Incarnate Word checks off key points to a winning season

Lisa Johnston | lisajohnston@archstl.org
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A variety of players scoring. √

Young players improving. √

Strong rebounding, defense and free-throw shooting. √ √ √

Incarnate Word Academy's team is checking off what it needs for a fine season, and the team's 59-42 win vs. Parkway North Feb. 13 — the third from the last game of the regular season — was one example, pushing its record to 20-4. Parkway North, led by superb ball-handler Jadyn Pimentel, came into the game with a 17-4 record, including a 57-44 win over Kirkwood, which had defeated Incarnate Word earlier in the month.

Incarnate Word grabbed an 11-2 lead against Parkway North and saw it narrow to 17-16 in the second quarter. But Incarnate Word, with sophomore Kiki Britzmann tallying a game-high 17 points, never relinquished the lead. When Parkway North's Amaya Stovall hit a 3-point shot to try to prune a large deficit in the second half, Incarnate Word's Naomi Johnson matched it on the next play with another 3-pointer.

Incarnate Word coach Dan Rolfes said his team's defense and rebounding were keys to the game. He called Parkway North "very talented and well-balanced" with good guard play, post play and perimeter shooting.

Grace Fortmann, one of two seniors on Incarnate Word's team, said the team came out with a lot of energy. "Coming off our game against Kirkwood, we all knew we needed to not underestimate them and come out and play our hardest," she said.

Fortmann, who had 9 points, said the team focused on rebounding at practice, with a goal of limiting the opponent to "one shot per possession and keeping them off the scoreboard." Rickie Woltman led Incarnate Word with 10 rebounds and Britzmann had 7.

Fortmann said the team's energy starts on defense. "Getting a stop, getting a steal, leads to a fast break and points," she said. "Good defense leads to good offense, knocking down shots."

The team melded because "we all know our spot on the team and what we have to do to contribute," Fortmann said. "The great thing about tonight's game is everybody contributed. It wasn't just one or two people."

Naomi Johnson, the team's other senior, said the Parkway North game wasn't a one-player show. "We all shared the ball, looked for the wide-open people."

She has worked hard on defense, being aggressive and focused. "If I play defense and the rest of my team plays defense, we'll pull together with the win," Johnson said.

A young team, Incarnate Word is maturing and becoming more aware of what they need to do to be successful, Rolfes said. Their tough schedule keeps the team battling all season.

The coaches talk to players about how their conduct off the court affects the team. The advice, Rolfes said, is to be "a good person off the court, someone people can relate to."

Johnson pointed to team-bonding outside of the court, including helping each other with schoolwork. "This is my family, my sisters," she said. "I can depend on them when I need to. It's great to have those types of people as teammates."

Fortmann said the team prays before games and "we always know that we're going out there not just playing for ourselves but playing for a higher purpose."

Incarnate Word lost in the Class 4 state semifinals last year after winning three state titles in as row, four in five seasons and seven overall. They play at home against St. Joseph's Academy on Saturday, Feb. 18, and Ursuline Academy on Tuesday, Feb. 21, to close out the season. 

>> 'Best player ever'

Napheesa Collier, a 2015 Incarnate Word graduate and leader of three state championship teams, was described as "unforgettable" and super talented by ESPN. Her coach at Incarnate Word, Dan Rolfes, said that she "no doubt" was the best player ever in girls basketball in St. Louis.

Rolfes said Collier, who averaged 26.2 points a game her senior year, was not just a special player for her combination of skill, athleticism and size, but also a role model.

The signature of the championship team — driving to the basket — continues under Rolfes' leadership.

Collier, meanwhile, has starred at the University of Connecticut. The team won its 100th consecutive game Feb. 13, having topped its own record of 90 consecutive wins earlier in the season. Collier had 18 points to help the top-ranked Huskies beat No. 6 South Carolina 66-55 in front of a sellout crowd of 10,167.

The sophomore forward from O'Fallon has started every game for Connecticut, making 66 percent of her shots and averaging 19.1 points a game, second-best on the team. She leads the team in rebounds, with 8.7 per game. 

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