CHEYENNE – Even though they’re still a year or two away from getting their driver’s licenses, a group of underclassmen had a big hand in getting Cheyenne Central to the Class 4A state tournament.
The Lady Indians (9-16) punched their ticket to state with a 55-50 overtime victory over Kelly Walsh during an elimination game at the Class 4A East Conference tournament Saturday morning. They erased a 13-point fourth-quarter deficit to secure the bid.
Freshman Karson Tempel scored all eight of her points during the fourth quarter and overtime. Sophomore Eva Clements netted all four of her points in a fourth quarter that also saw her pull down a couple timely rebounds.
Kelly Walsh senior Logann Alvar – a Casper College signee – got a hand on the basketball as Central freshman Izzy Kelly put up a shot near the paint midway through overtime. Kelly was able to power through the block attempt for a basket that gave the Indians a 51-47 lead.
In all, freshmen and sophomores accounted for 14 of the 26 points Central scored during the game’s final 12 minutes.
“Our underclassmen have been such a big help in getting us where we’ve gotten this year,” said senior Roree Cowley, who is the Indians’ second-leading scorer and rebounder. “… We knew we had a good freshman class that could help us. They caught my eye in practice and some games by doing things you don’t expect freshmen to do.
“They’ve made a big impact on our team. They’re always picking us up energy-wise, grabbing rebounds, making shots and pushing the ball.”
Central followed its comeback win over Kelly Walsh with a 54-41 win over Campbell County to lock up the East’s No. 3 seed. Kelly was the Indians’ second-leading scorer in that contest, finishing with eight points.
The Indians open state against the West No. 2 Natrona County (17-8) at 4:30 p.m. today at Casper College.
Clements has been on Central’s varsity roster all season long. She has averaged 2.5 points and two rebounds across 21 games. Sophomore Ella Gillam has posted averages of 3.2 points and 2.9 boards across 17 contests.
Kelly has averaged 3.6 points and two rebounds in 11 games, while Tempel has posted 1.6 points and 1.1 rebounds in 11 outings.
Kirkbride thought the freshmen could help the Indians, but wanted to bring them along slowly. Their first serious playing time came during the conference portion of the schedule.
“The jump from junior high to high school is monstrous,” the coach said. “I see it as a process. They had to be able to see the speed of high school basketball some before really moving up.
“We tried to give them some time here and there, and see how comfortable they looked and how they developed. We couldn’t have done what we did last weekend without those kids being ready to contribute at the varsity level. They made a huge difference in those games.”
Kelly expected to play mostly sophomore and junior varsity ball this season. She admits that her heart was racing when she stepped onto the court during the second quarter of Central’s 68-50 loss Jan. 21 at Laramie.
“I was surprised and really nervous when I went into that game,” she said. “Having to be the point guard brought a lot of nerves and pressure. I had a lot of fun, though. It was really fun to play against the older girls in a different type of competition.
“I’m a lot more comfortable now. I’ve gotten to know the varsity team a lot better, and my experience has made me a lot more confident.”
Kelly lives next door to Tempel. They’ve played on the same traveling teams since fourth grade. Senior wing Kamryn Tempel – Karson’s older sister – is often their ride to Central’s practices.
“Kamryn drives us everywhere all the time, so the three of us are pretty much sisters,” Karson said. “Because of Kamryn, I already knew everyone on the team, and that made it easier for me to get comfortable on varsity.
“It feels like I’ve been playing with them forever. We feel right at home, and we’re not nervous anymore. It’s easier to do well when you’re that comfortable.”
Karson’s contributions have helped the Tempel sisters achieve a long-held goal.
“We’ve always talked about Kamryn and I playing together her senior year,” Karson said. “I wanted to work really hard to get to the varsity level so I could play with her.
“It’s felt really good to accomplish that goal. I’ve had a lot of fun playing with her.”
Jeremiah Johnke is the WyoSports editor. He can be reached at email@example.com or 307-633-3137. Follow him on Twitter at @jjohnke.