UNLV post stands in way of Lakeview girls at state
It was Christmas morning all over again on Saturday. Though it had been likely a decade since they last felt the anticipation of presents under the tree, the Lakeview girls were no less giddy when they awoke a night after making history.
Nearly three decades have passed since a group of Lady Vikes had dared to wander into such foreign territory.
You could forgive them then if the first thing that came to mind in terms of celebration included a postgame meal at Raising Cane’s.
Perhaps they’ll become more accustomed to the moment with a few more wins this weekend.
“Most of us didn’t sleep. Makenna (Klug) said she stayed up till 3 a.m. I fell asleep at midnight,” senior Gracie Borer said about the immediate hours after defeating Louisville in the district final and sending Lakeview girls basketball to state for the first time since 1991. “We were talking to each other all weekend about how unreal it feels.”
The Vikings will need their sleep Wednesday night ahead of a difficult first-round state tournament game against No. 1 seed Mitchell.
The game will be played at 10:45 a.m. Thursday at Bob Devaney Sports Center.
Mitchell poses one big problem, and her name is Keyana Wilfred, a 6-3 center who averages over 18 points per game.
“Probably the second best post player in the state, behind a girl from Superior,” said head coach Monte Jones. “She’s huge, she’s strong. This girl is special. She’ll end up playing Division I. She has great feet, great hands, she’s been successful in their lineup for years now. If she gets catches we’re in trouble. That’s really what it boils down to.”
Wilfred averages 18.5 points per game this season, pulls down 8.3 rebounds and shoots 68 percent. The senior has scored 20 or more points 10 times and has been in double figures every game except for the district final win over Syracuse.
Wilfred had basically the same scoring average as a junior, more than 15 points as a sophomore and has been a fixture in the Mitchell lineup since she first stepped on the court.
Likely drawing the defensive assignment for shutting Wilfred down will be Lakeview 5-11 senior Abby Kapels.
“We know (Mitchell) has one strong girl that’s mainly their whole entire team,” Kapels said. (Coach Jones) told us that she’s 6-3, and we’ll have to be very prepared for her.”
Wilfred, a UNLV recruit, and the Tigers are back at state for a fourth straight season. Mitchell lost to eventual state champion Scotus in last year’s semis. The two prior years were one-and-done trips to Lincoln.
“My mentality is going into the game is that people think we can’t do it. We just have to show them that we can,” Kapels said. “Even though we do have that title of being the eight seed, and they’re the one seed, we can show them that we can do it.”
Wilfred has been slowed down before. Syracuse held her to nine in the Tigers 44-39 overtime victory against the Rockets.
“In this game, we have to focus on her,” Jones said. “She’s that special. If their other players beat you, you weren’t going to win anyways. This is a game where we have to neutralize their big girl to win, and if we do, we have a good chance to win.”
Lakeview lacks the kind of state experience Mitchell brings to Lincoln. Regardless, the Vikings seem to be embracing the moment.
Most said that when they returned to practice on Monday, it was like any other day in the gym, though none had obviously ever been practicing this late in the season.
From Jones’ perspective, the girls have been locked in for weeks. No matter which opponent is up next, or where the game is played, he’s confident his group will respond normally.
“We had been really focused for about a month. The feel, the intensity was the same,” he said. “Our intensity has been so good for a month. There wasn’t some other level that we’re going to go to, we were already at that spot.”
Jones should know how to read a team. He’s been coaching either girls or boys basketball for the last three decades. More than half of those, 16 years, were spent at Lincoln Christian where the Crusader boys won a C-2 championship in 2011 and were runners-up in C-1 in 2004.
Jones will do his best to impart his knowledge to his players as they prepare.
“It definitely was weird,” Kapels said about coming back to practice days after cutting down the nets in Fremont. “At the beginning of practice (Jones) talked to us for about 30 minutes just telling us about what we have to do during state because we haven’t done any of this before. We’ve had to learn a lot with the experience.”
Lakeview’s last state tournament ended in the first round with a two-point 46-44 loss to Lexington. It was part of three straight trips to Lincoln. The Lady Vikes made it to the semifinals in 1990, but otherwise, have only won that one game at state.
“You have to have joy in the journey,” Jones said. “I don’t need to motivate them. They’re going to the show. I just have to convince them you belong, so why not just win. They’ve earned that right through the schedule they’ve played. It’s going to pay off for them.”
With an uphill battle in front of them, and history not in their favor, Borer remains optimistic. Lakeview has had multiple players contribute throughout the season.
She believes that if every one plays their best game, the Vikings will be a tough out for any team.
“I feel like we haven’t played our best game yet, and there’s still a lot of potential that we have,” Borer said. “If we all play our best game then we can be unstoppable.”
Nate Tenopir and Peter Huguenin are the sports editor and sports reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach them via email at firstname.lastname@example.org