At some point in every practice this season, Kapaun Mount Carmel girls basketball coach Marvin Estes would send Janay Jacobs off by herself to work on “bunny drills.”
Jacobs felt foolish at times, going back and forth under a goal, alone, working on simple lay-ups, while her teammates were at the other end practicing sets. But Estes insisted, telling her the payoff would come.
Who would have guessed the payoff would be the buzzer-beating, game-winning shot to eliminate St. Thomas Aquinas, the defending state champion, with a 35-34 victory in the quarterfinals of the Class 5A tournament at Topeka’s Expocentre?
After a season of showing reluctance driving, Jacobs showed no hesitation in attacking the basket in the season’s most decisive moment with the time dwindling and Kapaun down by one point. And a moment before the buzzer sounded, Jacobs completed the bunny drill, kissing the ball off the glass and into the hoop for the winning score.
Kapaun (21-2) advances to Friday’s 3 p.m. semifinal to face top-seeded Leavenworth.
“That was 30 minutes of practice for me,” Jacobs said. “They obviously paid off.
“It still doesn’t seem real. I don’t even know how to explain it. I can’t believe it happened.”
It took the will of a champion by Aquinas to even force a dramatic ending.
The Crusaders executed a solid defensive scheme, sagging so far off the Saints on the perimeter that they had no choice but to settle for outside jumpers.
The results were staggering: Aquinas didn’t make a field goal in the first quarter en route to a 3-for-20 first-hald shooting performance to fall behind 17-8 at halftime. Kapaun also collected nine offensive rebounds, which bolstered a 24-10 rebounding advantage.
“If you ask our assistant coach Jenny Cook, it’s still ringing in our ears how much she says ‘boards’ in practice,” said Kapaun guard Grace Hagan, who finished with five offensive rebounds and 10 total. “We knew we had to win the defensive boards to win the game.”
Another important factor was Kapaun did not despair that its 20-win season led to a quarterfinal game against powerhouse Aquinas. The Saints had lost once to Kansas competition in the last two years.
“This is the game we wanted,” Estes said.
“If you’re going to be at state, you’re going to have to play the big teams at some point,” reasoned Kapaun junior Sammie Bachrodt. “We were excited to play them.”
After trailing for 31 minutes and 41 seconds, Aquinas struck in the waning seconds when Tia Weledji was the recipient of a wild pass to save possession and drained a 10-foot jumper for a 34-33 lead.
Estes called timeout with 9.1 seconds left and concocted a plan that had Bachrodt (11 points) getting the ball to attack and look for a dump-off pass to Sidney Kuhn (13 points, 11 rebounds). What happened was nothing close to that.
“We had a plan and didn’t go by it at all,” Bachrodt said, laughing.
Bachrodt was double-teamed and forced to pass to Hagan, who had open court ahead and attacked. She didn’t stop until she found Jacobs open on the wing across court with a skip pass.
When Jacobs caught the ball and attacked, Aquinas was hesitant to challenge in fear of a foul. That allowed Jacobs to take three dribbles for a wide open lay-up — her only points of the game.
“It turned out to be the perfect play,” Hagan said.
In the most pressure-packed moment of the season, with its original play in shambles, Kapaun had won on an impulsive, instinctual, broken play.
“I practice with these kids every day,” Estes said. “Nothing they do surprises me.”
It was an emotional exit for the team’s three seniors — Kilah Hoenscheidt (8 points), Megan Teufel, and Ali Blasi. The group went winless at Eisenhower in its first year, yet concluded their careers at the state tournament.
“It’s so unreal,” Teufel said. “I’m so proud of all the work the girls did to get to where we are now. No one expected to get this far. It’s just crazy.”
With eight of the 11 players that played in the game returning next season, Eisenhower hopes to make a trip to Topeka an annual tradition. And it’s because of these seniors.
“Those girls have played for me when they were little,” said Eisenhower coach Joe Blasi, the father of Ali. “They’ve played MAYB under me for years. They’ll always have a special place in my heart.”