The Ankeny Hawkettes have two future Division I college basketball players on their team and 2,300 students in their high school.
The Xavier Saints don't have any Division I players on their club and only 800 students in their school.
Ankeny's seniors are playing in their fourth straight state tournament, whereas Xavier's seniors are playing in their first.
They'll meet Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. in the opening round of the Class 4A state tournament at spacious Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.
"I hope we don't turn into Hickory at Butler University and go, 'Oh, look at this place,'" said Xavier Coach Tom Lilly, referring to the iconic basketball movie "Hoosiers."
"There's always that fear, because we haven't been there," he said. "It would be different if our kids had been down there and seen the vastness of it and the sounds and the noise and the thud. The ball 'thuds' differently on the floor down there.
"It's all different, and none of our girls have done that. That puts them (Ankeny) psychologically in a much better position than we are."
In the movie, based on a true story, little Hickory High School stuns the big school for the Indiana state title. It can happen.
"I feel like we really don't have that much pressure on us, so we're all just going out there trying to get our teammates another win to keep the season going," said Xavier junior Kayla Armstrong.
State tournament experience, student enrollment and Division I talent all favor Ankeny, but the Class 4A rankings suggest another story. The Hawkettes (20-3) are ranked No. 4 in the state and the Saints (18-5) are No. 5, so that indicates a tossup.
And although Ankeny played in the 2009, 2010 and 2011 state tournaments, the Hawkettes lost in the first round every time.
"You can have the best player in the state, you can have Miss Gatorade Basketball and there's no guarantee of winning anything," said Lilly, who is making his 10th trip to the state tournament since 1989 (two with Regis, eight with Xavier).
Ankeny features Maddie Manning, a 6-foot-2 point guard and "Miss Basketball" candidate who has signed with the Oklahoma Sooners. The Hawkettes also have Krista Pettepier, a 6-3 center who is headed to the University of Pittsburgh to play basketball, and Shayla Starkenburg, a 6-foot senior who will play softball at Iowa.
The Saints, meanwhile, don't have anyone on their roster that averaged in double digits this season. Katlyn Andersen is the leading scorer at 9.2 points per game, but the Saints have a few "intangibles" in their slingshot.
"We have really good team chemistry," said Armstrong. "We all get along really well on and off the court. It's basically a team effort."
The Saints also play defense, a trademark for Lilly's teams during his 27 years and 451 victories at Regis and Xavier. Defense helped the Saints win Class 3A state titles in 2003, 2005 and 2007 before jumping to Class 4A in 2009.
Xavier hopes defense, teamwork, an unselfish attitude and a strong belief system can help them overcome the odds in Des Moines.
"I honestly think these kids play for each other," said Lilly. "They know they're not superstars when it comes to the offensive end. We have some kids on some nights play like superstars, but we don't rely on them consistently to put in 'X' amount of points in order to be successful.
"I think they have a lot of determination, they're gutsy, they play hard and they realize that their coach emphasizes the defensive part of the game. I don't think any one of them is really concerned about their numbers, because none of them are thinking that some college scout is not going to give me a scholarship because I'm only at eight points a game.
"I think for the most part our kids are interested in being a good team, I think our kids are interested in the journey," he said. "We preach the journey much moreso than the destination."
Ankeny captured four straight Class 4A state titles in 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005, so both schools have spent a considerable amount of time in the spotlight this century. They both claimed state titles in 2003 and 2005, only in different classes.
Lilly didn't know what to expect this season, but he gladly would have taken 18 wins, the No. 5 ranking and a trip to Des Moines if anyone had made the offer in November.
"Absolutely," he said. "You know, whoop-de-doo. I'm very ecstatic about what our coaches accomplished.
"Our offense is just good enough, and our defense is a lot better than I thought coming into it."
Lilly uses 11 players (and sometimes 12) to keep fresh girls on the court and maintain their defensive intensity. Andersen, Armstrong, Annie Dale, Alex Bartz and Emily Walvoord are the starters, with Sarah Dickes, Ashley Stulken, Hayley Deutmeyer, Lisa Boomgarden, Maddie Bertsch, Nicole Noonan and Katelyn Winker coming off the bench.
The starters average between 5.4 and 9.2 points per game. "We're not faking anybody out," said Lilly.
Xavier practiced at Kirkwood Community College Monday night take to get accustomed to a 94-foot court, which is what they'll see at Wells Fargo Arena. That's 10 feet longer than the 84-foot court used in high school and Lilly wanted to show his players the difference.
If the Saints beat No. 4 Ankeny in the quarterfinals, they might have to face No. 1 Southeast Polk in the semifinals and No. 2 Iowa City West in the finals. "That's not too shabby right there," said Lilly. "There are some great teams down there, some great offensive players."
Xavier is the only Metro team in the girls state basketball tournament this year and the Saints are anxious to make a good showing.
"We're really happy with the opportunity to represent Cedar Rapids, the community, the Xavier community and the Mississippi Valley," said Lilly.
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