By Joanna Chadwick
There’s no forgetting that devastating feeling when the Derby girls basketball team’s 2020 season ended after one game in the Class 6A tournament in March. Thanks to Covid-19, the Panthers missed out on playing in the semifinals and, possibly, winning another title.
“That experience of having that state tournament taken away, we’re using that as firepower to motivate them,” coach Jodie Karsak said. “We’ve got to be great today because we may not get tomorrow. They’ve all felt that, and that was really tough.”
The Panthers open the season Friday in a girls-only night against Wichita Northwest and first-year coach Marcus Myers, a former assistant for Karsak.
There won’t be any fans in the stands due to rules installed by the Kansas State High School Activities Association due to Covid.
“We get to choose how to respond to everything,” said Karsak, who announced previously that she was resigning after the season to move with her family to Kansas City. “I hope this is the legacy I leave anywhere is helping young people respond well, no matter the circumstance or situation. If they can cultivate that, life doesn’t have to suck so bad, even when it’s sucky.
“So this is another opportunity we get to respond well. I’m still going to dress up because at home, we dress up. We’ll make it as normal as possible.”
Karsak views the lack of fans as an opportunity for her team to develop an even tighter bond.
“We’ll be each other’s fans,” she said. “We’ll be loud for each other. That closeness is cultivated. We’ve got to be there for each other even more.”
And at least the Panthers get to play, right?
“Last year, we got that taken away,” Karsak said. “We would have played with no fans in a heartbeat, just to be able to finish.”
The Panthers will be one of the teams to watch with a talented starting lineup that consists of seniors Jaidyn Schomp (Missouri Western signee) and Derryana Cobbins, junior Tatum Boettjer and sophomores Maryn Archer and Addy Brown.
Karsak figures multiple players have the ability to score 20-plus points in a game.
Schomp, who is 6-foot-3, is long and lean, and a matchup problem for defenses.
“She has probably one of the best shots on our team,” Karsak said. “… Who are you going to put on her? A slower inside guy on her? She can drive past them. Or put someone quicker? She can shoot over them.”
Boettjer, also 6-3, is a strong presence inside with the ability to hit the three.
Brown, who is 6-3, too, gained a lot of confidence when she showed out in the quarterfinals of the 6A tournament against SM Northwest’s Kennedy Taylor.
“Addy really held her own,” Karsak said. “I had told her that she could change the game by the way she played her. And Addy did.”
Archer has expanded her game, which makes her even more dangerous.
“She came in with more of a one-dimensional game,” Karsak said. “It’s one of those things when you start playing in a system and you’re getting different looks and mismatches. It’s not just, ‘I can beat my girl off the bounce every time.'”
Cobbins and Archer can run the point.
“They’re both so capable and can handle the ball,” Karsak said. “What a blessing. (Cobbins) is more of a quiet leader, she leads by example. She’s an encourager.”
Senior Katelyn Kennedy transferred to Southeast, so the depth isn’t quite as strong.
Still, Charis Yager, Bella Karel and Jayda Hopson will play key roles.