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Class 5A girls tournament preview

Published March 11 at 5:09 p.m. | Last updated March 12 at 10:29 a.m.

At Kansas Expocentre, Topeka

Thursday’s Quarterfinals

3 p.m.: Eisenhower vs. Leavenworth

No. 8 Eisenhower (16-6) — Eisenhower will make its first appearance at state, just two years after a winless season. The Tigers stumbled in February, losing five of eight, but recovered to win their sub-state games by a combined four points. In the 10 times Eisenhower scored 50 or more points, it lost once. The balanced attack is led by Brynn Minor (14 points, 6 rebounds) and Kilah Hoenscheidt (10 points, 2 steals).

No. 1 Leavenworth (21-1) — A year after making the state tournament as the eight seed, Leavenworth matured into an elite team and returns as the No. 1 seed. The Pioneers are a matchup nightmare, as their offense is funneled through 6-foot-2 Tyler Johnson and 6-3 Rachel Blackburn. Scoring against Leavenworth has been a problem for opponents all season, as only five teams scored over 45 points against the Pioneers this season.

4:45: Kapaun vs. St. Thomas Aquinas

No. 5 Kapaun Mount Carmel (20-2) — The same core that led the Crusaders to the 2012 title and a state appearance last season has the Crusaders back in Topeka for the third straight season. Kapaun’s defense is one of the stingiest in recent state history, maintaining a 29.4 average entering the tournament. Junior guard Sam Bachrodt and senior 6-foot-1 post Sydney Kuhn make the offense go, and junior Grace Hagan spurs the defense.

No. 4 St. Thomas Aquinas (20-2) — The Saints are the defending champions, back at state for the 19th straight year and in search of their 11th title game appearance. No team has scored more than 50 points against the Saints. Aquinas is powered by do-everything 5-foot-10 senior Tia Weledji, but also returns essential pieces from last year’s state championship team in seniors Allie Dierks and Kelly Sweeney, as well as 6-2 Claire Ferguson and Rhyann Fisher.

6:30: St. James vs. Salina Central

No. 7 St. James Academy (17-5) — This will be the first state appearance for the Thunder in its nine-year history as a program. St. James did not have a dominant scorer and relies on cast of players to carry the load. This is the culmination of the work done by coach Greg Hohensinner in building the program from the ground up. Seniors Julianne Smith and Jenny Dwyer have emerged as the team leaders and will be crucial this week.

No. 2 Salina Central (21-1) — The Shaelyn Martin and Emily Wood era is in its final stand, as the duo have turned the Mustangs into a legitimate state contender in their senior year. Martin, a 6-foot-1 K-State commitment, averages 13.6 points, 8.1 rebounds and 4.4 assists, while Wood, a preferred walk-on at Nebraska, leads the team at 16.1 points. Central is more than just those two, but Martin and Wood have the ability to carry the Mustangs to their first state title.

8:15: Topeka Seaman vs. Great Bend

No. 6 Topeka Seaman (19-3) — It’s the third appearance at state in the last five years for Seaman, which has built its program on defense. The Vikings are allowing just 36.9 points, and their three losses all came to state-qualifying Class 6A teams. It’s a junior-driven team, as Tatyana Legette and Brooke McMillin combine for nearly half of the team’s offensive production. The Vikings allowed three teams to score more than 45 points against them, as all three times resulted in losses.

No. 3 Great Bend (20-2) — The winningest Great Bend team in school history will appear in its first tournament since playing for the title in 2009. The Panthers capitalized on their western Kansas slate, but also own an impressive victory over Manhattan, which stands as its only loss. Eight seniors lead the way for the Panthers, as they possess the desired makeup of a team equipped for a postseason run.

Friday’s semifinals

Eisenhower-Leavenworth winner vs. Kapaun-Aquinas winner, 3 p.m.

St. James-Salina Central winner vs. Topeka Seaman-Great Bend winner, 6:30

Saturday’s finals

Third-place game, noon

Championship game, 4 p.m.

Joanna Chadwick’s picks

St. Thomas Aquinas over Salina Central