The Olathe East girls knew that Heights would get up in their faces with their trapping defense. Every scouting report would have told them so.
They would have known about 6-foot senior Tahlia Pope, who runs the trap from the top of the key. While she doesn't look like she has speed because of her height, she uses her long legs and long arms to cover a lot of space.
They would have known about 5-5 guard Taylor Chandler, who seemingly appears from nowhere, getting steals from behind, stripping a ballhandler.
Maybe Olathe East even knew that Pope and Chandler were part of Heights' 400 relay team, the defending Class 6A champion.
But Olathe East couldn't slow the Falcons' defense on Friday, which forced 26 turnovers in Heights' 41-22 semifinal victory to advance to today's Class 6A title game for the second straight season.
"First half, that defense was amazing," Heights coach Kip Pulliam said. "The best defense I've seen in 11 years. We were in every passing lane. We weren't gambling, we were doing the right things, we really didn't make a mistake.... We couldn't have drawn it up any better."
Despite a dismal offensive showing — Heights shot 33.3 percent — the Falcons allowed nine points through three quarters.
"We didn't do as well as we wanted to," Pulliam said of the Falcons' offense. "I'll take that performance on defense over a great offensive performance any day."
That defense starts at the top of the key where Pope, Chandler and Mary Sims play up tight on opponents' ballhandlers and move quickly to trap in the corner or at halfcourt.
When they need a rest, Ashlee Ivy and Katie Palmer and Jada Lynch fill in without a letdown.
"Jada comes in for me," Pope said. "Ashlee comes in for me. They are the same body type as me.... Katie comes in and brings a spark. We have a replacement for everyone on the court."
"Our game plan is to speed people up and make them make the mistakes," Pulliam said. "We sped them up and when they made the mistakes, we were there to get a rebound or a steal."
Heights had 17 steals by seven players, including Palmer (5), Chandler (3) and Pope (2). Heights forced nine turnovers in the first quarter, including three consecutive Olathe East possessions.
"We work hard in practice, we work on our traps and defense," Chandler said. "We make sure we are in the passing lanes or on the backside or where ever we need to be."
The Falcons often turn that defense into offense, too. Pope had a team-high 10 points, while Jhasmin Bowen had eight points, 13 rebounds.
Olathe East's offense was out of sync, forcing shots as they tried to get away from the Heights players. The Hawks had two points in the first quarter.
"It was kind of hard for us to finish on our shots," Olathe East's Sanayika Shields said. "It was kind of rough."
And it doesn't help to have to face the speed of Chandler and Pope. Especially because they're not merely athletic.
"They know basketball, which is huge," Pulliam said. "You can have athletes out there and if they don't know the game, it doesn't help a whole lot.
"And you could tell that tonight. They knew what they were supposed to do and they were there."
SM West 53, Washburn Rural 37 — Lizzy Jeronimus' 14 points and seven rebounds led the Vikings to today's final. Brooke Katterhenry had 13 points and six rebounds for SM West, while Taylor Zordel led Washburn Rural with 12 points.
SM West band (with a nice drum solo at the end)
Washburn Rural band
SM West fans
Two Dodge City fans -- love this!
Dodge City student fans -- and there's a cutie at the end.
BV Northwest fans -- with a dude screaming at the end. Hilarious.
Wichita Heights fans actually had a student section. Nice.
Olathe East fans