Collier, IWA roll past Lady Crusaders

ST. CHARLES, Mo. — An old nemesis returned to torment the Helias Lady Crusaders.

Former Jefferson Lady Jay Napheesa Collier delivered a dominant performance to lead the nationally ranked Incarnate Word Red Knights to a 66-20 victory against the Lady Crusaders in a Class 4 state quarterfinal Saturday afternoon at Francis Howell High School.

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Adam Stillman reports

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“It was definitely really cool playing Helias since they used to be a rival when I went to Jefferson City,” Collier said following her 23-point, 14-rebound, six-block effort. “It felt so cool that I got to play them even though I don’t live in Jeff City anymore. I’m really glad.”

Collier, a junior, left Jefferson City after her freshman year. The 6-foot-1 forward is ranked as the seventh-best junior in the nation, which has resulted in her receiving interest from NCAA Division I powerhouses Connecticut and Notre Dame.

“She is something else,” Helias head coach Doug Light said. “You can tell why she’s so sought-after. I told the kids, ‘I think she’s overrated, what do you think?’ Everybody laughed pretty hard.”

Yet Collier is simply the best player on a team of great ones. Incarnate Word is ranked second in the nation by both MaxPreps and USA Today.

But that didn’t prevent Helias from thinking they had a shot.

“Our girls are hurting a little bit because they believed,” Light said. “When you believe, you can get hurt. Instead of going there and thinking, ‘Let’s just get this over with,’ we came in with the attitude of, ‘Hey, we’re going to win this basketball game.’ That’s what you want out of your kids.

“They’re a great team. … I’m proud of our kids. We had a great season.”

While Incarnate Word ran away with the game, Helias kept it interesting for the first several minutes. The Lady Crusaders jumped out to a 5-2 advantage thanks to a pair of free throws from Darcy Baird and a 3-pointer from Molly Light.

Who would have guessed Incarnate Word would be the first team to call a timeout to halt the momentum? But that’s exactly what happened at the 5:45 mark.

“The kids came in believing, they actually believed we were going to pull this one off,” Light said. “Have one of the big David and Goliath episodes. What more can you ask for?”

Incarnate Word scored the next eight points and never trailed again. Ahead 10-7, the Red Knights used a 17-0 run to blow the game open. Abby Hoff drained three straight 3s during the run, as she finished with 20 points while going 6-of-7 from beyond the arc.

“She’s averaging about four or five points per game,” Light said of Hoff. “Let’s just make her do it. My God. She’s never had to do those things before and she just set the tone right off.”

Incarnate Word led 27-9 after one quarter, as Collier scored 11 points in the frame.

“She’s just a great player,” Light said. “She’s so athletic and has so many facets to her game that are so hard to deal with. She has great kids around her. It’s neat to see her, I just hate to have to go against her obviously.”

Incarnate Word extended the advantage to 50-12 at halftime and 65-15 after three periods.

“I think it’s fun no matter what,” Collier said. “We’re on our way to state. The whole experience is just cool no matter what the score is.”

With a running clock the entire fourth period, Helias held a 4-1 scoring edge over the final eight minutes.

“How about that? Our kids fought to the end,” Light said. “That’s what we ask them to do.”

Mai Nienhueser paced Helias (17-12) with five points, while Baird grabbed six rebounds.

Gwen Adams added 10 points for Incarnate Word (29-1), which advances to the Class 4 Final Four. The Red Knights will take on Marshfield (25-5) in a semifinal game at 4:15 Friday at Mizzou Arena.

“It’d be so awesome,” Collier said of the prospect of Incarnate Word winning a second straight Class 4 state title. “I can’t wait. I really hope we do.”

Helias will lose three seniors — Kelsi Bernskoetter, Baylee Francka and Meghan Nappier — from this quarterfinal team.

“What great leaders those kids were,” Light said. “They set the tone for our kids and led our kids all the way. We had some difficult parts of the season and they kept everybody going. They led us to a great end of the season. We’re going to miss all three of those young ladies. Can’t say enough about them.”

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