By CONOR NICHOLL
Regardless of what happens at the Class 1A Division I state tournament this week, Osborne High School's four seniors of guards Baylee Wolters and Taylor Noel and forwards Jessica Princ and Caitlyn Miller will play their final games together.
The quartet has been teammates since fourth grade and has emerged as an elite high school team the last two seasons.
Last year, Osborne went 16-6, but lost to Thunder Ridge in the sub-state championship game. Last Saturday, the Bulldogs beat Scandia-Pike Valley, 49-38, to advance to the state tournament.
"You see the tears of disappointment when you lose," coach Brad Roadhouse said. "This year, it was a whole together different story. What you got to see was enjoyable tears that they got to finally accomplish where they wanted to get to."
On Monday afternoon, Princ walked into the Osborne gym for practice and one of her first comments was, "I am glad to be here."
"They were happy to be together again," Roadhouse said. "This is going to be an experience."
On Thursday, the seniors begin the final tournament of their high school careers with a first-round game at Emporia State University's White Auditorium. No. 5-seeded Osborne (19-3) plays No. 4 seeded Centre-Lost Springs (20-3) in an 8:15 p.m. start Thursday. This is Osborne's first state berth in the seniors' careers.
Centre qualified for state the last two seasons, but lost 71-29 to Hoxie two winters ago and 55-26 to St. John last winter.
Before the trip to state, former Bulldog coach Darrel Wolters, the architect of Osborne state championships in 2000 and '02, is planning on speaking to the team.
Shortly after holiday break, the Osborne seniors talked about wanting to have a chance at powerhouse Hoxie at state. If No. 1 seeded Hoxie and Osborne both win, the teams will play each other in Friday's semifinals. Roadhouse said the potential Hoxie matchup is "on my mind."
"We are looking at one game, but we are also, in practice, we are preparing for that next game also," Roadhouse said.
Like Osborne, Lost Springs also won 16 games last season and has four seniors in guards Amy Makovec, Bryanna Svoboda, wing Cacey Simons and post Makenzie Deines. Junior Shelby Makovec leads the Cougars with 16.1 points per contest, while Simons averages 12.7 points and 7.3 rebounds. Roadhouse said Osborne matches "up really well" against the Cougars.
"I don't know if their league is as strong as what our schedule was for the year," Roadhouse said.
Osborne, one of Kansas' most efficient offenses, is playing well in all facets.
The Bulldogs have won seven straight contests and have held the last five opponents under 39 points. Roadhouse called the defense probably one of the team's most improved areas. Osborne normally runs man-to-man, but has used multiple looks. Plus, the Bulldogs have cut back on what Roadhouse calls "silly fouls," a point of emphasis throughout the year.
"We have added some full court press, usually start the game out with some full court pressure, and try to get some turnovers, so we can try to get out to an early lead," he said.
Osborne averages 52.2 points per contest, while Centre is at 52.3 points per game. However, Osborne averages .949 points per possession on 55 possessions a contest. Centre averages .866 points per possession on 60.4 possessions a game.
Osborne ranks second in Kansas in free throw percentage (70 percent), third in 3-point field goal percentage (38 percent) and 10th in field goal percentage (43 percent), according to maxpreps.com.
"Our chemistry has been so much better this year," Roadhouse said. "Everybody gets along. Last year, it just wasn't quite there."
Princ averages 15.9 points and 9.2 rebounds, while Miller tacks on 15.4 points and 6.7 rebounds. Noel averages 11.3 points and shoots 36 percent from long range.
"Taylor has got some good looks at the basket here as of late, and she is not afraid to shoot anywhere on the floor," Roadhouse said.
Princ shoots 54 percent from the floor, five percent better than last season, and 14th best in Kansas. Miller and Princ have made 76 and 75 percent of their free throws, 12th and 13th in the state.
Wolters, the primary ballhandler, has helped Osborne commit just 13.9 turnovers per contest after the Bulldogs averaged 18 a game last season.
"Last year, if we got pressure a little bit, we seemed to get sped up and we would throw the ball around a little bit," Roadhouse said. "This year, we have handled the pressure a little bit better. I attribute all that to one more year of maturity, and they understand how to play the game a little bit better."