HILL CITY — On this day, Hill City senior Lexie McDowell does not need a pair of shoes to embarrass in a friendly game of H.O.R.S.E. Though not intimidating, her purple and orange socks do the trick.
Just as she does when she is in game mode, the 5-foot-10 guard shows poise from all areas of the court. An effortless 35-foot 3-pointer gives her the victory and served as reminder to the season that led to her being named the Hays Daily News Girls’ Player of the Year.
McDowell led Hill City (22-4) to the third-place game in Class 2A and averaged 15.4 points per game, the fifth best mark in 2A. Her 76 makes from 3-point range ranks second in all classes, while her 3-point field-goal percentage (45 percent) ranks first in the state for players with 15 or more made 3-pointers.
She finished with 976 career points — just shy of joining the 1,000-point club — while averaging 11.8 points per game.
But saying McDowell played at this high of a level throughout her high school career would be untrue.
“This year, I kinda just went out and played,” McDowell said. “Previously, I’d always try to think about it. I kinda just let the game come to me and played like I know how to play.”
McDowell never averaged more than 12 points per game in a season until this year, including a clip of 9.3 last season. She averaged 8.2 and 12 points per game in her first two years, respectively.
Her 48 percent from the field was a 10-point improvement from her next closest season. She did so while taking the most shots in her career.
“People always said I was too unselfish and they were like, ‘You need to shoot the ball more’,” McDowell said. “I was like, ‘I guess I’ll shoot the ball more’. ”
McDowell scored a career-high 32 points in a 49-44 win against Ellis on Jan. 15 two weeks prior to leading the Ringnecks with 19 in a streak-snapping victory against Hoxie. Hoxie won 107 consecutive games before the loss on Jan. 26.
A freshman campaign with averages of 8.2 points and 3.7 rebounds per game was cut short after 11 games due to a broken nose and concussion. She bounced back with 12 points, 4.7 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 2.4 steals the next season, meaning lots of promise heading into her junior year.
Before the start of the season, she tore her cartilage complex in her right wrist — she is a right-handed shooter — which led to pain throughout the year, despite cortisone shots and wearing a number of different braces.
She shot just 34 percent that season, including just 24 percent from deep because of the constant pain that came with shooting.
But freshly equipped with a brace “made by some lady in Hawai’i”, according to McDowell, she was ready to elevate her game the summer before her senior year.
“She works her tail off,” head coach Linda Nighswonger said. “She’s been working every summer and during the year. I was really glad to see her game elevate because we knew it was there. I think some of it was just being a little more confident and not worrying about stuff, just getting her to relax more and just go have fun.”
McDowell laced it up with her Western Kansas Elite team over the summer, a team with many of the top players in the area, including Phillipsburg’s Tatum Bartels and Thomas More Prep-Marian’s Melissa Pfeifer and Megan Koenigsman.
“A lot of it was all the WKE practice,” McDowell said. “They’d give us different drills and stuff to work on and I tried to perfect those because I knew those would get me better. I would constantly try to work on my shot and improve my range.”
Another teammate of hers, Hill City senior Amanda Conway, recalls her improvement showing during their biggest summer tournament of the year, where college coaches from all over the country came to scout. McDowell played an amazing game, according to Conway, but took notice to the lack of coaches in attendance.
It just so happened the very next game, one with every coach she wanted to see on the sidelines, was far from her best. Regardless, the summer season ended with an offer from Washburn, her dad’s alma mater.
“That was probably the worst I played,” McDowell said. “I bricked a couple shots. I bricked a layup. I don’t think I made one outside shot the two games Washburn watched. I had another school looking at me, and that was the biggest tournament we went to, so there was quite a bit of schools around. Worst I’ve ever played. I just remember thinking, ‘Well, my offense is going, guess I’ll have to step it up on defense’. That’s just what I tried to do, and Washburn saw some stuff that they liked.”
That summer was the first time McDowell started receiving much attention on the recruiting trail, but there was little doubt in her mind that anywhere but Washburn was the right place for her.
“I loved Washburn immediately,” she said. It just felt like I fit there. I watched a practice and I could see myself fitting in there. I loved the coach and loved all the girls and the campus.”
McDowell officially signed with the Ichabods — who finished 15-14 and seventh in the MIAA — before the start of the season, making her one of four recruits, all from Kansas, to sign with Washburn.
“Lexie has great size and skill at the guard position,” said Washburn head coach Ron McHenry upon McDowell’s signing. “She will develop into a player throughout her career that will play a big part in our success. She shoots the ball well and can put it on the floor nicely. Lexie is a great competitor that has a huge upside.”
She had the luxury of facing one of her teammates, Central Plains point guard Reagan Phelan, in the state semifinals
“It was a great experience,” McDowell said. “I remember I talked to the assistant coach from Washburn after the game because he was at the game. We were kinda just joking around how one time I hit a 3, then she turned around and hit a 3 the very next possession. I’m like, ‘OK, this is how it’s gonna go’. It was just a lot of fun.”
McDowell finished the season with seven 20-plus-point games, including a 27-point performance led by seven 3-pointers against Ness City.
One of the tougher contests came in a loss to Thunder Ridge, a team that advanced to 1A-I state, in which she scored 12 points and hauled in 11 rebounds. But going against Kirsten Burger, a multifaceted player like herself, was just another showing of her ability to play any position on the court.
“Defensively, she could guard inside and outside,” Nighswonger said. “She’s used to being a guard, so she can cover that. She did a good job of covering posts. She presented a matchup problem with the other team because if they put a post on her to guard, then we’d move her outside. If they had a guard on her, we could move her inside. It was fun to be able to do that.”
Following one final season on the track, McDowell will make her way to Washburn, where her future is surely bright. She said there is no exact plan on how her career could go and she could end up as a starter or vital role player her first season, depending on how she fits into the system.
But just as she did all season long and throughout her high school career, the mentality will go unchanged, even against another level of competition.
“I was told once, ‘Shoot ‘till you make, and then shoot ‘till you miss’. That’s just how I do it,” McDowell said. “Just keep shooting.”