BY CONOR NICHOLL for Sports in Kansas
Salina Central girls’ basketball coach Chris Fear spent 20 years in the college ranks before he took over the Mustangs in the ’16-17 school year. Fear coached men’s basketball in South Dakota, Michigan, Nebraska and Kansas. His last stop was a five-year run as Kansas Wesleyan’s men’s basketball coach.
In his career, Fear has never had someone who has loved basketball more and displayed work ethic like SC junior Aubrie Kierscht.
“I don’t think I have ever coached a player who works harder,” Fear said.
The 5-foot-6 Kierscht, well-known since her freshman year and a Navy commit, is already historically great from 3-point range. This winter, Kierscht is Kansas’ most efficient shooter.
Additionally, Kierscht has greatly improved the inside game, especially with a variety of floaters and moves with her left hand.
“I work on those every day in the gym, so that’s where it comes from,” Kierscht said. “I am always in the gym trying to work on stuff to get better. People look at me as a shooter, but I want to prove them wrong, and I want to show them that I can do a lot of other things, too.”
Salina Central and Kierscht has often posted Twitter photos of Kierscht’s shooting statistics from workouts outside of practice. Salina Central has the Mustang Basketball Shot Club the last two years. In ’19, Kierscht made 18,600 shots; second place was 13,215. In ’20, Kierscht made 50,050 shots. Second place was 12,605. In the summer, Kierscht has played for Ohlde and Wheat State Elite.
“She will get in the gym,” Fear said. “She loves it. The success that she has is not an accident. She works at it, and she deserves it.”
The improvement has put Kierscht at the cusp of 1,000 career points, a high-profile milestone especially for a Class 5A player just past the midway part of her junior year. Kierscht has tallied at least 300 points every winter.
“It’s not necessarily things that you would teach, but she just works at them so much that she is really good at them, and I just kind of let her go, because she can execute,” Fear said of Kierscht’s arsenal of moves.
In her career, she has 988 career points and stands 176 of 428 (41 percent) on treys. Kierscht is expected to clear 1,000 career points at Goddard on Friday.
Kierscht has the same career percentage as Hill City’s Lexi Hardiek, who played for the Ringnecks from ’07-11 and was a four-year player at Division I University of Missouri-Kansas City. Hardiek made 391 career treys and 132 as a junior, both state records. She shot 41 percent for her career. Hardiek, though, was always a better 3-point shooter than inside the arc.
This year, Kierscht is shooting 52 percent from the 3-point line, 57 percent on 2s and 87 percent from the foul line. Last year, she delivered 38 percent on treys, 44 percent on 2s and 83 percent from the foul line.
“She is not just a jump shooter,” Fear said. “She is a scorer, and she is going to shoot it in from the perimeter, but she is so much better at finishing – finishing with the left hand.”
Salina Central finished 15-6 last winter and currently stands at 11-4 and ranked eighth in Class 5A. Last Tuesday, SC took an upset 66-53 loss to rival Salina South, a team it defeated by 28 points earlier in the year. On Friday, the Mustangs fell, 66-56, to Andover Central. On Dec. 17, SC lost, 60-52, to Andover Central. AC is currently ranked No. 1 in 5A and on a 35-game winning streak.
“To play with them, you have to score,” Fear said of Andover Central, a team with multiple Division I/II commits. “You have to keep scoring, but you want to limit the open 3s. You want to make them have to put the ball on the floor, and it’s so much easier said than done.”
On Tuesday, SC rolled over Goddard-Eisenhower, 66-45. Eisenhower is ranked fourth in 5A. Kierscht finished with 26 points on 9 of 14 shooting. Junior Hampton Williams, a Division I Abilene Christian commit, delivered eight points, five assists and four rebounds.
The three Salina High Schools (South, Central, Sacred Heart) are a combined 0-4 all-time in state finals, per Kansas historian Carol Swenson. Central has four all-time final fours: ’85, ’14, ’16 and ’17. The ’14 squad finished as state runner-up. Geoff Andrews left SC in ’16 after seven years leading the program and was the school’s all-time winningest coach at 112-46. Andrews is currently the Superintendent of Catholic schools for the Salina Diocese. Kierscht has set a goal to win two state titles, starting with this March.
“We have so much motivation this year,” Kierscht said. “We want that state championship, and we will do whatever it takes to get that state championship, so we know that we’ve got to put in the work. We know we’ve got to be uncommon to make that goal a reality.”
SC, with no seniors in a major role, has pushed the pace more than last season. The Mustangs’ 58.9 points per game is third in 5A. Andover Central is second at 66.4, and KC Sumner, which stands at 3-0 after a late start from coronavirus, has 71 points a contest, according to KSHSAA.
“We are pretty athletic, and we want to run,” Fear said. “We have got skilled players, and so if you can get more possessions in the game, I like our chances, and we want to get some easy baskets.”
Kierscht has frequently scored off fast breaks. She is up to 20.1 points a game this winter. Highly athletic sophomore Mykayla Cunningham, the offensive catalyst and an excellent defensive player, has 12.4 points, 4.4 rebounds, 4.2 assists, and 3.6 steals a contest.
“She works on her game,” Kierscht said. “I see her in the gym all the time, so it’s just cool to see that work in the gym pay off. She’s a big part of our program this year, and we have big goals this year, and she is a big part of that.”
Williams delivers 7.8 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. Juniors Landry Stewart and Chaliscia Samilton have combined for 12.4 points and 10 rebounds a contest. Freshmen Callan Hall and Tyler Vidricksen have been key role players, along with junior Anyah Polk-Darby.
This week, Vidricksen earned the team’s weekly practice award. Madison Freeman is the lone senior. Williams, Kierscht and Cunningham made all-Salina Invitational Tournament team honors.
Central is in the same sub-state as Salina South, Hays High and Great Bend, all sub-.500 teams that have displayed solid defense.
In a 64-43 win at Hays High on Jan. 29, Kierscht was 2 of 5 on treys and often face-guarded by Indian sophomore Carly Lang, a strong defender. However, Kierscht used her bevy of moves to still tally 28 points and had many fast break run outs.
“She certainly made it up in other places,” HHS coach Len Melvin said. “I mean, we knew we had our hands full and guarding them was going to be a tough chore.”
Usually, top Kansas girl basketball players make a college choice either sophomore or junior year. Kierscht elected to commit to Navy. She and Lawrence Free State senior Shannon Clarke will be the first Kansans to play women’s basketball for Navy since ’15-16. They join a growing list of top Kansas athletes that have signed with the service academies.
In football, Shawnee Mission Northwest’s Ty Black, Norton’s Christien Hawks, and St. James’ La’James White signed with Air Force, and Bishop Carroll’s Ben Purvis to Navy. Black was Sunflower League Player of the Year, and the other three were Shrine Bowl selections. Kierscht and her family included Fear for the college choice, which made him “really happy.” Fear said Kierscht “fell in love” with the coaching staff.
“It was a tough choice,” Kierscht said. “…I just had such a good relationship with all the coaching staff, and I couldn’t say no to them, so they really believe in me, and I am really excited to play there. But before I go out and play for Navy, we have got to win two state championships.”
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