Mission accomplished: Kickapoo boys live up to championship expectations by winning state
High expectations can sometimes crumble a group of teenage kids, but the 2020-21 Kickapoo Chiefs were different.
Everyone had the Chiefs circled as the team that would win a state championship and be considered among the great high school basketball programs to come through southwest Missouri.
And you couldn't blame them — a Power 5 player and the reigning Class 1 Player of the Year had joined a team that qualified for the state semifinals the year before without them. Four Division I-caliber players on one team were going to be tough to beat.
KICKAPOO WINS STATE CHAMPIONSHIP
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"People thought it was going to be easy but no one realizes how much work these kids put in," Kickapoo head coach Mitch McHenry said. "I don't think they realize that they never put a basketball down."
The hard work paid off when Kickapoo (28-2) wrapped up a 71-62 Class 6 state championship win over Liberty on Saturday evening at JQH Arena.
Kickapoo's third title in program history comes a year after COVID-19 ended the Chiefs' season when their semifinal appearance were canceled. Four-year starting point guard Anton Brookshire said before the semifinals that the Chiefs had been on a mission all year long to make it back and win it all.
"Just to be able to come back this year and make it this far and come through with these guys, I feel like it's a great feeling," Brookshire said. "I think we're just realizing right now that we won state."
Mizzou signee Brookshire, along with fellow Division I prospect senior Cameron Liggins, had to make sacrifices in order to make it work.
Isaac Haney moved to Springfield from a Dora program that won a state championship. The high-scoring Missouri State signee was going to need the ball. Trevon Brazile moved across town from Parkview. He had just committed to Mizzou and his seemingly limitless potential was going to command some attention.
"At the end of the day, we're winners if they take the last shot or I take the last shot," Brookshire said. "We had the main goal and it was winning. Let's do whatever it takes to win."
The newcomers were willing to make sacrifices as well. Haney moved to Springfield to be closer to where he worked out and to be close to Missouri State where he will play his college ball.
The Chiefs stumbled twice during the season, but it showed them they still had room to grow. Following a mid-January loss to Hartville, the Chiefs started to connect and ran the table from there.
"I spent most of the season trying to find exactly what I had to do for us to win," Haney said. "I had no promises aside from winning and I just wanted to win. I was going to do whatever it took to win and I'm glad we got this result."
Haney scored the first five points of the game en route to his 20 while carrying the load in the first half. In the second, Brookshire took over and finished with 21 points — as the two finish as a pair of the greats to come through the area.
Liggins made his presence felt scoring 14 points and tying the team's lead with seven rebounds. Brazile blocked a shot into the first row while also scoring 10 points with two of his buckets coming from dunks.
The duo of Zaide Lowery and Harrison Doenigg also stepped up throughout the season. A championship might not have been won without Lowery's athleticism and Doenigg's motor throughout the postseason.
Everything came together for Kickapoo as it wrapped up its season on a 22 game winning streak that included victories over Nixa, Republic, Logan-Rogersville, Bolivar and Chaminade.
As the four Division I prospects stood next to each other before receiving their championship medals, they dawned smiles but weren't screaming or pumping up the crowd.
They had looks of players who did exactly what they set out to do.
"We heard all that and we said 'OK, this is what's expected and let's just live up to it,'" Haney said. "I'm sure glad it ended this way because the end result's amazing."
Wyatt D. Wheeler is a reporter and columnist with the Springfield News-Leader. You can contact him at 417-371-6987, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter at @WyattWheeler_NL. You can subscribe to his free "Bears Beat" newsletter on News-Leader.com. He's also the co-host of Sports Talk on Jock Radio weekdays from 4-6 p.m.