None of the young Kickapoo High School girls’ basketball players had a chance to play for coach Stephanie Phillips.
But the impact she made on a handful of the players, even when they were middle schoolers, inspired extra effort from the Lady Chiefs over the past three days.
Sophomore Natalie Closser remembers Phillips, the legendary two-time state championship coach at Kickapoo, as a spectator at her middle school games. Closser, who also supported Phillips’ Lady Chiefs in the stands, said a brief complement from Phillips was big-time motivation.
“She was always there to pick you up and to tell you that you did good,” Closser said of Phillips, who died in July 2010 at 36 after a three-year battle with cancer. “We played really hard (this week), and we played for coach Phillips. We want to keep the tradition alive.”
Kickapoo (3-1) closed its run at the Stephanie Phillips Classic on Saturday with a 64-38 victory against Jefferson City. Closser scored a team-high 14 points and earned All-Tournament Team honors, helping the team to two wins in three games.
Stephanie’s husband, Scot, along with other family members including sons Drew and Levi, were on hand Friday night for a presentation and picture with the Kickapoo team before the game. The Lady Chiefs wore pink uniforms at the tournament in honor of Phillips and to raise cancer awareness.
This year’s Lady Chiefs have no seniors, and all but two of the team’s points Saturday came from freshmen and sophomores.
But they’re talented, and coach Jim Pendergrass had them ready to play Saturday, taking a 21-3 lead after one quarter.
The tournament was won by Rogers (Ark.), which swept three games in three days, including Saturday’s 52-43 win against Parkview.
Taylor Strickland scored 23 points and helped put away Parkview down the stretch after the Lady Vikings (1-2) battled back to tie 28-28 midway through the third quarter.
Parkview junior Aubrey Buckley tried to be more physical with Strickland, a Missouri-Kansas City signee, but ended up in foul trouble throughout much of the game.
“I knew that she liked to drive to the basket, and could shoot as well,” Buckley said. “I had to stay up on her and not let her touch the ball at all.”
After scoring 35 points Friday night in a win against Jefferson City, Buckley scored 18 before fouling out in the fourth quarter Saturday en route to All-Tournament Team honors.
Parkview lost its opener Thursday to Crane, the surprise team of the tournament.
There, the Lady Vikings were done in by a 32-point effort from Crane’s Maggie McMenamy. Crane (4-2) lost Friday to Kickapoo, but closed the weekend with an easy 68-37 win Saturday against Rogersville.
Taking two of three from schools in larger classifications was a successful week for the Class 2 Lady Pirates.
“We felt like we were the underdogs during the tournament,” McMenamy said. “We stuck in there and played with some good teams.”
Kickapoo plays host Thursday to Nixa, and Parkview plays host Saturday to St. Joseph Benton.
Crane, which could be among the area’s best small-school teams, plays road games at Hollister and Billings this week.