasons.
"This year we don't want to just go and have a first-round exit," Pfeifer said. "We want to go and win it all."
Tennal has arguably one of the strongest shooting teams around, and he has emphasized the trey all season. It was Pfeifer who exploded for 22 second-half points in the win over Cimarron after going scoreless in the first half and sitting for a good portion with two fouls.
"It's the great equalizer, and with our lack of overall size, we have to do that to pull teams out and open the inside for our other players," Tennal said of his emphasis on the 3-point shot.
With a predominantly senior lineup, the Longhorns are led by Pfeifer (13.7), senior Karissa Pena (12.8), along with sophomore Taylor Deniston (9.3), senior Kyshia Prieto (8.5), junior Kylee Amos (8.9) and junior Haley Heydman, who at 5-9 is the tallest player in the starting lineup, and averages 8.5 points.
"I think we match up with them better than we might some of the other teams," Tennal said. "I know we can play with Hillsboro and if we do the things we're capable of doing, we'll be in good shape."
The other half of the upper bracket will pit last year's runner-up, Burlington (No. 1 seed at 23-0) against Sabetha (17-6) at 6:30 p.m. In the two Wednesday afternoon games, it will be No. 2 Garden Plain (22-1) vs. Riley County (17-5) at 3 p.m. and Caney Valley (20-1) against Russell (18-5) at 4:45 p.m.
Semifinal games are slated for Friday at 3 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. (the Hillsboro-Holcomb winner vs. Burlington-Sabetha winner). Saturday's consolation game will be played at noon with the championship game set for a 4 p.m. tipoff. There will be a new champion crowned, as last year's winner, Silver Lake, was eliminated by Riley County in its sub-state final.