Maybe Lee’s Summit North didn’t feel the need to exorcise any ghosts from the previous girls’ basketball season — not after putting together another successful year.
Still, it’s hard to forget what happened to the Broncos at this point last season.
A year ago, North’s girls entered district play undefeated and left with their one and only loss of the season during the first round.
That’s all well in the past now.
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This year’s Broncos are district champions after downing Lee’s Summit West 57-43 on March 2 during the Class 5, District 13 final at Raymore-Peculiar.
North (20-5) will face North Kansas City (25-2) during a sectional playoff game at 3 p.m. on March 7 at the Silverstein Eye Centers Arena in Independence.
It’s the Broncos’ first district title since 2014, when the Imani Johnson-led Broncos made it all the way to the Class 5 state final.
Last year’s team appeared to be headed down a similar path until it was upended by Belton 47-46 in the district semifinals at Lee’s Summit. A lot has happened since then for the Broncos, most of it good.
That’s a big reason why North coach Tricia Lillygren was feeling an emotion other than relief afterward.
“I don’t know necessarily about relief, but I feel like we’ve captured some of that pride that we couldn’t capture last year, that let’s-get-through-postseason kind of pride,” Lillygren said. “We’re just starting the postseason, but we’ve made the first step.”
North completed that first step against a West team that finished 19-6 overall and shared the Suburban Gold Conference title with the Broncos. The city rivals split two regular season meetings in lopsided fashion — West won by 20 on Jan. 31, North by 14 on Feb. 15.
Just like the most recent prior meeting, North jumped ahead early and never trailed.
The Broncos effectively worked the ball inside to 6-foot-3 senior Aiyanna Johnson, who scored 21 points despite being constantly double- and triple-teamed. That helped free up some looks for 5-6 forward Micaela Dickerson, who scored the first five points of the game on her way to 15 points.
“When Aiyanna caught the ball a couple of times on the block early and wrapped around and fed Micaela on the back side, I think that really set the tone that, ‘Hey, you’re not going to be able to double or triple us and stop us.’” Lillygren said. “Aiyanna just had one heck of a ballgame.”
So did West junior Sydnee Kemp, a 5-5 point guard who helped the Titans stay within shouting distance by hitting three three-pointers and scoring 25 points.
North led 15-7 after Dickerson’s opening run and built a 32-22 lead by halftime, but the shots that fell so frequently in the first half didn’t fall for the Broncos in the third quarter.
North made just 4 of 12 shots during the period as West closed within 35-29 midway through the third quarter.
Kenzie Beeler’s three-pointer helped West close that gap, but it would be the Titans’ last basket of the quarter. North held the Titans to eight points in the quarter, one less than the Broncos scored.
“You always preach to the kids if we defend then we don’t have to score as much,” Lillygren said. “We can’t get out of our game because we miss a shot or two, and we can’t get out of what we want to do if they make a shot or two.”
West made another run early in the fourth quarter that Kemp capped with a three-pointer.
After cutting the gap to 43-36, the Titans fouled to put the Broncos on the free-throw line — a good idea, considering the Broncos made only 6 of 15 free throws in the second half against Raymore-Peculiar in the semifinals.
This time, North made 12 of 14 from the stripe and gradually pulled away, much to Lillygren’s relief.
“West is a phenomenal team,” Lillygren said. “My friends were saying, ‘Who do you think is going to win this night?’ I said, ‘I don’t know, but I do know one thing: One really good team is going to go home tonight.’ I’m just thankful it wasn’t us.”