The Lansing-New Albin Kee High School girls basketball team hopes its second state tournament experience this week is better than its first in 2016.
The Kee Hawks (22-1) lost to Burlington Notre Dame in the first round two years ago, but return to Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines for a 5 p.m. Wednesday contest with Newell-Fonda (24-0) in Class 1A Iowa state tournament play.
Two years ago, the Hawks were happy to be there, even though it lasted just one game. They’re hoping for more than just a four-quarter, 32-minute game this week.
“This year, they want to win games; it’s not enough just to be there,” Kee coach Lisa Steckel said. “We have five seniors, and this is their last chance. They’ve matured a lot. There’s a difference between the maturity of a senior and the maturity of a freshman or sophomore.”
All three of Kee’s top scorers are upperclassmen. The Hawks’ top scorer is senior Ashley Schwartzhoff (11.2 points per game) while Kendra Cooper and junior Makayla Walleser are also averaging more than 10 points per game.
Kee’s only loss has been to Class 3A top-ranked Crestwood, which was Dec. 21.
“They’ve got a group of girls who are winners,” Waukon coach Greg Criswell said. “They know how to win. I wouldn’t say they’re the best basketball team we played … those kids, they do whatever it takes to win. Their five seniors have never lost anything that they’ve done.”
Kee and its neighbor, the Indians, started the season with a rivalry game that ended up to a 56-40 Kee Hawks win.
Of the Class 1A state field, there are two undefeated teams (Central Decatur and Newell-Fonda) as well as a seven-loss team, Algona Bishop Garrigan Catholic.
Not only are the Hawks eager to head back to Iowa’s capital city, they simply want to play again.
Their last game was last Wednesday, when the Kee Hawks knocked off West Hancock 46-39. The two teams had to wait a couple extra days to play that game due to inclement weather. It was originally scheduled for Feb. 19 in conjunction with all other Class 1A regional final games.
“The girls were getting antsy, but I think that benefitted us,” Steckel said. “We didn’t have such (long) a break between that game and the first game at state. With this group of girls, it’s not hard to keep them focused.”
That wasn’t even the longest layoff that Kee had in the playoffs.
There were 13 days between its regular-season finale against Turkey Valley and playoff opener against Central Elkader.
“That was a little concerning, but we’re in the same boat now … being at the level we’re at is keeping them focused,” Steckel said.
The winner of Kee vs. Newell-Fonda will meet the winner of Montezuma vs. Central Decatur on Friday.