When the Eisenhower girls lost all 21 games during the 2011-12 season, the school’s first, the Tigers weren’t affected by the all-too-common issue of extreme negativity or players quitting.
“There were some girls who would tell others to be on the team because they were so fun to hang out with,” senior Kilah Hoenscheidt said. “It was fun. The connection that we have, the bonding that we have. Even though we didn’t win, we had fun together.”
The team chemistry hasn’t waned, and now the fun includes winning. The Tigers head into the Emporia tournament as a No. 1 seed with a 9-1 record.
“It’s been a really fun season,” junior Brynn Minor said. “We’re really getting along good. It’s fun to go to practice and play the games because we have confidence in each other.”
Eisenhower’s success is a worthy story all on its own. The Tigers have beaten Andover, Valley Center and Maize South by a combined seven points and five of their wins have been by five or more points.
But it’s impossible to look at this team without seeing how far they’ve come because the majority of the team experienced that winless season. Hoenscheidt and fellow senior Ali Blasi started as sophomores, while Minor and junior Emily King were freshman starters.
Their goal that first season was simple: Get better. Coach Joe Blasi focused on teaching aspects of basketball that would help them not just that season, but now. He chose not to run junk defenses or even zone defense, sticking to his man defense and an offense that has always been about free-lancing.
“I knew they weren’t going to be as good at it, but we’re in it for the long haul,” Blasi said. “I knew they’d be with me for two years, so we stomached through it. Could I have put in an offense that maybe gave us a few more looks and we lost by 30 instead of 40? Yeah, probably, but I don’t think it would have helped them in the long run.
“It’s paying dividends for them now.”
Last season included more goals involving winning, but the biggest change was the emotional fire when the Tigers realized they could win, finishing 8-13.
This season, the Tigers want a berth in the Class 5A tournament. It’s a reachable goal for the Tigers.
Sure, the Tigers’ shooting has been a struggle, and there is that 30-point loss to Andover Central in December.
But Eisenhower can score, with Minor averaging 12 points and Hoenscheidt 11. And while the Tigers aren’t tall — only senior Ali Blasi (5-foot-8) is a true post player — the defense has made up for it, allowing 41.5 points a game and holding five opponents in the 30s or below.
“You have to be able to trust your teammates that they’ll have your back if you get beat,” Minor said. “… We’re a pretty fast team, I’d have to say. If we need to be physical, we can be physical.”
A major difference from the past two seasons the Tigers haven’t forgotten what it’s like to lose, or be the underdog.
“They know how much someone wants to beat you when you are the team that should win,” Joe Blasi said. “They’ve been in the other role. The hunger is definitely there. The girls have not lost the fire to keep competing.
“It’s not a chip on their shoulder, but they have the extra push because every win is extremely tough, so when they get close to a win, they’re not going to let it go.”