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Faces in KS: Matt Mowry

Matt Mowry is having a breakout season for Cimarron. (Photo: Cimarron Yearbook)
By: Conor Nicholl for Sports in Kansas w/ Chet Kuplen
Jan 14, 2019

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As a junior, Cimarron’s Matt Mowry averaged 8.6 points, 4.4 assists and 3.3 rebounds a contest. He shot 29 percent from the field, including 40 percent on 2-point tries. Mowry went 31 of 42 (74 percent) from the free throw line.

This winter, Mowry has enjoyed one of the biggest scoring jumps of any Kansan. In the first five contests, he collected 20.4 points, 2.8 assists, 2.6 rebounds and 2.2 steals. The key increase has come in 2-point shooting percentage.

Mowry, helped by some fundamental changes, weight room work and a big support system that includes his family and key Cimarron faculty, has connected on 61 percent of his two-point shots.

Additionally, he is 22 of 26 (85 percent) from the free throw line, and 10 of 28 (36 percent) from 3-point range.

“This year, I am finishing through contact a lot better,” Mowry said. “You can really tell, because that is where I am getting all my points, because I am not really shooting that many 3s. It’s just I am able to finish through contact better.”

Last season, Mowry shot underhanded when he went up to the basket. This season, Mowry has worked on his jump stop and getting level with the basket.

“Then just going up two-handed, and just powering through it,” he said.

The 6-foot-1 Mowry labeled himself “a lot more athletic” and stronger. Mowry, whose family has long been a part of Cimarron sports, only weighs between 150 and 155 pounds.

“I have learned to use that weight and know that I have to go up strong,” he said.

In the summer, Mowry and other Cimarron athletes have benefited from the weight room through head football coach Greg Koenig and assistant Mike Schartz.

Koenig was a longtime successful coach at Beloit and Schartz, a veteran coach in the Wichita area and Cimarron native, have posted a 15-5 record in their first two seasons. Last fall’s 8-2 record marked the Bluejays’ most victories since before 2004. Mowry said the coaching staff has “brought a lot of positivity.”

“In high school, my freshman and sophomore year teams there was a lot of talent, but we really weren’t that positive, if something went downhill, it went downhill,” Mowry said.

In Week 6 this fall, Cimarron delivered a signature road victory when it came back to beat Lakin, 18-14, on a long touchdown pass with 40 seconds left to effectively clinch a Class 2A district crown. Lakin led 14-12 at halftime.

Lakin had 59 plays, six more than Cimarron. However, the Bluejays’ defense, led by 12 tackles from Mowry, stopped Lakin inside the half-yard line twice in the second half.

Mowry was first team all-league defensive back in 2017 and second team this past fall.

“You ask another coach from another team, they will be like ‘Get up on Cimarron early, and they will quit,’ and the last two years, have been… completely different,” Mowry said. “We’ve fought back. We always fight back, and we never give up anymore.

“And so that’s how they’ve affected our school a lot,” he added. “And then just our work ethic as well, we work a lot harder now, and it’s really starting to show off, too, because we are just becoming better people, too.”

Mowry has earned first team all-league and all-state golf every season. Cimarron has placed third at state the past two springs, including two shots from second and four from a state title last year.

Cimarron has won every regular season tournament the last two springs and earned the Hi-Plains League title the past three years. In 2018, Mowry shot an 83 and tied for 20th at state.

During the season, the team will often practice until dark. In the summer, the Bluejays are frequently at the course.

Mowry also has benefited from Cimarron faculty Austin and Darrie Stebens (Rogers), whom he called his role models.

Austin is Cimarron’s new physical education teacher and is on staff for multiple sports, including assistant girls’ basketball. Darrie, who is from Lakin and played collegiate volleyball at Dodge City, is the new counselor and coached high school volleyball.

“They are extremely selfless,” Mowry said. “You can talk to them about everything. They are always there for you.”

Austin is a former multi-sport all-stater from Ashland and graduated in 2012.

He was Ashland’s quarterback and averaged 9.8 points per game, second-most on the squad, on the Bluejays’ 1A state basketball title in 2011-12.

In 2011, he took second in 1A golf and helped Ashland win the state championship. Mowry has played golf with Austin.

“I can always go talk to Mrs. Stebens,” Mowry said. “If I am just having a rough day, I can just go in there and have a conversation with her and talk to her. Coach Stebens, he is a heckuva guy. He’s funny, and he’s fun to be around, and he will always talk to you.”

Mowry has upped his maxes to 175 in bench, 190 in clean and 250 in squat. At the beginning of the summer, he could only bench 150-155 and clean 135-140. Mowry hit a new personal mark on the last day of max outs in the summer.

“I was the happiest person ever for a week,” Mowry said.

Mowry focused on making his hips more flexible. He stretched often and made sure to squat parallel and go all the way down. Mowry had 135 on the squat rack and then move up in weights. At the start of the summer, Mowry repped 135.

“It was just 10 perfect parallel squats,” he said. “Where you got down all the way, and then back up. And then we just worked our way up from there, and we worked a lot on our hips and our hamstrings and our quads and all that, so that’s really helped a lot – and that’s probably leads into getting into the paint, because I am quicker now, too, because my hips can go.”

Mowry has been surrounded basketball since a young age. His bedroom was straight down the hallway from the family kitchen. When he was young, Mowry’s parents held a blanket at the end of the hallway.

“My brothers would be cheering and calling my name,” Mowry said. “So I would run out of my room and through the blanket and dunk it on my little tikes goal with music blaring to make a big entrance like all the big time college basketball teams do.”

His dad, John Mowry, is a longtime social studies teacher at Cimarron and current girls’ golf coach. Mowry used to coach the basketball team and stopped when Matt graduated from junior high.

“I would always get to go to practice and hang out with him,” Mowry said. “And then just be part of a team, be like the manager that is always running around.”

Matt has three older brothers. Eric graduated in 2005, Adam finished a couple years later, and Tyler graduated in 2010. Mowry talks with his brothers all the time. The trio lives in Garden City, Dodge City and Cimarron.

Mowry has four nieces and one nephew. The older brothers and family come to all of Matt’s games. On Friday, Cimarron’s game was postponed because of weather. Matt received a Snapchat from one of his brothers. His niece and nephew were crying since they couldn’t watch him.

Before this winter, Mowry’s career high was a 20-point performance in a 59-22 victory against Elkhart on Dec. 15, 2017. This season, Mowry opened the year against rival Meade on Dec. 7.

He delivered 25 points on 7 of 10 shooting, including 6 of 9 from inside the arc and 10 of 13 from the foul line. Host Cimarron defeated Meade, 72-58, in the opening Bluejay Invitational. Mowry has tallied 31 points against Larned and 30 versus Elkhart.

“That was a really fun game, because our student section was just crazy,” Mowry said. “Cimarron and Meade, we do not like each other. … That’s honestly personally my favorite game to play in.”

Cimarron went 9-12 last winter and has opened 3-6 but has faced a tough schedule that includes losses to much larger schools (Ulysses, Dodge City) and traditional powers (Holcomb, South Gray). Coach Iric Mawhirter has helped stabilize the program after some recent coaching changes. He is only coach that has been with the current Cimarron senior boys all four years.

“You can communicate with him, and he is a good coach off the court as well,” Mowry said.

Cimarron has dealt with multiple injuries. Senior Justin Fugitt fractured his fibula earlier this year. Senior Dylan Harrison, the starting quarterback in the fall, suffered a significant injury in the Lakin game. This week, Cimarron has the Hi-Plains League tournament.

“That’s normally when we turn our seasons around,” Mowry said. “Because we have played a tough schedule this year.”

Mowry Q&A

How did you get involved in basketball?

My older brothers all grew up playing basketball so I would always be involved by going to the games and practices. My dad also coached for a little bit so I was always involved. I’ve been around it all my life and have always enjoyed it.

What are your goals this season?

My team goals are for us to win the league tournament, have a winning record, and go to state. My personal goals are to get 1st team all league and to continue to get better everyday.

Do you guys have a shot to make a run this year?

I think when we are all healthy and playing at our best, we could give people a run, but like Coach Koenig says, “We are working hard and getting better.”

What makes you such a force as a player?

I’m always a scoring threat and then if I get double teamed, I’m good at finding the open man and dishing it off. I have range and can and will shoot it from about anywhere on the court so I force teams to guard me. I’m very good in transition and getting to the free throw line. My defense I feel is getting a lot better as well and becoming a strength.

What’s the atmosphere like to play basketball for your school and town?

It’s a lot of fun and energetic. Our student section and band get into the game, the gym gets really loud to where it’ll give you goosebumps. We always have a good crowd at home and away games who is supportive.

For anyone that hasn’t seen one of your games, why come to one?

We are a team with very few returners with much experience and you can’t tell. We honestly are just a fun team to watch play in all areas. We play well together and it’s great team basketball.

What are your strengths and weaknesses as a player?

My strength is for sure my offensive part of my game. I can shoot anywhere and am good at getting to the basket and getting to the line, then knocking down the free throws. Another strength is I get my teammates involved in the game. My weakness is my defense. We have put a team emphasis on defense so I have stepped up there and I feel it is turning into a strength of mine.

Who are other key players on your team?

Justin Fugitt has really stepped up this year and became a really key player for our team. Oscar Macias has stepped up as a lock-down defender and an excellent rebounder.

Favorite thing about basketball?

I love the atmosphere. I love fast paced games that are close and when the crowds get loud.

Do you play any other sports, tell us about that, what other positions do you play?

I play football and golf. I play safety in football. I also play golf. Our golf team has placed 3rd at state the last two years by just 3-4 strokes.

What is it like to play for your coach?

He is the only coach that has been with my class all four years so it shows how much he cares about us. I like how he communicates with me off the court and really cares about the type of person I am just as much or more than the type of basketball player I am.

What did you and the team do in the off-season to become better?

We play in as many summer tournaments as we can. You can go to the skydome every night and see the lights turned on with pick up games going on.

What interest are you seeing at the next level and what are your plans?

I would like to play college basketball and as of now I have no clue where I’m going after high school.

Favorite thing to do when you aren’t playing sports?

I play a lot of Fortnite, honestly probably more than I should. I mix it up with NBA 2k and Madden occasionally. I also love to go out and hang out with my friends.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

I haven’t ever thought about that far. My focus is to get through college and get a good job so i can support my family.

Favorite subject in school, what type of student are you, GPA?

History. I don’t know why but I always have liked my history classes. I’m a good student who gets things done and stays on top of things. My  cumulative GPA is 3.57 but this semester I have a 4.0.

Who is your role model?

Austin and Darrie Stebens. They just moved into Cimarron this year but they are always there when I need something. They are very selfless people who look out for the best in everyone else.

Best place to eat in your town or the surrounding area?

Richies Cafe in Cimarron. Can’t go wrong with a hamburger, fries, toast, and a side of gravy there.

One thing the average person wouldn’t know about you?

I got a hole in one at the Cimarron Golf Course when I was 12.

Anything else to add?

When I was a kid I would make my parents hold up a blanket at the end of hallway and my brothers would be cheering and calling my name so I would run out of my room and through the blanket and dunk it on my little tikes goal with music blaring to make a big entrance like all the big time college basketball teams do.