Jefferson City's McKenzie Gourley puts up a short jumper during Thursday night's game with Sullivan at Fleming Fieldhouse. The Lady Jays bounced back from their first loss of the season to trounce Sullivan, 44-22.

Jan. 19, 2017

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo --- How was the view from the top, anyway?

Fine, thanks, it just didn't last very long.

But you know what? It might not be a bad thing, after all. For now, anyway.

"I think they could have felt some pressure Monday night, but I don't think so --- I don't really think it was nerves, I just thought our execution was poor and our decision-making, especially on offense , was poor," said Lady Jays coach Brad Conway,  whose team rebounded to rip Sullivan 44-22 on Thursday night at Fleming Fieldhouse, just three days after losing their first game of the season and eventually, their No. 1 ranking.

This week was no easy task, to be sure. After losing Monday night to Lebanon (9-5), which is ranked No. 10 in Class 5, the Lady Jays (14-1) welcomed Sullivan (11-3), which is ranked No. 8 in Class 4.

No contest.

"I'm definitely proud of the way we bounced back," Conway said. "Tuesday was probably one of the tougher practices we've had all year, we really put them through the grindstone and got back to some basic stuff.

"Defensively, I think we were pretty sound. I don't think our defensive effort was what it should be the last three games."

You like defense? Nothing came easy for the Lady Eagles, and almost nothing went in --- only eight field goals the entire game, none in the second quarter.

The latest girls poll came out Thursday and while the Lady Jays were still ranked No. 1, the poll doesn't include Monday night's loss.

Sullivan was in the wrong place at the wrong time. 

"We talked about it when we first got ranked No. 1, that everybody would be gunning for us and bringing their best game," Conway said. "We have to bring our A game, we can't dwell on being ranked that high.

"It's nice to have that recognition and see that our hard work is paying off, but we still have to take it practice by practice and game by game."

With teenage girls, you might expect giggling, screaming and jumping up and down when they ascended to No. 1.

Hardly. That's not who they are.

"There was none of that," Conway said. "They were excited, but they understand that there are still a lot of games to play. It's nice to have that ranking, but I've been there, done that before --- and then you get beat in the district championship.

"They've been business-like, paying attention to detail, the next practice or the next game."

It marked the first time in school history the Lady Jays have been ranked No. 1, and this is a program that's been good --- and in some years, very good --- for a long time.

They made it there two weeks ago, but this week marked their first home games since making the move.

Forget Monday night, going undefeated is more of a rarity than hair-styling tips from Donald Trump. Losses happen --- to everyone.

What makes this team so good?

"I think it's the personalities --- the kids really like being around each other," Conway said. "They do a lot of things together outside of basketball, they have that camaraderie. They just want to win, they don't really care who gets the press or who gets the notoriety, everybody's on the same page."

On defense, especially. This team's major weakness, so far, has been the offense ... they can go extended periods without scoring. But they stay in the game --- and eventually score enough points --- to win more often than not.

"I told them at the beginning of the season that defense was going to be our emphasis," Conway said. "We're going to have bad offensive nights, but we can't have bad defensive nights."

The Lady Jays don't have a big-time scorer, but they can balance you into submission. Thursday night, Micah Linthacum led the way with 12 points, while no less than six players scored four or more points.

"We haven't played a perfect game, we've really had to grind some games out," Conway said. "We're going to make mistakes, we're not going to be perfect, but we kind of hang our hats on defense. They've bought into it."

The Lady Jays, who went 22-5 last year, had a pair of statement-moments early in the season. First, they won at perennial power and defending state champion Kickapoo, before capturing the championship of the always-tough State Farm Invitational last month for the first time in 12 years.

That title drive was sparked by tournament MVP Caitlin Anderson, who's only a sophomore. And she's just one of several underclassmen who've assumed vital roles this season.

"Last year," Conway said, "we wanted to create a foundation, something we were able to build on, and I thought we were able to do that. It was just kind of disappointing the way it ended (a loss to Waynesville in the district finals), but we knew we had several kids coming back. It was a matter of putting the pieces together.

"When our injuries occurred, our girls really stepped up and ran with it. I wasn't expecting to be where we were at Christmas, but the kids have really embraced their roles, they've embraced each other, they've had each other's backs."

The Lady Jays are finding themselves in an unusual situation, indeed. It's a nice problem to have, but Conway's trying to plug in three key players who didn't play until this month --- and plug them in on a team that started 13-0 and was ranked No. 1 in the state.

Easier said than done.

"Roles are going to change a little bit," Conway said.

Back in the fold are Linthacum, a 6-4 sophomore who saw her first action this week after missing the first two months with a stress fracture in her ankle. Also back are sophomore Greta Haarmann (broken foot) and junior Ileah Chambly (torn ACL).

There are only so many minutes to go around.

"I think our kids are so focused right now on just trying to get better," Conway said. "They're so hungry for a district championship so whatever it takes, whatever role a kid needs to adjust to, they're willing to do it. That willingness to do whatever the team needs to get us wins, that's what we're seeing.

"We have a lot of unselfish kids on this team ... the girls want everybody healthy to help us achieve our goals. We still have two months of the season left. Our ultimate goal is to win districts and then after that, anything can happen in those games."

And when there are no more games left to play, that's when you want to be No. 1.

"That's the most important ranking, the one at the end of the year," Conway said, "That's where people fall into place."

Lady Jays bounce back with a bang,

double-up ranked Sullivan 44-22

For questions, comments or story ideas, contact Tom at

Loeffler's Link