SUBSCRIBE NOW
As low as $1 for 3 months
SUBSCRIBE NOW
As low as $1 for 3 months

Topeka High ends long wait to start 2020-21 hoop season

Brent Maycock
bmaycock@cjonline.com
NiJaree Canady and her Topeka High teammates will finally open the 2020-21 season Friday night at home against Topeka West. Canady and the Trojans are coming off a 23-0 season last year that saw their quest for a state title end when the state tournaments were canceled after the quarterfinals.

After seeing their bid for an undefeated Class 6A state championship stripped away when the state tournaments were canceled last March due to COVID-19 concerns, the Topeka High girls have been chomping at the bit to get back on the court to begin that pursuit all over again.

That agonizing wait will finally end Friday night when the Trojans play host to Centennial League and USD 501 rival Topeka West in a 6 p.m. contest.

High originally was to open its season last Friday against Manhattan. But with the USD 501 school board not making a decision on what the season would look like for its winter sports teams until last Thursday, the game was postponed to a later date.

When the district opted to start the season as scheduled, that allowed High the chance to play its opener on Tuesday at Junction City. But that game was postponed as well with Junction City not accepting the game conditions mandated by the 501 board that requires all players and coaches to wear masks during the game -- active participants included -- and reduced the number of players and coaches on the bench.

While the setbacks were difficult and just another hurdle to overcome, the Trojans will be ready for Friday with a team loaded to make another run at a state title.

High returns All-State Top 5 selection NiJaree Canady, who averaged 18.8 points and 10.2 rebounds per game during High's 23-0 season a year ago. She's surrounded by three other returning starters -- sophomore guard Kiki Smith, who averaged 20 points per game last year as a freshman, senior guard Lilly Smith (10.3 ppg) and senior guard Ja'Neysha Hendricks (6.4 ppg).

West was able to open its season on Tuesday night after having its opener against Washburn Rural postponed. Under first-year head coach Jeff Skar, the Chargers got off to a strong start, leading Seaman 9-8 at the end of the first quarter before the Vikings exploded for 31 second-quarter points and rolled to a 71-41 victory.

Makenzie Jones led the Chargers wtih 10 points.

West's boys couldn't have asked for a much better start than they got on Tuesday night as the Chargers blew out Seaman 91-64. West put up 52 points in the first half to hit the ground running.

Returning All-City first-teamers Tre Alexander and Elijah Brooks had big games in the win with Alexander perfect from the field (8 of 8) and free throw line (4 of 4) in a 22-point outing, while Brooks added 16 points and 11 rebounds.

But West got a huge lift from Marque Wilkerson and Zander Putthoff, who each dropped in 18 points. Putthoff, a transfer from Shawnee Heights, connected on 6 of 9 3-pointers, including five straight in the first half, while Wilkerson slashed his way to a career-high night.

High's boys also will be making their season debut in Eric King's second year, also seeing a Wednesday game with Shawnee Heights postponed. The Trojans lost city co-player of the year King Sutton and standout Da'vonshai Harden, but return third-leading scorer Jalen Smith (10.9 ppg) and senior guard Isiah Esquibel.

OTHER CITY GAMES

HAYDEN AT MANHATTAN -- After winning just four games all last season, Hayden made quite an opening statement on Tuesday night with a 54-40 upset of Highland Park, a veteran team coming off a Class 5A state tournament appearance last season.

Transfer Geivonnii Williams debuted in a big way for the Wildcats (1-0), scoring a game-high 17 points. Vacario Triplett added 16 points and Joe Otting chipped in 10.

Manhattan (0-1) dropped its season opener 64-46 to Lawrence on Saturday.

The boys game will follow the girls contest, which starts at 6 p.m. Hayden's girls used a big second half on Monday to cruise past Highland Park 78-42.

Carly Stuke led Hayden with 17 points, while Rhen Calhoon (13), Macy Smith (12) and Callie Moore (11) each reached double-digits.

Manhattan opened its season with a 54-42 win over Lawrence.

WASHBURN RURAL AT HIGHLAND PARK -- Highland Park doesn't get any time to dwell on its loss to Hayden, playing host to last year's Centennial League co-champion Washburn Rural. The Junior Blues (1-0) pulled out a defensive grind of a 42-28 win at Emporia on Tuesday with Joe Berry leading the way with 17 points.

The Scot, meanwhile, will look to rebound from a woeful night shooting the ball against Hayden, hitting just 5 of 28 shots in the first half and finishing the game 0 of 15 from 3-point range. Juan'Tario Roberts led the Scots (0-1) with 10 points.

Rural's girls blew past Emporia 60-44 in their opener on Tuesday with Brooklyn DeLeye scoring 19 points and Emma Krueger adding 13. Highland Park (0-1) got 16 points each from Isabella Carter and Aisya Taylor in its loss to Hayden on Monday.

EMPORIA AT SEAMAN -- Seaman's girls got off to a rough start in its opener Tuesday at Topeka West, trailing the Chargers 9-8 at the end of the first quarter. But the Vikings got things going in a big way in the second quarter, scoring 31 points in the period to jump-start a 71-41 victory.

Returning just three players off last year's Class 5A state tournament team, Seaman saw freshmen Taylin Stallbaumer and Brooklyn Gormley fill those voids nicely against West. Stallbaumer led the Vikings with 19 points and Gormley added 10, as did fellow newcomer Lauren Sweeney.

Emporia opened its season with a win over Labette County before falling to Rural on Tuesday. Gracie Gilpin led the Spartans against Rural with 12 points.

Both boys teams will be looking for their first wins of the 2020-21 season with Emporia 0-1 and Seaman 0-1. After dropping a heart-breaking double-overtime loss to Junction City last Friday, Seaman couldn't keep up with Topeka West on Tuesday, losing 91-64.

Mateo Hyman led the Vikings with 12 points, but left the loss in the fourth quarter with a leg injury. Guard Kaiden Bonner missed the game after rolling an ankle in the Junction City loss.

Emporia got 12 points from Charles Snyder in its loss to Washburn Rural, a game the Spartans trailed by one at halftime.

OTTAWA AT SHAWNEE HEIGHTS -- Shawnee Heights boys also will finally make their season debut when they play host to Ottawa in a non-league game. The Cyclones are 0-1, losing to KC Piper 64-41 last Friday.

Heights' girls are coming off a last-second 40-38 loss to Free State, which got a putback at the buzzer for the win. Adyson Burghart led the T-Birds (0-1) with 16 points in the loss.

Topeka West's Elijah Brooks (4) maneuvers around the block attempt by Seaman's Brody Gormley (34) in Tuesday night's game at West. Brooks finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds to help the Chargers to a 91-64 win.