On Dec. 14, the
girls' basketball team remained undefeated with a 56-45 home victory against Lincoln (Kan.)
Wilson's 5-foot-8 senior guard Karlie Steinle
finished with 32 points on 10-for-18 shooting and Lincoln's 5-8 senior guard Jenna Farris
collected 28 points. Sometimes the standouts guarded each other, especially when Wilson ran a box-and-one defense on Farris.
"There is a lot of history," Farris said of playing Wilson, arguably the Leopards' biggest rival. "They are pretty intense. It gets pretty loud."
The high-scoring matchup has occurred several times a year in the last four winters, one that occurs in one of the most high-octane small-school rural groups in the nation.
The Northern Plains League, a 12-team setup located in north-central Kansas and home to many of the state's smallest schools, has three of the state's top scorers: Farris, Steinle and Natoma (Kan.)
5-9 senior Danica Casey
The league could have had a fourth in Shaelyn Martin
, who went to Class 1A Tescott in junior high before she transferred to nearby Class 5A Salina Central for high school. Martin has already committed to Kansas State University.
Natoma has 59 students in the high school and 335 people in the town; Wilson has 56 students and 781 people in a community known as the "Czech Capital of Kansas" and Lincoln is slightly bigger at 108 students and 1,297 people in the town.
"There is just a lot of range of talent out there," Farris said. "It doesn't matter whether you go to a bigger or a smaller school, you have got to find someone that works hard and loves to play."
This year, Steinle ranks second in Kansas in scoring (25.6 points per game), while Farris stands third (23.3). Casey is 17th at 17.3 and leads the state in free throw percentage (90 percent, minimum 16 made free throws). Steinle also leads Kansas in steals (7.1 per game). All stats are according to the MaxPreps Kansas girls basketball leaderboard
Last season, Farris and Steinle were first and second in the state in scoring average, while Casey was seventh. Casey and Steinle were 1-2 with 181 and 177 free throw attempts; no one else had more 134.
"They are both really great girls both personality and basketball-wise, just to hang out with them and just to have on a team," Farris said.
Wilson coach Rod Seehafer, in his 36th year with the Dragons, has never seen three such scorers in the same league – and in the same grade. The trio has played together on the same summer league team, the Waconda Lakers. Casey and Steinle are good friends and rode together to summer practice in Beloit, a nearby town.
"They are extremely hard workers at their skills," Lakers coach Todd Clover said. "We are talking just year-round, they work on basketball. They are excellent students and very, very high GPA, and they are fantastic kids and great teammates, unselfish. I think they are just very, very special."
Steinle, Casey and Farris have different skill sets, but have benefited from strong work ethics and families that love basketball. Steinle and Farris each have had at least one older brother that pushed them, while Casey, the middle of three sisters, is part of a strong basketball family. Each player has led her team in scoring all four seasons.
"I would call Danica more of a shooter per se," Natoma coach Aaron Homburg said. "Farris is going to take it to the basket a lot, and then Steinle is kind of a combination of both. They all three have a very high basketball IQ."
The three started to play against each other in junior high and spent at least one summer on the Lakers, a team that has posted a collective 56-20 record in the last three years, including one trip to the Sweet 16 at the national tournament, and played against many Division I-caliber opponents. All three players showed a strong ability to distribute as well as score and emerged as vocal leaders.
This past summer, Farris hit a buzzer-beater in Hutchinson that helped the Lakers win a tournament. Last summer at nationals, Steinle guarded a girl all contest that Oklahoma was recruiting. Clover said both players finished with 16 points.
"They were the best two players on the court, and it was just a tremendous battle," Clover said. "Karlie really stood out and played exceptionally well both years at nationals."
Farris, who has won three state championships in cross country
, three titles in the 3,200-meter run and another crown in the 1,600, has scored 1,742 career points. Farris has averaged between 22.6 and 23.6 points per contest each season.
"Farris is just a great scorer," Seehafer said. "She could score from anywhere."
Farris received Division I interest, more for running, from several schools including Kansas State. She recently signed a letter of intent with Division II Newman University, located in Wichita.
"I really liked the atmosphere there in Wichita and everything," Farris said. "It's not too far away, and it's not too close to home. It was a really hard decision, but I kind of knew all along that I was going to do basketball."
One of Farris' well-known moves is a runner in the lane. She honed the shot at home on a concrete slab and goal in the family's yard. Farris played one-on-one against her older brother James, a couple inches taller and currently running distance at NAIA Bethany College.
"The little runner that she likes to shoot, that was the only way she could get a shot off against her brother," Clover said. "That's why she is good at that little Pete Maravich-kind of runner shot."
Steinle improved against her two older brothers, Kyle, five years older, and Kenny, two years older and a standout in basketball and track.
"We were very competitive," Steinle said. "I would say that we would try to outdo the other sibling."
At a family farm, Steinle and her cousins would often play basketball at gatherings and holidays, too.
"It gets pretty rough out there, like constant fouling each other," Steinle said.
Steinle, recruited by multiple Kansas junior colleges and four-year schools, has tallied a school-record 1,402 points and is especially adept at scoring around the rim and drawing fouls.
The leader of a Dragon team that is 7-0 and ranked No. 1 in Class 1A, Division II, she has improved her scoring average each season and has shot 54 percent on 2-point point shots in her career. She has attempted 535 free throws, well higher than Casey (416) and Farris (387).
"She has this little hesitation move and likes to create contact and get to the free throw line," Clover said. "Those two, playing with their older brothers has really helped them."
Casey is much taller than her two sisters: Eastin, currently a basketball player at Bethany, and Regan, a standout freshman for Natoma this winter.
All three have honed near-perfect shooting form through years of practice. Their dad, Jay, is a Natoma graduate, longtime Tigers public address announcer and farmer. He set up a goal in the driveway and one inside a shed for inclement weather. She finished second nationally in 2005 in an Elks Hoop Shoot free throw contest.
"From 9 to 13 years old, that's all I would work on was form and just free throws," Casey said. "It's been a big help for where I am today."
Casey has averaged a double-double the last three seasons and sank 79.3 percent of her free throws in her career. Homburg and Clover believe Casey is the best form shooter they have coached.
"From the waist up, her form is just as perfect as it can get," Clover said. "If she misses, it's probably because her footwork wasn't what it needed to be, because she is so smooth with her shot."
Casey, likely headed to either Bethany or NAIA McPherson College, has tallied 1,205 points. Casey has sunk 119 treys, more than Steinle or Farris.
"Do I think she could play Division II?," Homburg said. "Sure I do. I think a small college would be a great fit as well, coming from a small high school."
In high school, the Dec. 14 result has often occurred. Since Dec. 2006, Wilson is 11-0 against Natoma and 10-2 versus Lincoln. However, Steinle was unaware of the winning streak versus Natoma.
Farris said high school results were rarely discussed during the summer. Instead, the three just continually produce at a high level each game and are more focused on bigger achievements, such as leading their teams to the Kansas state tournament.
"They are real close with other, because they have the same goals, about doing things right," Clover said. "Getting good grades, being good teammates, that's what important to them. You can talk all you want about the basketball. They are even better kids."Conor Nicholl can be reached at email@example.com.