LADUE • Fort Zumwalt East junior Liz Behan has been around the program long enough to remember when times weren't so good.
As a freshman, Behan was front-and-center when the Lions won just two games.
Fortunes are changing for Behan and her teammates as Fort Zumwalt East advanced to the winner's side of the bracket in its fourth consecutive tournament with a 53-32 opening-round win over Rosati-Kain on Thursday in the John Burroughs Invitational.
“This is awesome because our work has definitely paid off,” Behan, a 6-foot-1 post player, said. “We've worked really hard as a team, trying to build our program up. We worked hard to learn from losses and turn them into experiences to help us win in the future. We've done that, I think.”
Fort Zumwalt East (6-3) got off to a strong start against Rosati (1-7), thanks in large part to Behan.
She scored 10 first-quarter points as the Lions roared out to a 12-3 lead.
Behan provided the team a lift and made it easier for someone else to pick up the scoring mantle when necessary.
“She's been at the epicenter of everything we try to do,” Fort Zumwalt East coach Kyle Brown said. “People do everything they can to try and stop her. At the beginning of the season, we got off to a good start and then people had to make adjustments. They have tried to make an adjustment towards her, so we tried to get other kids to step up.”
Freshman Yazzy Edminson scored eight of her game-high 17 points in the second quarter.
Bolstered by the one-two punch, Fort Zumwalt East extended its lead to 25-5 at halftime, which allayed Brown's trepidation entering the game.
“My biggest concern was that we hadn't played in three weeks, so I was worried how we were going to come out,” Brown said. “We do what we do. We pound the ball inside. We play good defense and we got off to a good start. Yazzy's just a freshman and a lot of times she plays like a freshman. There are a lot of times when she plays like a very good player.”
To go along with her 15 points — which is just shy of her team-leading 16.3 points per game — Behan added 14 rebounds and seven blocked shots.
While things weren't great for the Kougars, they could have been much worse.
Rosati cut into the sizable lead and even outscored East 12-11 in the third quarter. But the Kougars couldn't overcome their slow start.
“We really don't have a post player, so we've got to work the ball around the perimeter,” Rosati coach Todd Hinderliter said. “That's our M.O. We have slow starts because we're not hitting anything the first half. We get into motion in the second half and make some shots.”
Sophomore Hanna Al-Baaj led Rosati with 22 points.
Fort Zumwalt East will play Clayton in a semifinal at 7:30 p.m. Friday. The winner advances to the championship game at 4:30 p.m. Saturday.