For 13 straight years, Olathe South has made the journey to the Class 6A girls’ basketball tournament. The Falcon bus traveled to Emporia the first six years of this stretch and on its last journey there, Olathe South returned home with the 2010 state title.
It’s been seven years, but the Falcons have spent a lot of time at Charles Koch Arena in Wichita — which became the tournament host site in 2011 — trying to recapture the glory of playing in another championship game.
Olathe South got a bit closer to the goal when it beat Lawrence 51-44 on Thursday night in the quarterfinals.
The path to the finals cleared further when four-time reigning champion Wichita South, the undefeated No. 1 seed in the tournament, lost to No. 8 seed Wichita West in the third game of the day. Wichita West drew a foul with 1 second remaining and sunk both its free throws for a 44-42 victory.
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“This is my fourth year coming here,” said Olathe South senior DejaNae Roebuck, who was a freshman on the 2014 team that placed third at state. “Every year we come up short, so this year we want to do everything we can to get to the championship game.”
The senior-led team, which placed fourth last year after losing to state runner-up Shawnee Mission Northwest in the semifinals, played a back-and-forth game through the third quarter on Thursday. But with a 33-31 lead heading into the fourth quarter, Olathe South built a seven-point lead with 5:44 left in the game and held Lawrence back.
Lawrence was led by junior E’Lease Stafford’s 14 points and senior Olivia Lemus’ nine points.
Roebuck’s double-double (17 points, 10 rebounds) led Olathe South, and seniors Kaitlynn Butaud and Lindsey Bartels added 11 points and two steals each. The Falconswent 10 for 13 at the free-throw line in the fourth quarter.
No. 3 seed Olathe South (19-4) will play No. 2 Manhattan (22-1) on Friday at 3 p.m. Olathe South was responsible for Manhattan’s lone loss this season.
Derby 40, Olathe East 33
The ball was still falling through the net when Cameron Kincaid, who had just watched teammate Caroline Hoppock sink a three-pointer, was pushed to the floor. Hoppock had given Olathe East a one-point lead over Derby in the quarterfinals with 3:14 left in the game on Thursday night, but the Hawks desperately were hoping for some insurance.
Kincaid was successful at the free-throw line, going 2 for 2, but the lead didn’t hold. Olathe East got into foul trouble, allowing Derby to tie the game on a free throw on its way to a 40-33 win at Charles Koch Arena.
Kincaid and Hoppock, both seniors, shared the lead in points with 10 each for Olathe East (18-5), the Sunflower League champions who placed third at state last year.
It was a tug of war until late in the fourth quarter, when Derby stepped up to the line seven times in the final 2:20 and made six free throws to seal the victory.
Derby’s last appearance in the state semifinals was in 2001. Derby (19-4), the No. 5 seed, will play Wichita West on Friday at 6:30 p.m.
Manhattan 63, Olathe Northwest 52
With the game clock winding down, sophomore Sara Beth Gueldner stepped in front of the arc, unleashed a shot and gave Olathe Northwest a reason to cheer.
Olathe Northwest still trailed Manhattan 59-51 with 38 seconds remaining in the Class 6A girls’ basketball quarterfinals. Olathe Northwest tacked on another point before losing to Manhattan 63-52.
But Gueldner’s easy basket proved one thing for Olathe Northwest: The Ravens, who came into the tournament in Wichita as the No. 7 seed, are on the verge of a breakthrough.
Olathe Northwest (15-8) hadn’t been to the tournament since 2013, so coach Joel Branstrom’s squad had no idea what to expect. The seniors on the squad were just eighth-graders when the Ravens last won a substate championship.
That served to encourage the upperclassmen in the last few weeks. They came back from a loss at Olathe South to beat Shawnee Mission Northwest and Olathe North to close out the regular season. Then Olathe Northwest won its two substate games, including a championship against SM Northwest.
“It had been a while and we talked about that a lot,” Branstrom said. “Brick walls are there for a reason, to show you how badly you want something. There’s always a silver lining and hopefully it’s motivation for the young kids in the offseason to recognize what they’re working for.”
Although the graduating class won’t leave with a state, it did make way for the younger Olathe Northwest players to forge their own path. Gueldner led the team with four three-pointers and 26 total points, and Mary Reiber, a tenacious freshman, nabbed four defensive rebounds.
“(Gueldner) had a great game,” Branstrom said. “She kept giving us hope, too… And you cannot ignore (Reiber). She knows the game and sees the floor so well. I’m excited I’ve got three more years to coach her.”
Senior Madison Heise and junior Christen Curry added six points each for Olathe Northwest. As a team, the Ravens grabbed 31 rebounds but shot just 39.6 percent from the field.