It’s been years in the making for this group.
Since they were in the fourth grade if you ask Conner Keith.
“This team, that’s going to state right now- we’ve been working since fourth grade,” she said. “This year’s the year we’ve been working towards. We knew what we had to do and got the job done tonight.”
One of the five seniors for the Hill City girls’ basketball team, Keith’s comment came after the Ringnecks’ 57-37 sub-state championship against top seed Hoxie. But if there’s anything else that can be said about this group it’s they are resilient. Five seniors, with a shared goal since the fourth grade to win a state championship, now have one last chance to do it. Hill City has been in the state tournament for the last three years. In this season’s state tournament, Hill City (20-3) goes in as the No. 4 seed, and faces No. 5 Pittsburg-Colgan (19-4). The game will tip off at 4:45 p.m. Wednesday at Bramlage Coliseum in Manhattan.
“You know more what to expect,” said Linda Nighswonger, who has been this group of seniors’ coach all four seasons. “When (Hill City) went in 2010, we were all kind of wide-eyed, trying to figure out what the heck was going on. It’s very exciting and we are very blessed to go. It’s not like, boring or mundane, you know what to expect going in so you can focus a little bit more on what you need to do basketball wise and not so much on the rest.”
Along with 5-foot-4 point guard Keith, her senior teammates Lauren Jones, Carrie Kennedy, Ellie Keener and Shaylin Russell have held up the starting line-up for the Ringnecks. Keith, an HDN All-Area area selection last season, leads the charge for Hill City with a team-high average in points (13.7), assists (5.8) and steals (4.9). Balance has helped carry the Ringnecks in scoring as Keener averages 9.9 points, Kennedy 9.8, and Jones 7.9. A team with not much for height (Russell the tallest at 5-11), Kennedy has made good use with her 5’8 frame, grabbing nine rebounds a game.
If the Ringnecks are to make it into Friday’s semifinal, there is the possibility of being set up against top-seed and four-time defending state champion Central Plains (23-0), which boasts one of the state’s top players in sophomore Emily Ryan. The semifinal would be at 3 p.m. Friday.
“We’re always looking for fun and always want to work hard,” Keith said. “We want to win.”