Update: Incarnate Word beat Helias 66-20 to advance to the girls' Class 4 Final Four.
News Tribune sports reporter Adam Stillman provided updates on Twitter during today's game. Read his Twitter reports now and check out a full game story posted later online and in Sunday's newspaper.
Earlier preview story:
Helias girls basketball coach Doug Light has faced several teams that were nationally ranked throughout his coaching career.
He said it takes a certain mentality to prepare for the challenge.
"You can't go into the game thinking about national rankings," Light said. "You've got to go in and play hard and go in with the will to win. You've got to believe in yourself.
"Everything we've said is predicated around, "Hey, you've got to go out and go after them. There's nothing to be nervous about. You've reached this point, now go win a basketball game.'"
Helias plans on carrying that mindset into today's Class 4 quarterfinal matchup against nationally ranked Incarnate Word Academy at 1 p.m. at Francis Howell High School.
"We're just going to go in not fearing them and just act like it's any other game," Helias senior Kelsi Bernskoetter said. "We're going to play as hard as we can and just see who comes out on top."
The Lady Crusaders (17-11) know the odds aren't in their favor, but that doesn't matter.
"Nobody expects us to win," Light said. "We know that, we've talked about that. We're just going to go out there and give it our all. We're going there to win a basketball game. We're not going there to roll over."
Incarnate Word (28-1) is the top-ranked team in Class 4 and the second-ranked team in the country according to MaxPreps and USA Today.
The Red Knights' only loss came to Blackman (Murfreesboro, Tenn.), the No. 1 team in the nation, on Jan. 25. But Incarnate Word also claimed a 53-44 win against Blackman on Jan. 1.
"We have nothing to lose," Helias junior Katlyn Cowell said, while also noting the Red Knights' resume. "They have all the pressure on them. Everyone expects them to win. Nobody expects much from us, so I think we can just go out there, have fun with it, and prove everybody wrong."
That's something the Lady Crusaders have taken pride in doing all season.
"Not a lot of people expected us to get this far," Cowell said. "I don't even think people expected us to win a district championship this year. It's something we've believed all along, but not many people behind us have believed in us."
One thing is certain: the Lady Crusaders are confident they're peaking at the right time.
Helias is coming off a 46-34 win against St. Charles West in a sectional game Wednesday to extend its winning streak to three. Before that, the Lady Crusaders knocked off Fulton 43-36 and claimed a 41-31 victory against Kirksville in the district title game.
"This is the best we've played all season," Light said. "We're getting the pieces put together and it's kind of come into fruition for us."
Now, the Lady Crusaders know they'll have to be even better to get past Incarnate Word.
The Red Knights have three players averaging double figures, including Napheesa Collier, who played at Jefferson City High School her freshman year. Collier, regarded as the seventh-highest recruit in the nation in the junior class, leads Incarnate Word with 23.3 points and 10 rebounds per game.
Nakiah Bell, an Iowa State signee, averages 13.6 ppg, while McKenna Treece chips in with 10 ppg to round out the top scorers for the Red Knights.
"We're just going to have to play really solid defense and we've got to keep those kids under control," Light said. "They're a tall order. But what's the alternative? You're sitting in the stands watching that game.
"We're very pleased with what we've accomplished. Now, it's icing on the cake from this point on."
Mai Nienhueser leads Helias with 10.9 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. Meghan Nappier is next in line with 7.2 ppg, while Darcy Baird (6.5 ppg) and Bernskoetter (5.3 ppg) help pace the Lady Crusaders on the offensive end.
"We're going to have to play together," Bernskeotter said. "No one expected us to get where we are. We feed off each other. When we all play well, that's when we do the best."