By CONOR NICHOLL
Pittsburg St. Mary’s-Colgan senior Kaitlin Crossland, a three-sport standout, greatly enjoyed her final season of basketball.
“Basketball has really like turned out great for me,” Crossland said prior to sub-state week. “I have loved it way more than I ever have in the past, and I think it’s just (because) all my teammates are so awesome. I mean, we have gone to school together since we were in kindergarten.”
The balance and improvement yielded the best finish in Panther girls’ basketball history. Colgan, unranked throughout the winter, finished 19-4 and took Class 2A state runner-up to Sterling at Kansas State’s Bramlage Coliseum. Before this season, Colgan was 0-13 all-time at state tournament, per historian Carol Swenson. That included a 55-41 loss to undefeated Spearville in the 2A state quarterfinals last winter.
This year, Colgan collected permitted just 76 total points in three sub-state games. In the state quarterfinals, the Panthers beat Berean Academy, 41-34, for the first state win in school annals. Then, the Panthers defeated Valley Heights, 40-38, on a buzzer-beater from 5-foot-11 Lily Brown, the lone freshman on varsity. The play went viral and recorded more than 100,000 views on SIK social media platforms.
In the championship, Colgan fell, 52-36, to Sterling on March 13. Kansas had 14 girls’ teams reach a title game in seven classes. The preseason No. 1 squad by the Kansas Basketball Coaches Association qualified for the final in all seven classes.
Class 1A, Division I Norwich and Colgan were the only two finalists that were unranked in the preseason. Norwich, though, vaulted to third in its class by Dec. 15. The Panthers, which play mainly 3/4A schools and even several out-of-state teams, were arguably the biggest surprise in any classification to reach a final.
Before this season, Colgan had never allowed fewer than 46 points in any of its previous state games.
“Doesn’t matter who scores, who makes the most plays,” Crossland said. “We just want to win together, and that’s all we really want, so I think that’s made it so enjoyable.”
While 2A was known for multiple individual standouts/duos, especially at Sterling, WaKeeney-Trego, Ellis, Smith Center, Erie and Uniontown, Colgan was more balanced. Brown, the key player down the stretch, didn’t earn any all-conference honor. No Colgan player was a SIK 2A Player of the Year finalist.
“Such a selfless chemistry,” Crossland said.
While Brown’s shot is easily the most well-known moment of Colgan’s year, the Panthers’ run to the state championship came with several other significant improvements and adjustments. Those included Brown joining the starting lineup in midseason, Colgan’s increases from veteran players, stronger free throw shooting as the year progressed and better defense versus elite teams.
Overall, Colgan scored 50.7 points per game and allowed 31.2. Last year, the Panthers were at 43.5 points a game and permitted 34.8.
Last year, Colgan finished with 14 wins. Crossland was in her first season as a starter after the first player off the bench as a sophomore. She finished with 11 points, five rebounds, two steals and two assists per game. Lauren Yaghmour was at 7.5 points and four rebounds. Riley Root delivered 3.7 points and 6.4 rebounds. Gabi Radell had 6.1 points, Lauren Torrance with 5.8 points and Emily Imhof at 4.2.
On a team that had no seniors, Yaghmour was second team all-league, Crossland third team.
This year, Crossland, Root and Katelyn Ware were the three seniors. Yaghmour, Imhof, Radell were juniors, and Torrance a sophomore. She grew two inches to 6-1. Entering the state tournament, Torrance paced with 13.4 points and 6.4 rebounds, according to the team’s last statistical release. Torrance was well-known for adding strength in the offseason.
“Just works hard every single day,” Crossland said. “She is a great finisher down low, and someone that you can really rely on at all times. Like I know whenever I pass the ball to her, she is going to score, so I just love playing with her this year. It’s so fun.”
Yaghmour collected seven points, three assists and three steals per game. Crossland had 10.1 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.7 assists. Root upped her scoring to 5.2 points and 4.4 rebounds.
Imhof, Ware, and sophomores Ava Glover, Greta Ison and Audrey Goetting were among the key reserves. Imhof was by far the team’s top 3-point shooter at 37 percent at 5.2 points per game.
Brown pivoted the year once she entered the starting lineup. In her last 10 games before state, she averaged 12 points and 4.8 rebounds a contest and shot 62 percent from the field. She also turned the ball over just 12.2 percent of the time in those 10 games – and 12.5 for the season, lowest among Colgan’s key players.
Through the season’s 6-0 start, Colgan shot 55 percent from the line (43 of 77). At that point in the year, Farabi told SIK she wanted to see improvement from the line. The rest of the regular season, the Panthers went 147 of 225 (65 percent). Crossland notably went from 55 percent after six games to above 70 percent the rest of the winter. Torrance had a similar jump.
In the CNC postseason voting, Torrance was unanimous first team all-league. Crossland improved her recognition to second team. Yaghmour matched her second team honor from ’19-20. Root picked up third team.
At sub-state, Colgan beat Pleasanton, 36-21, in the semifinals, and 47-19 versus Humboldt in the championship. At state, Colgan gained a home game because of the COVID-19 protocol that moved quarterfinals to home sites. The Panthers lost, 64-53, to Berean Academy in the ’10 state quarterfinals. Overall, Colgan had permitted 55 points and averaged 43 in the 13 quarterfinal losses.
Berean was 2-4 all-time in quarterfinal games. Colgan allowed the fewest points at state in school annals. The Panthers limited Berean to one point above its season low. In the semifinals, Valley Heights entered 21-1. VH had 12 previous state appearances and had made the final four in its last three trips. Valley Heights had not lost a quarterfinal game since 2010. Emma Toerber had signed to play volleyball at Division II University of Mary (N.D.). Junior Emma Yungeberg was eventually a 2A Player of the Year finalist.
VH had only scored below 40 points twice.
Colgan limited Valley Heights to 32 percent shooting, including 3 of 8 from the foul line. Brown and Crossland paced with 12 and 11 points, respectively. Colgan finished 8 of 14 (57 percent) from the line before Brown’s final shot that sent the Panthers to the final.
Frontenac girls enjoyed a fine season that ended in the Class 3A Final Four. The Raiders entered sub-state with a 13-2 mark. The Raiders lost to Chanute, 64-62, and fell to Girard, 68-64, on Feb. 11. Frontenac beat Colgan, 54-41, on Jan. 26, and 51-39 on Feb. 19.
In the Riverton sub-state, Frontenac rolled past Caney Valley, 63-28. Then, the Raiders held off a solid Galena squad, 49-35. In the championship, Frontenac beat Girard, 45-29.
In the state quarterfinals, Frontenac defeated Osawatomie, 71-69, and the state’s leading scorer, Amiah Simmons. Frontenac fell, 62-46, to Cheney in the semifinals. Cheney completed an undefeated state championship season. The Raiders, under coach Scott Fields, earned a 19-4 mark.
Junior Heather Arnett, an all-state selection in multiple sports, was a first team all-league unanimous pick. Sophomore Hattie Pyle was also first team. Junior Sydney Frankenberry earned second team. Senior Reagan Hipfl collected honorable mention.
Frontenac has 19 all-time state appearances, including ’14, ’18, ’20 and ’21 as the last four. The Raiders have 10 final four showings, including the Forever Four last winter. Frontenac made back-to-back state semifinal showings for the first time since three in a row from ’81-83, per Swenson.
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