LAYTON — When Liz Tomon starts to feel frustration creeping into her game, she looks to her coach, who calmly reminds her that she is not the kind of player that melts down.
"He just tells me I'm above that," said the junior center, who helped top-ranked St. Joseph stay unbeaten by scoring 12 points and grabbing seven rebounds in the Jayhawks' 49-36 victory over region rival Layton Christian Academy on Tuesday. "He's made it very clear that's not an option. ... Coach (Joe Cravens) has helped me develop into a confident player."
One of the most valuable skills she said she's learned is how to shake off mistakes.
"He really helps us with not letting the small stuff bother us," she said.
That was especially helpful Tuesday night as the top-ranked, undefeated and defending state champion Jayhawks faced their toughest test to date — a game at Region 17 rival Layton Christian's home gym.
"We knew this would be a tough game," said Tomon. "But we were prepared for it. Coach told us, 'Just play.' That's how our team does its best when we just play."
That's been a little tougher to do, she admitted, since all the accolades starting coming St. Joseph's way.
"It was nice being the underdog," she said. "This year we've sort of had a target on our back, but we're meshing well and playing as a team. We're finding the open person and we're helping each other."
That, according to Layton Christian's head coach, was the difference in the game Tuesday.
Eagles coach Lewis Lofton called his team's effort against the high-flying Jayhawks his squad's "worst game" to date.
"I think we have a little bit of a mental block," he said of playing top-ranked St. Joe's. "We didn't really play as a team. That's a veteran team, and it shows that they're committed."
St. Joe's jumped out to an early lead behind senior guard Katie Panushka, who finished with 15 points and four steals. But even the double-digit lead the Jayhawks owned at times didn't seem enough as the Eagles battled back into the game over and over.
Two of LCA's runs were led by sophomore Shayla Simpson, who finished with a game-high 21 points, including two 3-point shots, one from near half court. She also had four blocked shots, something that the Jayhawks knew she was capable of.
"This was definitely our toughest game," said Tomon. "We knew we'd get blocked. ... It was a tough, physical game."
Tomon said the "shame" of being blocked definitely intimidated her, but she pushed through that fear and played a strong game in the paint.
Cravens said he knew the Eagles would be tough, despite losing a couple of players to injuries.
"They weren't at full strength," he said. "But we've had way too easy of a schedule. Manila is the one game that pushed us."
He was pleased with the way his players handled the Eagles' aggressive defense, as well as their attempts to get back into the game. He hopes the girls see their ranking as something they should be proud of.Comment on this story
"I'm trying to use it as motivation," he said. "I tell them they need to understand they have a reputation to defend."
While his stars proved their mettle, he was most pleased with how the team showed off its depth.
"The thing that was most rewarding to me was to see some of our role players like Danielle (Shinaut), Jessica (Bischoff) and Shannon (Trout) step up and have great games. That will help us develop some depth."