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Posted On: 01/11/19 8:35 AM
In a Class 1A contest the then 8-0, unranked, Central Christian Cougars played host Tuesday to the 1-4 Burrton Chargers in both teams’ Heart of the Plains League opener. It was an opportunity to get a look at a team that has run the table so far, check out the play of one of the state’s assist leaders, and to determine whether the Cougars are being overlooked.
Given the disparity of records and a look at both teams’ schedules the game result went as expected. Central Christian put the game away by halftime, leading 37-11, backed by a full court press. Pulling it off in the second half the Cougars cruised to a 55-21 victory. They ended with 15 assists as a team with 5’9″, sophomore forward Ziya Simms being tops with 6. 5’11”, junior center Krysten Bartlett led the scoring with 15 and 8 rebounds. 5’4″, junior guard Lindsay Kauffman had 14 including a pair of threes. 5’8″, junior point guard Josie Ibarra, who is among the state’s leaders in assists-to-turnover ratio, had three assists and collected 8, including a three.
To gauge confidence in Central Christian’s ability to be recognized for and continue their success I looked at what ways Burrton showed they had some edges over the Cougars and studied the Cougar’s schedule.
5’4″, freshman point guard McKinsie Hoopes accomplished an interesting feat. Against constant full-court pressure Hoopes only a single turnover. For the game she showed an ability to feed teammates chances to score (two assists), a quick step to drive the lane, range and elevation on her jumpshot to score in the lane and from downtown (her seven points included a three), and aggressiveness on the glass (three offensive rebounds). For 5’9″, junior forward Alexis Zehr she was repeatedly overpowered by Bartlett inside, who scored every one of her baskets from within the lane. Zehr regrouped in the second half to block three of Bartlett’s shots and showed some scoring ability with post moves and from 12′ away. She finished 5/9 from the line. Additionally, Burrton found success on the glass led by 5’6″, junior guard Kassandra Salgado. She finished with nine rebounds including 4 offensive.
Going into this weekend’s game against 3-2 Norwich, Central Christian’s previous nine opponents have combined for a 19-50 record. Excluding Norwich and tournament week which begins January 22, the Cougars’ remaining opponents have a combined record of 30-26. The team with the best record of their remaining opponents is Cunningham, currently 8-1. They are unranked as well. Arguably the team they will ultimately have to go through to advance past regionals in the post season is the St. John Tigers. Sitting with a 4-6 record three of their losses have come to Class the #1 and #3 ranked teams in 1A, Central Plains and Spearville, and to 3A #10 Hesston. The Tigers have a rematch with Central Plains as well as 1A #10 South Central on their remaining schedule. Despite the losses St. John could be a top 10 team.
Central Christian is not a top 10 team. As far as schedule, their lone quality win was against 7-3 Little River. Cunningham will be their strongest test until the post season. The Cougars do have a great deal of upside. They are a young team (only 1 senior) with some raw freshman and sophomore talent that is continuing to blend with the junior leaders. The Cougars have some size, a shooter in Kauffman, and atheticism in Simms and Ibarra. They also run fast breaks well, are unselfish, and play eight players comfortably. But they will need to find answers to stopping a quality point guard, show they can handle full court pressure, and get more consistent outside shooting from someone other than Kauffman. They will also need to get better inside. Burrton rebounded well and Zehr exposed interior weakness with her shot blocking and scoring against the Cougar posts. A team with interior size and scoring will be a huge problem at this point.