By Kai Raymer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
The knee is fine. The performance level is still superb.
Welcome back, Jordan Wersinger.
The 2017 all-state selection poured in a game-high 27 points to lift Kickapoo over Nixa 71-58 in a Class 5 sectional matchup at Drury’s O’Reilly Family Event Center.
“She willed us tonight and made a lot of huge plays throughout the game,” said Chiefs coach Jim Pendergrass.
Wersinger suffered an offseason knee injury. Surgery put her out indefinitely.
Amid rehab, she underwent a second surgery in October.
She finally returned to game action during Kickapoo’s district tournament. Wednesday night marked her heaviest workload since returning.
“One thing I have to do when I go out there is not worry about (my knee),” Wersinger said. “I just have to focus on playing. The more I worry about (my knee), the worse it’s going to feel. When I go out there, I just try to play my game. It didn’t hurt at all. It felt just like I was back to my normal self.”
Senior Hannah Collins added 21 points for the Chiefs, who face Camdenton in the quarterfinals on Saturday. Game time is 6 p.m. at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar.
“This is one of the biggest things I’ll remember about my high school career,” Wersinger said. “Especially after being out all season. It feels good to come back and join a really good team and do my part.”
Wersinger had a pair of 3-pointers in the final 30 seconds of the first half, including a 30-foot runner that banked in at the horn.
“I just let it fly and it went in,” said Wersinger, a Central Missouri signee.
Wersinger scored 14 of her 27 points in the first half.
The Chiefs led 36-27 at halftime. Nixa never got closer than six in the second half.
“I knew when Wersinger came back a week and a half ago that if you gave her nine days to get going, she was going to be herself by today,” said Nixa coach Jennifer Perryman. “She just adds another dimension for them.”
Lakin Copeland and Emily Edwards scored 11 apeice to lead Nixa (19-10 overall).
Collins’ three-point play put Kickapoo ahead for good, 60-49, with 3:49 remaining.
“We struggled scoring the ball, and part of that is nerves and just settling in,” Perryman said. “And then part of that is Kickapoo’s defense. They’re very good.”
Kickapoo (26-3 overall) got a big lift from its big freshmen class. The Chiefs played four freshmen listed at 5’10” or taller.
Madelyn Barrett (6’2”), Rachel Senn (6’1”), Indya Green (6’0”) and Chloe Merced (5’10”) all had five or more rebounds.
“They do a good job and they’ve given us a lot this year,” Pendergrass said of his freshmen class. “It’s exciting for them, since it’s their first time through this. They don’t know what to expect. Every win, they get really excited and that’s awesome to see.”
Added Wersinger, who was a sophomore on Kickapoo’s state championship team in 2016: “We have a lot of young players, but they’re really coachable and they help execute everything we need to do. They come out every game and play really hard.”
Kickapoo sealed the game at the free throw line. The Chiefs were 14-for-17 at the free throw line in the fourth quarter and 21-for-26 overall.
Nixa graduates three seniors: Julia Mason, Halley Wiggins and Bissett Michaelson.
“I’m so proud of these kids,” Perryman said. “They fight to the very end and they have no quit in them.”
Kickapoo 71, Nixa 58
Kickapoo 17 19 11 24 — 71
Nixa 15 12 11 20 — 58
Kickapoo – Jordan Wersinger 27, Hannah Collins 21, Rachel Senn 7, Madelyn Barrett 7, Chloe Merced 5, Jaden Wiley 2, Indya Green 2
Nixa – Emily Edwards 11, Lakin Copeland 11, Gabrielle Nielsen 7, Haley Wiggins 7, Paige Sportsman 6, Allison Brumley 6, Bissett Michaelson 5, Kelsey Biro 3, Mckenzie Hines 2