The Salina Central girls will embrace any challenge that's in front of them.
Even if the season opener is against crosstown rival Salina South.
The third-ranked team in Class 5A showed no signs of weakness in a 54-23 victory over the Cougars on Friday night at the South gym.
"I don't think that we were nervous," said Central coach Chris Fear, whose Mustangs improved to 1-0. "There's always going to be jitters before a rivalry game a little bit. We were ready to play and I was really pleased with that.
"They've been in a lot of big games and this is where they want to be. This was a fun night for us."
Even with the rivalry taking place in the season opener, the Mustangs were ready to get going.
"Just seeing that our first game was going to be Salina South, I think it just brought extra excitement for us," said Central senior Aubrie Kierscht, who led the Mustangs with 15 points.
Kierscht's 15 points made her the all-time leading scorer in Central history. Entering the season, she was tied with Amanda Morris with 1,167 points. Kierscht now has 1,182 career points in just three seasons in a Mustang uniform and counting.
"It's an amazing accomplishment," Fear said. "For her to take that mantle as the all-time leading scorer and to do it right away (in) the first game of her senior year. She's going to create a lot of space there throughout the course of this year.
"Just a testament to her hard work and everything that she's put into the game of basketball."
Salina Central's defense pivotal in victory
One thing Salina Central emphasized heading into the season was to be better on the defensive end.
The Mustangs forced South into 29 turnovers and held the Cougars to eight points in the second half.
"We have a lot of weapons on the offensive end," Kierscht said. "I think in order to get to that next step, we have to really turn it up on the defensive end. I think we did that tonight."
Central led 18-10 after the first quarter and didn't allow South to score more than five points over the final three quarters.
Salina Central didn't just get a big outing from Aubrie Kierscht
In addition to Kierscht's 15 points, Central got 14 points and a team-high eight rebounds from Hampton Williams. Chaliscia Samilton added 10 points.
Willams scored Central's first seven points of the second quarter after it got out to an 18-10 advantage after the first quarter.
"Hampton played great," Fear said. "(It was) one of the better games she's played in her career and she's played (in) a lot of good ones. Overall, (on)both ends of the floor, she was fantastic.
"Aubrie's going to get hers and just provide things that some other players don't (have). They can just do some special things and both I thought they played really well tonight."
Salina South has some positive to take away from season opener
Despite falling by 31 points to their crosstown rival, South coach Justin Ebert said the Cougars played hard.
That's with having only four players who played significantly last season.
"(The) effort was there," said Ebert, who made his head coaching debut on Friday night. "You can tell that there's a lot of girls getting their first significant varsity experience and the moment was big for them. It's an unbelievable learning experience that some of those girls are gonna go through and continue to get better."
Eleana Herbel led South with six points on a pair of 3-pointers she hit in the first half.
"Eleana had a great game," Ebert said. "Love the confidence of being able to come in and knock down a couple of big shots early."
Central continues its three-game road swing with an Ark Valley Chisholm Trail League Division II contest at Goddard Eisenhower on Tuesday, while South plays a nonconference matchup with Buhler at the South gym.
Dylan Sherwood has been a sports reporter for the Salina Journal since August 2019. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @DSherwoodSJ
This article originally appeared on Salina Journal: How Salina Central's girls basketball embraced a challenge in season opener against Salina South.