The State Fair women’s basketball team has been on a roll since last fall.
The Lady Roadrunners had struggled early in the season, slowed by injuries, but since a one-point loss to Southern Idaho on Nov. 29, the team has gone 17-2, winning the final two games of the first semester and running up a 15-2 record second semester.
Along the way the team has recorded winning streaks of five, five and seven games and their only losses were a 79-72 setback against Moberly and a 62-58 loss at Johnson County.
“We just compete well,” said Apiphany Woods. “We play well together and we compete in practice which gets us ready for games. As long as we play hard and compete, we can get through any team.”
One of those losses was tough to take, the setback against Moberly which combined losing to an arch-rival, losing on the home floor and losing a Region 16 game.
“That’s a big game,” Woods said. “It hit us hard, telling us if we don’t come to play, we’re going to lose. Since that game, we come to play every game.”
From those setbacks came lessons as coach Kevin Bucher’s team used the loss to figure out what needed to be done differently.
“He left it up to us to figure it out,” said Mary Sims. “He coached us through it. Good teams lose, but the best teams get past it and learn from those losses.”
“We watched film after that,” Woods said. “We looked at what we did wrong and corrected it. Moberly was a good team that picked us apart and we learned from that game. As we got better, things started clicking.”
Sims said the team came out of those games hungry. That hunger led to winning as the Lady Roadrunners beat Jefferson 82-52 three days after the Moberly loss and won their next four games by 34, seven, 83 and 11 points. After falling to Johnson County, there was another winning streak sparked by an 89-70 win over Crowder. They haven’t lost since.
“When everybody’s on the same page with the same goals,” Sims said. “After those two losses, the only two that we did have, just being hungry for it, getting back and working.”
Helping State Fair has been its high-pressure defense and up-tempo style. Sims said the team has been playing better in every phase of the game since the start of the season, but she has really seen improvement in defense and conditioning.
“We’ve out-ran every team in the second half,” Sims said.
The Lady Roadrunners enter the national tournament with a rematch. They will face Western Nebraska, a team that beat State Fair 67-61 on Nov. 26.
“We played them at the beginning of the season but we’re a much better team than we were back then,” Woods “I’m sure they’re a much better team (than they were) but I think we have an edge because I’m sure we’re a much faster team. I’m pretty confident about that game. It’s going to be a grind-out game.”
There was confidence in the team when the season started. State Fair entered the 2012-13 season with a roster full of newcomers, but came into 2013-14 with nine sophomores. Players like Antoinette Taylor, Adella Randle-El, Asia Mosley and Woods saw plenty of playing time as freshmen and came out of the gate ready to lead.
“It helped a lot,” Mosley said. “There was talk at the end of the season last year, we were all saying that since there are five of us coming back, we’re going to go to nationals. We’re going to work and we’re all going to play together.”
The team opens the national tournament at 10 a.m. Monday in Salina, Kan. and is spending this week in practice fine-tuning things to prepare.
“We’re just going over stuff, preparing,” Sims said. “He’s not really doing too much to us but getting us out, getting us moving, going over our defense and polishing what we’ve been doing.”