It's a test before the start of the basketball postseason for the Jefferson City Lady Jays.
A really tough test.
"The girls are really looking forward to the challenge," Lady Jays coach Brad Conway said as Jefferson City (23-0) prepares to host the Incarnate Word Academy Red Knights (22-2) tonight at Fleming Fieldhouse.
In the latest Missouri Basketball Coaches Association's rankings, Jefferson City is No. 1 in Class 5. Incarnate Word is No. 2 in Class 4 behind St. Joseph Benton.
Jefferson City is ranked No. 2 regardless of classification in Missouri by MaxPreps, one spot better than Incarnate Word. Three-time defending Class 3 state champion Strafford, which extended its winning streak to 109 games with an 87-26 victory Monday against Hollister to start district tournament play, holds down the No. 1 spot.
"They're a typical Incarnate Word team, they've been an elite program in the state for the past 15-20 years," Conway said. "There's a lot of tradition there and this group is maintaining that tradition."
Kiki Britzman (6-foot, sr.), who has signed with Belmont, leads four Red Knights averaging in double figures at 15.4 points per game. DePaul signee Marissa Warren (5-8, sr.) is next at 14.2, followed by Purdue signee Rickie Woltman (6-4, sr.) at 12.6 and Kate Rolfes (5-6, jr.) at 11.5.
"They match up with us probably as good as anybody when it comes to size," Conway said.
Woltman leads in rebounding with 8.4 per contest, while Britzman is pulling down six a game. Warren is totaling 5.35 assists per contest.
"They can shoot the 3 well, they can slash to the basket, they have a good post game," Conway said. "They get up and down the floor, they guard for 94 feet and that's something that's hard to simulate in practice."
The Red Knights are averaging 67.8 points per game to 55.3 for the Lady Jays. But Jefferson City is allowing just 30.8 to 41.3 for Incarnate Word.
Lady Jays senior guard Caitlin Anderson, who has signed with Indiana State, is averaging 11.5 points, 5.5 assists, 5 rebounds and 4 steals this season. Kara Daly, a sophomore post player, leads Jefferson City with 12 points to go along with 7 rebounds. Sophomore guard Hannah Nilges is totaling 11 points and 2 assists.
Sarah Linthacum, another sophomore post player for the Lady Jays, totals 8 points and 7 rebounds. Senior guard Greta Haarmann rounds out Jefferson City's starters at 5 points, 2 assists and 2 steals.
Micah Linthacum, a senior post player who has signed with Missouri, is back after missing the past few weeks with an injury.
"She was really starting to come on before she got hurt," Conway said. "It was nice to get her back on the floor."
Linthacum scored nine points off the bench in her return last Thursday in a 67-27 win at Battle. She is averaging just under 10 points and four rebounds this season.
"She provides us with other options regarding personnel during the course of a game," Conway said.
Incarnate Word lost 65-62 to Parkway North (19-4) on Feb. 11. Its other loss was a 63-49 decision to Pinewood High School from Los Altos, Hills, Calif., in the title game of the Iolani Classic on Dec. 15 in Honolulu. The Panthers, who were ranked No. 25 in the country in the preseason by USA Today, are currently 23-2 on the season.
"It's good to have this challenge," Conway said. "There are people thinking this may be our first loss, but for us, this is going to be a game to get us ready for the postseason. It's a great opportunity for us.
"This game won't end our season."
Action is scheduled to begin today with the JV game at 5 p.m., followed by the varsity contest around 6:30 p.m.
If the game is called off due to tonight's expected winter weather, it is unknown if it will be made up with the postseason starting next week. Both teams have games scheduled Thursday to wrap up the regular season — Jefferson City is slated to play at Hickman and Incarnate Word will face Ursuline Academy.