Undefeated Incarnate Word Academy seeks another state championship
By: Warren Mayes
The Incarnate Word Academy Red Knights certainly know their way around Columbia. They don’t need a road map or a GPS to find Mizzou Arena.
Incarnate Word (29-0) will face Dexter (26-3) at 6:50 p.m. Thursday (March 14) in the Class 4 semifinals at Mizzou Arena in Columbia. On the other side of the bracket is Webb City (24-5) playing Smithville (25-4) at 8:30 p.m.
The Red Knights handed Kirksville (26-1) its first loss with a 78-26 pounding in the quarterfinals. Dexter defeated Rosati-Kain 64-43 in its quarterfinal contest.
This makes IWA’s fourth straight trip to state Final Four. Last year, the Red Knights lost to eventual champion Rock Bridge in the Class 5 semifinals and finished third. Incarnate Word won state in the two previous years.
“Obviously, that’s our goal every single year — get to Columbia,” Incarnate Word coach Dan Rolfes said. “We always want to get to the Final Four and win a state championship.”
Rolfes and his Red Knights cherish each trip to play in the state meet. It’s always the goal of the program.
“Gosh no, nothing about it gets old,” Rolfes said. “You still have the nerves. We have the same preparation that we always have going into it. Even thought I’ve been there multiple times, some of these kids haven’t. It’s special to them. It’s special to all of us.”
Due to enrollment decline, Incarnate Word was placed in Class 4 this season. However, that does not bother Rolfes and his girls. It’s still basketball.
“Being in Class 4 makes no difference whatsoever,” Rolfes said. “A state championship is a state championship. We’ve played all the Class 5 teams and beaten them.”
Indeed. Incarnate Word owns victories this season over St. Joseph’s Academy, Cor Jesu and Rock Bridge, all of whom will be playing in the Class 5 semifinals Friday.
Three Red Knights are starters who played last year. Nia Roth, who has signed with Quincy University; Carly Frala, and Gwen Adams.
“Having that experience sure helps,” Rolfes said. “It beats the heck out of no one having any experience at state. But I don’t know care how many times you go, you’ll still have some nerves just because it’s a big game you’re about to play. You have to control the mental part of the game. If we can do that, we’ll be OK.”
Incarnate Word has not played Dexter before. Rolfes said he has watched Dexter’s last five games on tape so he has formed some impressions.
“They are a team that is going to press every possession,” Rolfes said. “They’ll mix up their defenses. They are going to be very physical. We’ve played a team out of Kentucky (Mercy Academy) that is similar to Dexter with their pressing and schemes.
“We’ve seen presses sporadically throughout the season. Not too many people try to pressure us.”
The crowds will be pumped up for the game. Dexter naturally will want to knock off the Red Knights and play in the title game. Rolfes said he has prepared his girls for what may happen.
“What we try to talk to them about is how to handle adversity,” Rolfes said. “Everything will not go perfectly in a basketball game. You have to be able to adjust. You can’t dwell on the mistakes in a game like that. You have to play your game and trust what you do.”
Being undefeated adds no extra pressure on his squad, Rolfes said.
“Neither myself or the girls have thought much about it,” he said of the undefeated record. “At this point in time, you’re just worried about winning a state championship. Nothing else matters to you. A perfect season, a state championship takes care of that.”
Rolfes has not added anything new for the Red Knights.
“I hope not. At this point in time, we’re not adding a whole lot basketball-wise and scheme-wise,” Rolfes said. “We want to pay attention to details and not be nervous.
“For us, it starts with defense. As long as you’re playing good defense, that will keep us in the game We’ve got the talent to score. We preach defense and let the scoring take care of itself.”