The sky is not falling, but it probably feels that way right now for the Olathe Northwest girls’ basketball team.
With a 22-point loss against Columbia (Mo.) Rock Bridge in the Hy-Vee Shootout presented by Metro Sports at Avila’s Mabee Fieldhouse, the Ravens slipped to 1-3 overall.
It’s some comfort, though not enough, that the Bruins are ranked No. 11 in the nation in MaxPreps.com’s Xcellent 25.
Northwest’s other losses — at Hopkins (Minn.) and against undefeated Kansas 5A powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas — are nothing to be ashamed about either.
Still, it’s hard for the Ravens to gloss over that 1-3 record.
“Being 1-3 has shaken our confidence a bit, but we’re trying to learn how to come together as a team, stay positive, encourage each other and just keep going,” said senior point guard Kelsey Brooks, who signed with the University of Arkansas last month. “There’s nothing we can do about it.”
Coming off a runner-up finish at the Kansas 6A state tournament last season, Northwest coach Joel Branstrom intentionally set out to find the toughest schedule he could.
He wanted to challenge a roster that includes three NCAA Division I talents, Brooks and fellow seniors Mikey Crall (Wisconsin) and Jaylah Jackson (South Dakota University).
“Honestly, 0-4 was a real possibility,” Branstrom said. “When you play ranked teams of all nature – the best team in Minnesota, the best team in Missouri, the second-ranked team in 5A from Aquinas — it’s tough. The team we beat, Washburn Rural, is a really good team, too.”
Beginning tonight against Schlagle, however, the Ravens need to start racking up wins and fixing the flaws revealed during the rugged four-game opening stretch.
“We haven’t had a great start, but we’ve still got to build off it and come together as a team,” Brooks said. “We’re still trying to build back the chemistry we had last year, which takes time, but we’ll get there.”
Defensively, there have been plenty of positive signs, including limiting Rock Bridge to less than 30 percent from the field.
Offensively? That’s been a different issue altogether.
“In practice, we’re great,” Branstrom said. “We’re awesome. I mean, we look really good, but we come to the games and we’ve really struggled. The kids haven’t quite bought into some of the things I’m asking them to do, to give us multiple chances and opportunities when shots aren’t falling.”
On the bright side, Northwest is committed to learning from its early-season struggles and putting those lessons to good use in another run at the 6A championship.
“Overall, it’s going to make us better,” Brooks said. “Nobody likes losing, but come sub-state we’ll be ready for it. That’s the positive.”
Sunflower League girls’ struggles
Is it a down year for the Sunflower League?
It’s a fair question to ask, considering that only three teams among the league’s 12 squads will take winning records into the winter break hiatus.
The top of the league seems as strong as ever with Olathe South, which was 4-0 before hosting Highland Park on Tuesday, rolling once again, while both Shawnee Mission Northwest, 5-1, and Lawrence Free State, 4-1, are building off strong seasons.
Olathe Northwest, 1-3, will bounce back and easily could still win 15 games or more in the regular season, but the rest of the league is struggling a bit.
Overall, Sunflower League teams are 14-17 against non-conference competition, but six of those wins came against downtrodden KCK programs, which haven’t been competitive in several seasons.
Traditional power Lawrence got nipped by Emporia, which is below .500 and also got thumped by at least 23 points in two losses, and Junction City, which is 1-4 and hasn’t stayed closer than eight points with anyone else.
By contrast, aside from the Ravens’ win over Washburn Rural, quality non-conference wins are hard to spot.
To reach Tod Palmer, call 816-234-4389 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/todpalmer.