It took the Concordia Panthers 14 games to pick up a third win a season ago.
Concordia needed just three games to get there this year after holding off Smoky Valley 42-40 on Friday night.
The Panthers followed up road wins at Beloit and Republic County with a narrow home victory over Smoky Valley to open up 3-0.
“The improvement. The ability to fight through adversity are things they are starting to catch on to,” Concordia coach Michael Wahlmeier said of the Panthers 3-0 start to the season.
Concordia led Smoky Valley 39-31 after Tristen Leiszler scored five points in the first 1:41 of the fourth quarter, but the Vikings would make one final push.
Keely Bruner hit one of two free throws for the Vikings.
A short baseline jumper by Leiszler put Concordia up 41-32 with 3:12 to play.
Leiszler, a junior guard who was averaging 25 points per game, led all scorers with 20 points.
Kelsie Anderson scored inside, and Smoky Valley trailed 41-34.
Leiszler made one of two free throws to give the Panthers a 42-34 advantage with 1:57 on the clock.
Just nine seconds later, Smoky Valley’s Shea Cook buried a three-point shot.
Concordia still had the 42-37, and was looking to put the game away when Megan James was called for an offensive foul on a breakaway.
Hannah McBride hit a three with two seconds left to get the Vikings within two points, 42-40.
Jordan Eshbaugh was fouled with under a second to play. The freshman missed the front end of a one-and-one, but time ran out on Smoky Valley.
James scored eight points and grabbed eight rebounds for the Panthers.
Eshbaugh finished with five points and 10 rebounds.
Molly Adams pulled down 15 rebounds to go with four points.
McBride and Emily Deterding scored 11 points each for Smoky Valley.
Anderson added eight points for the Vikings.
Concordia got off to a slow start offensively, scoring just four points in the first 7:09, and trailed 11-4.
“We didn’t look like we were on the same page at all,” Wahlmeier said.
A three by Leiszler and a free throw by Maggie Lambert left Concordia trailing just 11-8 heading into the second quarter.
Getting untracked offensively, the Panthers went on an 11-0 run to grab a 19-11 advantage.
“We decided to rebound. They were getting one shot, and we were pulling down the rebound,” Wahlmeier said.
Concordia led 24-15 when James made a three with 2:50 left in the first half.
Smoky Valley scored six straight points, and trailed just 24-21 at the break.
Trailing 28-23, the Vikings used a 6-0 spurt to reclaim the lead at 29-28 in the third quarter.
Baskets by Eshbaugh and Jennifer Boley put Concordia back up 32-29.
Cook scored for Smoky Valley, but a bucket by Adams gave the Panthers a 34-31 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Leiszler scored on a drive and then made a three early in the final period to push the lead to 39-31.
Concordia was then able to withstand the late Smoky Valley charge.
“We figure things out. For the most part we have been able to turn things around,” Wahlmeier said.”
Concordia opens North Central Kansas League play by hosting Marysville Tuesday night.
SMOKY VALLEY (40)
McBride 3-3-4 11, Deterding 5-1-4 11, Cook 2-1-1 6, Anderson 3-2-3 8, Hattabaugh 0-0-4 0, Morrical 1-0-1 2, Bolden 1-0-2 2. Totals: 15-7-19 40.
Lambert 1-1-4 3, Adams 20-3 4, Mendenhall 0-0-1 0, Eshbaugh 2-1-3 5, Boley 1-0-2 2, Leiszler 7-1-1 20, James 3-1-3 8. Totals: 16-4-17 42.