Incarnate Word Academy will have plenty of supporters as the Red Knights attempt to win the 10th state championship in program history.
“Normally it seems like we’re on spring break when we play at state,” Incarnate Word Academy coach Dan Rolfes said. “This week, we’re in school as spring break is next week. Everyone in school is excited. We’ve got two charter buses of kids going down to Springfield.
“That will be great for our team. They’ll see all our fans there and we’ll feed off the energy from them in the stands.”
The Red Knights (28-2) meet the Miller Career Academy Phoenix (19-7) in a Class 4 state semifinal game at 3:30 p.m. Friday at JQH Arena in Springfield.
The winner moves on to play the survivor of the game between Logan-Rogersville (23-7) and Lincoln College Prep (21-4). The Class 4 state championship will be played at 4:30 p.m. Saturday. The semifinal losers will meet to play for third place at 12:50 p.m.
The two-time defending state champion Red Knights own the state record for titles in girls basketball with nine.
“Everyone is excited for sure to be back in the Final Four,” Rolfes said. “We have some new kids that will be playing. It’ll be a different experience for them. We have some veterans who have been here before.”
Incarnate Word is riding an eight-game winning streak into state. The Red Knights stomped St. Francis Borgia 73-24 in the sectional and then got some revenge by defeating Parkway North 60-52 in a quarterfinal game played at Francis Howell Central.
Miller Career Academy scored a 54-48 win over Cape Girardeau Notre Dame in a quarterfinal contest at Jefferson College to advance. The Phoenix survived a game with Summit in the sectional by winning 39-34.
“We haven’t played them in several years,” Rolfes said about the Phoenix. “We used to be in the same district with them. I’m familiar with (coach) Darren (White) and his team. They play hard. The play good defense. They’ll be athletic. They’re playing for a state championship so they will be dangerous.
“They like to drive-drive on offense and then run well in transition. We’ve seen that against other teams that we’ve played this year so this won’t something new for us. I feel like defensively we’ll to stop dribble-drive to be successful.”
His girls are prepared. The practices heading into state have been good, Rolfes said.
“For sure, we are prepared. We have good scouting reports on them. Our kids are ready,” Rolfes said. “We’ve got experience playing at state and that helps not only from a playing standpoint but from a preparing standpoint.
“Not that they won’t be nervous. Being there before gives them a sense of knowing what to expect.”
Incarnate Word’s success at state carries weight. But it also can be somewhat of a burden, Rolfes said.
“Our tradition is both good and bad,” Rolfes said. “With our success, the kids carry that on their back a little bit I think. But at the same time, we get that in every game we play throughout the year. Everybody wants to beat Incarnate. Our kids get everyone’s best shot throughout the season. That’s a benefit for us.”
The Red Knights lost a 65-62 verdict to Parkway North on Feb. 11. The Vikings also beat Incarnate Word in 2018, too.
In the quarterfinal game, Incarnate came out strong and sent a message.
“We started out on a 10-0 run,” Rolfes said. “We have a lot of energy and that set the tone in that game. That was huge to start like that. It was nice to get past Parkway North when the beat us the first time. That loss was a wakeup call for our kids. They realized you can’t just show up and play. You have got to be prepared and be ready for every opponent.
“They rose to the occasion in that game. I think they thrive on playing in big games. This weekend at state, the game don’t get any bigger.”
The Red Knight’s offensive attack has four players averaging in double figures. Senior Marisa Warren leads the way followed by seniors Kiki Britzmann and Rickie Woltman, and junior Kate Rolfes.
The Final Four teams are all good, Rolfes said.
“That’s what you would expect. The Final Four will always have good quality teams,” Rolfes said. “All the teams have had not only success this year but in previous seasons. No one sneaked into state.
“I never take anything for granted. We’ve have had success in the past but our focus is on this team and this year.”