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Under the Radar Success: Several headline the group

Looking at some impressive things under the radar around the state.
By: Conor Nicholl for Sports in Kansas
Jan 7, 2020

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By CONOR NICHOLL

Cnicholl1@gmail.com

Ellinwood was one of several teams that played before Jan. 7. The Eagles were a combined 14-28 last season, but have opened a collective 11-3. Ellinwood boys feature standout Britton Dutton, the state’s top freshman scorer, while the Eagle girls have developed a “Play Angry” mindset with coach Andrew Cherry, son of longtime KSHSAA administrator David Cherry. Plus, West Elk’s coaching staff finds success – with both boys and girls, and a Kansas legend gets win No. 750.

Class 2A: Dutton, Stuhlsatz, seniors leads Ellinwood boys to big turnaround

Ellinwood, Britton Dutton’s Hudl page is full of information, rare for a freshman. Dutton, a point guard/shooting guard, wears No. 0 and is 6-foot, 164 pounds. He has a 27-inch vertical jump, along with a 140-pound bench press and a 205-pound squat. Dutton has run the 100-meter dash in 11.6 seconds and the 400 in 61.3.

Dutton posted a quote that he created himself: “I have always wanted to be the best. But if I’m not I will work as hard as I can to be the best!”

Dutton has loved basketball since he was young. Nearly everyday, he tries to spend time on drills, including ball handling and shooting.

“Anywhere that I can get a ball really - a ball and bounce it,” he said. “That’s all you need. Probably since I was able to stand and run probably, just keeping it going.”

The hard work has yielded a big start for Dutton, known for his calmness, ball handling and overall scoring ability. Ellinwood has won six in a row after a season-opening loss to La Crosse. The Eagles have already matched last year’s win total from a 6-15 squad. Ellinwood coach Derek Joiner is Dutton’s uncle, and coached him in the second grade.

“Britton has had a passion for the game for a long time,” Joiner said. “He was getting in the gym in the early mornings all fall. He is just somebody that loves the game, cares about it, has goals for it, and I am excited that I get to coach him for four years.”

Statistically, Dutton is already the state’s top freshman. He has averaged 19.7 points per game, well ahead of Solomon’s Makaen Hastings at 14.6 point per contest, according to MaxPreps’ statistical rankings. He delivers 5.7 rebounds, 2.3 steals and 2.1 assists a contest. Ellinwood and Sacred Heart (6-1) lead 2A in wins entering Jan. 7. Ellinwood remains out of the top-10 in the 2A coaches’ poll.

“I have always wanted to just be good, and it’s more fun to be good and win games,” Dutton said.

Last year, no freshman from a KSHSAA school averaged more than 15.9 points per game. Two winters ago, the top-two scoring freshmen were Wichita’s Jackie Johnson (22.1 points/game) and KC Harmon’s Lonell Lane (17.7). The duo are both returning first team all-state players this year.

“He has always been very ambidextrous,” Joiner said. “He has always been very gifted from a skill standpoint. Maybe his best attribute that I have always felt was is he has the gift of imitation. He can watch a player go do something, and then can go out and imitate it, and just great feet, great hands, great body control, and that’s why he is able to do all the different things that he can at such a young age.”

Ellinwood boys has consistently struggled throughout the years in football and basketball. Since a 14-9 season in ’08-09, Ellinwood did not post a winning record until Joiner had 14-9 and 14-8 records in ’14-15 and ’15-16, respectively. However, the Eagles had several players transfer.

Ellinwood went 6-16, 2-19 and 6-15 the last three seasons. The Eagles have a senior quintet of David Hammeke, Ryan Niles, Kyler Doll, Luke Wondra and Tyler Knop. All five have played together since fourth grade, and three have been together since second grade.

Wondra, the top defensive player the last two years, has not played yet this season because of injury. He is expected to return Tuesday versus Central Plains. Doll missed time with injury, though returned in a 61-44 road victory Saturday against Ness City.

“He didn’t score, but just his presence out there you could tell was a big difference for those kids, too,” NC coach Brandt Rogers said of Doll.

Hammeke and Wondra played as freshmen in spot time. As a sophomore, Hammeke was the second leading scorer with 9.6 points per contest on a team that had just two seniors that scored points. Knop and Wondra were also in the rotation. Last year, Hammeke led with 13 points and 8.1 rebounds.

“That’s probably the thing that I am most excited about for this senior group,” Joiner said. “They had to be the ones to take all the punches, but they shouldn’t have been in that position.”

After last season, Hammeke was excited for Dutton and freshman Tyler Stuhlsatz to join the starting lineup. Stuhlsatz delivers 11.3 points, six rebounds, 2.3 assists and two steals a contest. Stuhlsatz is the team’s top 3-point shooter with 15 of 45 (33 percent) from beyond the arc.

“Normally you don’t see the eighth-grade class coming up as seniors and be excited, knowing that they will come help right away,” Hammeke said. “But we knew even last year that those two would be starting varsity, and it’s fun to watch with them.”

On Dec. 20, Ellinwood delivered a marquee win at Ellis, 47-43. Ellis was ranked No. 5 in the Kansas Basketball Coaches Association poll, and dropped to tenth after the loss. Stuhlsatz finished with 14 points, including 3 of 7 from long range.

“He knocked some down at the volleyball line,” Hammeke said. “So he’s more of an outside shooter, but going left, he’s a hard driver, too, and that’s just going to progress as he gets older.”

Hammeke battled back from a Week 2 knee injury in football, missed the first two basketball contests with a finger injury, including the 50-45 defeat to La Crosse. Hammeke plays with high emotion and speed. He delivers 18 points and a team-high 8.8 rebounds a contest.

“I probably used to play with a little bit too much emotion, but I love the game, and I show it almost a little bit too much on the court sometimes, but it’s fun,” Hammeke said. “It’s always fun playing with all the guys.”

Ellinwood, with Dutton and Hammeke’s quickness, has shot 52 percent on 2-point shots, up from 41 percent last season.

The Eagles have upped its pace from 54.2 possessions per contest to 61.9 this season. As well, Ellinwood averaged .714 points per possession in ’18-19 and is at .930 this winter. Against Ness City, Hammeke, like a fullback, careened nearly out of control down the court several times, though tallied several layups on those plays.

“You slow him down, he is not going to be near as effective,” Joiner said. “Now, you know that that means that there’s going to be some wild plays that happen. You’ve just got to take the good with the bad.”

“One thing that probably helped David is we weren’t very good two years ago, so he had to play as a sophomore,” he added. “He had to go make these wild plays. He has gotten better at them. He has gotten a lot stronger over the course of time.”

Hammeke, who called Dutton “by far our best player,” noticed the freshman’s work ethic.

“He works on it all the time,” Hammeke said. “I mean, if you go to the high school, he is probably in the gym. He has worked to get there, but he has it all. He has a good shot. … He is a lockdown defender, too.”

Dutton, the oldest sibling by several years, is left-handed in “mostly everything.” His dad, Jeremy, is right handed, and taught Britton how to dribble with both hands. Hammeke said Dutton has shown moves that “we have never seen before.”

Late in the third quarter versus Ness City, Dutton had two great offensive plays. Dutton was at the top of the key, had a ball screen on the left side, and drove down the top of the key. Dutton was in traffic, though scored over NC defenders. Twenty seconds later, Dutton was on the baseline. He faked, dribbled with his right and then arced a left-handed floater for a basket.

“It’s fun to watch,” Hammeke said. “But yeah, he has definitely made a fool out of me at practice a couple of times, as a freshman beating a senior, like, ‘Geez, that’s kind of embarrassing,’ but he’s so much fun to play with. I mean, he just has all kinds of tricks up his sleeve.”

Class 2A: Miller, McClendon lead West Elk girls and boys

Dave Miller is a West Elk graduate. He has three highly successful athletic children, including Cade, a multi-sport standout for the Patriots, notably as WE’s former quarterback and the ’18 Sports in Kansas 2-1A Pitcher of the Year.

Miller, 60, has been at West Elk around a quarter century. He is the head coach for the boys’ basketball team the last 14 seasons. In an extreme rarity, this winter marks the fourth straight year Miller and assistant Scott McClendon have led both the West Elk boys’ and girls’ basketball programs

“We’re it,” Miller said. “We keep telling the bosses they need to get some of these young people in that want to coach, but they haven’t gotten there yet.”

In addition, Miller was the head junior high girls coach for nine years, assistant boys for two years. He coached softball for 13 seasons and coached junior high football. He has never had a year off of coaching since he came to West Elk.

“Whether it be football, basketball, baseball, softball - I’ve always loved coaching, so that drives me a lot,” coach Miller said. “I was highly competitive as an athlete in high school, and it kind of just drives my juices that way still.”

WE’s girls went through several coaches, and Miller was approached to help.

 “I was asked if I would do both for awhile,” he said. “I said I would.”

Miller and McClendon have led the Patriots to back-to-back girls state tournament appearances. Before ’18, the program’s only other state showing came in ’90, according to Kansas historian Carol Swenson.

This season, West Elk girls have opened 4-0 and rank No. 8 in Class 2A. The boys are 2-2. From ’12-13 through ’17-18, the Patriot boys won at least 14 games every year. That includes 22-3 and a fourth-place showing in ’17-18, the best finish in school history.

School ends at 3:45 p.m. Ten minutes later, the first group is on the gym. Around 5:30 p.m., the second group is getting conditioned with coach McClendon in the hallways. At 5:45, the second practice starts and concludes around 7:20-7:30.

“It’s like I guess being a teacher and teaching two classes, and they are the same class, just different students,” Miller said. “We don’t change up the practice plans much from one to the other. Pretty much have the same expectations of both. Time-wise, it takes a little extra time, but it just kind of felt like the girls needed some stability.”

West Elk girls graduated Macy McClendon, who led with 15.8 points and 8.7 rebounds a game.  She is a redshirt freshman for University of Central Oklahoma, one of the MIAA’s better women’s basketball programs. Megan McClendon was second with 12.4 points a contest and averaged 3.7 rebounds. This year, Megan leads with 15.3 points a game. Junior Madelyne Koop, who returned to West Elk after a stint at Eureka, is at 13 points and 8.8 rebounds a contest.

Freshmen Katy Beeman and Molly McClendon have a collective 8.6 points and 5.6 rebounds a game. The McClendon trio are all sisters and Scott’s daughters.

“They live it,” Miller said. “They love the game of basketball.”

Scott has coached many years in the AAU system. He played college basketball at Southeastern Oklahoma State University with future NBA Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman.

“He brings a lot of offensive knowledge to the game,” Miller said. “He’s done a lot of camps and clinics for years and years, and he’s really works. He’s really strong on the fundamental skills of that area, and that helps me out a lot. Allows me to take a little breather when he is doing that, and then I can get back in there, and take over, especially when we are on the defensive end, and putting the teamwork all together.”

On the boys’ side, junior Devin Loudermilk delivered 12.3 points and 6.1 rebounds a game last season. He leads with 16.5 points, along with 4.8 rebounds, four assists and 2.5 steals a contest. Loudermilk’s brother, Isaiahh, is a starting defensive lineman for Wisconsin.

Class 2A: Ellinwood girls adopt WSU’s “Play Angry,” dramatically change defense with Cherry

Ellinwood coach Andrew Cherry has always wanted to have a “run and gun” style. Last season, the Eagles posted an 8-13 record with two seniors, namely 6-foot forward Madison Ward, the team’s tallest player by three inches. Ward delivered 14.1 points, 11.6 rebounds and 3.2 blocks a contest. Ellinwood averaged 60.6 possessions a contest with .682 points per possession and .814 points allowed per possession. The Eagles had 138 total steals.

This winter, Ellinwood has plenty of speed and length. Cherry, who spent time in Wichita, has the motto “Play Angry,” the longtime moniker for Wichita State University men’s basketball under Gregg Marshall. WSU has led the nation in defensive efficiency and currently ranks 16th this winter, according to noted statistician Ken Pomeroy.

“My years in Wichita, you become a Shocker fan real quick,” Cherry said. “And that’s turned out well for them, so I decided after our loss at sub-state last year that we needed to have that motto, and really change our mentality, and stop being the nice guys and really being aggressive and really going after them.”

Ellinwood’s changed defensive philosophy has yielded a significant uptick in steals – and an improvement in victories. The Eagles have opened 5-2 after 3-18, 8-14, 1-20 and 8-13 marks the last four seasons. On Saturday, Ellinwood won at Ness City, 47-42, behind 21 steals.

Among KSHSAA schools, Ellinwood is tied for sixth in steals per game (16.1), behind only South Haven, Clifton-Clyde, Baldwin, Cheney and Logan, according to MaxPreps statewide lists. The Eagles have 113 steals. Ellinwood has no seniors. All of the team’s points have come players 5-foot-8 or shorter.

 “My four years before this in Ellinwood, I have not had the personnel to be able to do it,” Cherry said. “Finally, I have this group of girls that really fits that mold, so we are just trying to get our hand in it and just go after it. And if we miss, we miss, and we try to get one the next time. But they have really bought in to that defensive philosophy, and just being aggressive.”

Ellinwood has upped its pace significantly to 67 possessions a game. Its offense is down slightly to .659 points per possession. However, the defense has made a huge change to just .531 points permitted a possession.

“This group really has a defensive mindset to say, ‘ You know what, I am going to go get one, and when we get one, it  turns into easy offense for us, which helps us out on the other end,” Cherry said.

Junior Mya Maxwell suffered a small fracture in her nose in the 45-40 road loss to Ellis on Dec. 20, the final game before holiday break. Maxwell, a standout volleyball and basketball player, played with a mask versus Ness City and tallied a season-high 24 points with her usual aggressive play.

Ellinwood recorded three steals and held on after Maxwell fouled out with 4:45 left versus Ness City. The Eagles created steals off baseline passes, and used a trap on cross court passes.

“Our wings are doing a really good job of guarding two people, and so when the ball is away from us, we are able to drive in and steal,” Cherry said.

After Maxwell averaged 12.5 points per game as a sophomore, she leads with 15.7 points per game, along with 6.3 rebounds and two steals and improved as a leader. Junior Daphne Doll averages five points and paces with 7.9 rebounds, 3.6 steals and 1.9 blocks.

Junior point guard Ashtin Klepper has 7.1 points and 3.1 steals. Klepper has started at point guard the last three years and her length is key at the top of the zone. Freshmen Bella Baker and Brittany Simpson have been key rotational players.

“Now as a junior, she just looks so much more composed,” Cherry said of Klepper. “She wants the basketball in her hands.”

On Tuesday, Ellinwood faces Central Plains, ranked No. 1 in 1A and on a state record 117-game winning streak with senior point guard Emily Ryan, an Iowa State signing. Ellinwood remains the last team to beat CP with a 66-58 margin on Feb. 24, 2015. The victory ended a then-44-game winning streak for the Oilers.

“We have to really take care of the basketball,” Cherry said. “I would like to play them close for awhile, and see if our defense can turn them over, and kind of spark some of the stuff that goes into easy offense. Executing offensively against their tough pressure, that’s going to be a big deal for me.”

Cherry’s father is David, who retired July 1, 2018 after 22 years with the KSHSAA main office. David was known for his effervescent smile and positive demeanor, traits shared by his son. Cherry was known for organizing the popular KSHSAA Coaching School. Andrew attended Jefferson West and taught in Wichita for seven years before Ellinwood. David lives in Buhler and tries to attend as many Ellinwood games as possible.

“It’s fun to have that Cherry name,” Andrew said. “A lot of people know him, and I feel like I have earned the respect of those people for what I have done. But it’s nice to meet people that know him, and if I can be anywhere close to my dad, it’s a win for me. It’s a life goal.”

1A: Coldwater-South Central girls earn career win No. 750 for Rietzke

Coldwater-South Central coach Tim Rietzke is in his 42nd season and entered the year with a 749-436 record. For 17 years, Rietzke coached both the boys and girls’ programs in Coldwater. However, Rietzke has focused just on the girls since ‘08. SC is 19-4, 22-3, 24-1 and 22-3 the last four seasons.

SC graduated standout scorer Bri Rutherford, who led with 23.2 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.9 steals a contest. Four of the top-six scorers were seniors. Two sophomores, Sierra Jellison (5.4 points) and Hadley Lohrding (3.1 points), are the only returning starters.

This winter, South Central has continued its success with a 5-1 record. The Timberwolves have been ranked No. 10 in 1A in weekly rankings, though dropped out last week. SC opened the year with a 62-23 victory versus Satanta. Jellison has enjoyed a breakout year with 17.7 points, six rebounds and foul steals a game. Lohrding has 5.8 points, 3.8 rebounds and three steals a contest.