When Lizzy Wendell’s parents walk into Bramlage Coliseum on Saturday afternoon for Kansas State’s first round NCAA Tournament game, her parents, who are Wildcat alumni, won’t be decked head to toe in purple.
Instead they’ll don Drake University blue in support of their daughter, a senior who led Drake to its first tournament berth in a decade.
Wendell has come a long way since 2013 when she won the DiRenna Award, which annually honors the top boys and girls basketball players in metropolitan Kansas City. Wendell guided Blue Springs High to four straight top-three finishes in the Missouri Class 5 state tournament.
Wendell is a senior forward for No. 20 Drake (28-4), the Missouri Valley Conference team that will play No. 24 K-State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday. And she’s been the main cog in Drake’s rise into the national spotlight this season, leading the team with a sturdy 21.1 points per game that ranks 13th in the country.
“It’s not just about the number (she’s) putting on the floor,” fifth-year head coach Jennie Baranczyk said on Friday. “She’s one of the most prolific scorers in the country that makes other people around her better and makes other people shoot.”
As she’s steered the Bulldogs to their 22-game winning streak this season —Wendell averaged 20.9 points per game in that stretch — she’s turned into one of the best players to come through Drake University.
Besides taking the team from a 1-6 start in conference play in her freshman year to an undefeated 18-0 MVC record this year, Wendell is the first Drake player in 31 years to score more than 2,000 points in a career. She sits third in school history (2,534) and second in the NCAA among active scoring leaders. She has scored 675 points in 32 games this season.
She was named Jackie Stiles MVC Player of the Year after averaging 20.9 points per game and shooting 51.1 percent from the field in conference.
“I’ve really worked to expand my game every year,” Wendell said. “(Baranczyk) really worked with me to do that both defensively and offensively. Within offense, just being able to expand my range, being able to go inside, post up more, have a mid-range game and be able to score from all places on the floor. I’m just adding something year after year and continuing to build on it.”
Wendell’s success with the mid-major program reflects directly on what Baranczyk has demanded of her. She went from catching and shooting as a high school player to scoring 536 points on 46.7 percent shooting as a freshman.
She was co-MVC freshman of the year and an All-MVC first team selection, an honor she’s received every season since.
After falling just shy of a state championship game four years in a row while at Blue Springs, Wendell is itching to leave a bigger legacy in her wake.
“Getting that close in high school and not getting it kind of sucks,” Wendell said. “But coming here, every college game is bigger. This being the biggest we can go makes it really exciting. We just hope we can make the most of it.”