By CONOR NICHOLL
Class 3A: Lakin’s pressing style, new players lead to big win against Larned, improvement from last year
Larned boys basketball opened 2019-20 with six straight victories and rose to third in the Class 3A Kansas Basketball Coaches Association rankings. The Indians, paced by seniors Chance Sanger, Mason Perez and Brock Skelton, run a methodical, efficient offense. The Indians averaged 58.4 possessions a game with .88 points per possession.
Notably, Larned won the Gene Keady Classic title in December for the first time in 13 years. In the final, the Indians defeated St. John, 36-32, in a contest that had just 52 possessions. Larned ended an 18-game losing streak against the Tigers.
On Jan. 10, the Indians faced Lakin, unranked in 3A, at home. Last winter, Larned defeated Lakin, 71-56, in January and eventually reached state for the first time in a quarter century.
This time, an improved Lakin squad, bolstered by transfers Sonnie Altman and Hunter Davis, used its trademark full court man-to-man press, with run-and-jump and switching. The Broncs, who model its style off longtime power Wichita Collegiate, controlled the game’s pace.
“We just took the exact opposite approach, and we just said, ‘We are going to play fast, and we are going to be aggressive, and we are going to go at them, and see what happens,’” sixth-year Lakin coach Nate Schmitt said. “And fortunately for us, it worked. Because we can’t tell our guys, ‘Hey, this is the style we are going to play, but hey, we are getting ready to play this good team, so we can’t play that way anymore.’ We have to stick with our style, and that’s what we did.”
The contest featured 74 possessions, and Lakin earned a 68-64 victory. Larned had 16 turnovers, tying a season-high. Guard-oriented Lakin received 13 points apiece from Altman, Daniels and Davis and 14 by junior Jace Bachman.
“We kind of wore them down a little bit, I guess,” Schmitt said. “Or forced them into doing some things that they are not used to doing.”
On Tuesday, Lakin improved to 6-2 with a 71-54 victory versus Hi-Plains League rival Cimarron. The Broncs are one of several teams that have improved with a transfer, move-in or a player returning who missed all of last winter with an injury.
Last season, the Broncs were 5-3 after eight contests and allowed 63.9 points per game. This winter, Lakin has significantly lowered to 53.4 points per contest. Lakin is averaging 71.5 possessions per contest, a very high number. Two years ago, the Broncs were at 63.8 possessions a game and upped to 65.5 last year.
The quick pace has yielded consistent success for Schmitt, who said his scheme is “one thousand percent” off legendary Collegiate coach Mitch Fiegel, in his 31st season with the Spartans. Schmitt talks to Fiegel weekly.
Schmitt, also the Lakin athletic director, has his brother, Matt Heydman, has the lead assistant. Heydman handles much of the scouting, Hudl, and day-to-day operations of the program. The style and pressure play have become ingrained in Lakin’s middle school and youth programs.
“(Fiegel) has been very, very helpful as well and giving us advice, and the style that we want to play,” Schmitt said. “But mainly it’s the kids just buying into it and understanding it and being willing to work even harder than we’ve worked last year.”
Schmitt, a 2003 Holcomb graduate, played basketball at Garden City Community College. He coached in Deerfield and Garden City and served as the head boys’ coach at Leoti-Wichita County.
While successful full court presses are known more on the girls’ side with Claflin-Central Plains and coach Shelly Hoyt at Hoxie and Eureka, it’s rarer for the boys. As a young coach, Schmitt always loved Fiegel’s squads. Fiegel has captured six state championships, most recently in ’16.
“They were the only team that I ever saw do that,” Schmitt said.
Schmitt took over Lakin in ’13-14 and went 10-11, 12-9 in ’14-15 and 13-9 in ’15-16. In ’14-15, Lakin had Udall transfer Alex Perez. He delivered 9.5 points and a team-high 5.8 assists per game. Perez then went to Sedan and averaged 17 points as a senior. As well, Gabe Fletcher transferred in from Leoti in ’14-15 and played two years with the Broncs with 8.3 and 9.6 points a contest.
After ’15-16, Schmitt became the Junction City boys’ coach and led the Bluejays for one year. Schmitt called JC “awesome,” and the people “outstanding,” but missed his family in southwest Kansas.
Cody Bernbeck, a former Garden City standout who Schmitt coached, led Lakin for one year. Then, Schmitt received a phone call and asked if he wanted to come back. He returned to Lakin after a 9-12 record for the Broncs in ’16-17. Schmitt and his wife had a baby and wanted to return home. He was able to again coach with his brother.
“At the end of the day, you can’t really help who you are,” Schmitt said. “And I am a western Kansas guy, and I think I’m a small school coach, and I missed it. I missed the area, I missed the Hi-Plains League, I missed my family.”
Schmitt looked at the players in the system. Lakin met with the Collegiate staff, attended the Spartans team camp, watched WC’s film.
“We want to be known for something,” he said. “A brand. Always just admired the way that (Fiegel’s) teams played, so first thing we did was reach out to him.”
Lakin, which has not made state since 2002, finished 17-5 in ’17-18 and 14-9 last year.
“There’s no going back for us,” Schmitt said. “There’s no way we could go back and play any other way. It’s been fun. The kids love it. We love it, and I think when people play us, it’s not like we are hiding anything we are doing. Like we are going to press for 32 minutes and play fast. Sometimes that’s hard for teams to prepare for, because it’s different. It’s not something that teams are used to.”
Lakin has long had a foreign exchange student program. Last winter, Henry Chou, from New Taipei City, Taiwan, came for the school year. No one knew Chou’s elite talent before the season. Chou became a huge surprise with 20 points a game. This season, Lakin has a boys’ basketball player from Spain on JV. At times, the Lakin girls’ sports have had athletes from the foreign exchange program, including an all-league volleyball player.
Davis, a junior, delivered 10 points and five rebounds for Meade last season, while Altman, a senior, had 16 points and nine rebounds a contest. Davis was in Lakin in middle school, and then moved to Meade. He returned to Lakin to live with his father. Altman’s mother got married and moved from Leoti to Garden City.
She lives in GC, and Altman had to option to attend a big school or a smaller school. His aunt and uncle live in Lakin, and Altman moved in with them. He sat out the 18 weeks, per transfer rules. Both came late last year, and Schmitt said the duo has had “a major impact.”
“I know what all can be said when it comes to that type of thing,” Schmitt said. “But I also think it’s a compliment in some of them to our basketball program. I don’t think those kids would want to come here if we didn’t do things the right way in our program. They come here, and they have been great.”
Davis has enjoyed one of the state’s best statistical years with 19 points, six assists, 3.4 steals and 3.3 rebounds a game. Altman is not 100 percent because of knee surgery this fall. He is at 8.6 points and 5.8 rebounds as they have had to learn the Broncs’ system.
“First of all, they are great kids,” Schmitt said. “They are outstanding kids. They are good students. They go out for everything, high character kids. They work hard, they are coachable, so they are an excellent fit to our program.”
As well, junior Dominick Daniels, who averaged 11 points and seven rebounds last year, is at 11.5 points and 6.9 rebounds this winter. Bachman is up to 12.8 points a contest, including 42 percent from 3-point range. Sophomore Servando Gonzalez and senior Jaylyn Hash have combined for 8.5 points and 7.3 rebounds, and sophomore Connor Hudson returned. Four of the top-six players are either 15 or 16 years old.
“I still don’t think any of them yet have played to their potential,” Schmitt said. “I think we are still trying to figure out how to mold all these guys together, how to mold this talent together, and make it all work. But it’s kind of scary to think how good we could be if they were all on their game. So hopefully that will happen sooner rather than later.”
5A: Hawthorne family to St. James from Bishop Miege; high-energy coach Paradise looks to turn around SJA girls
A moving tribute was published for Wendy Paradise after she passed away on Sept. 3, 2018. She was 64. The obituary mentioned Paradise’s strength, bravery, uniqueness and fearless personality. Called an “extraordinary woman” with zeal, Wendy was devoted to her friends and family, which included five children and nine grandchildren.
“She spent most of her time thinking up ways to brighten their days, and to touch their hearts,” the tribute said.
One of Wendy’s children is Samantha Paradise (O’Malley). She graduated from St. Thomas Aquinas in 2003 and played at Division II University of West Florida. Paradise is known for her charisma and evokes comparisons to her mother. She has a large Twitter presence (@SammyP_dise) full of motivational quotes.
“Just bring energy,” she said.
Paradise coached AAU, high school and college in the southeast, notably at Andrew College, a Georgia junior college.
In 2011-12, Paradise took over Andrew after an 0-18 mark in conference. She served as the head coach for four years. Paradise improved the team to 10-15 in her final season – still the second-best winning percentage for the school in the last nine years.
Then, Paradise and her husband, former Major Leaguer Shawn O’Malley, elected to move back to Kansas to start a family. She took over St. James Academy girls. SJA is known nationally for volleyball, but girls’ basketball has struggled in the last nine years. The Thunder has two all-time state tournament appearances in ’14 and ’18, though was 8-15 in ’18.
“Same scenario, just different situation with players, but they have fought alongside of me,” Paradise said. “They have believed in me and the program. … They just continue to grow each year on that and believe in that, and that is all you can ask for.”
Last season, St. James finished with six victories. This winter, SJA has opened 4-3 – and could enjoy its best season in several winters after highly decorated junior Faith Hawthorne transferred from nearby Bishop Miege.
A two-time all-state player, Hawthorne is ranked as the No. 2 Kansas player in the Class of 2021 by Prep Girls Hoops and has received significant collegiate interest, notably from Brown in the Ivy League. The Hawthornes decided to transfer because of Faith’s freshman brother, Brian. He is a key player for a 3-5 Thunder team that has just one senior.
Brian has averaged eight points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.5 steals a contest. Paradise was walking into the big Eastern Kansas League meeting in August when she received an email. Paradise said Hawthorne still remains close to Miege, notably longtime assistant Jeff English.
“I was like, ‘Oh, that really did just happen, and it shocked me, stunned me,” Paradise said. “But they just thought it was the best move for their family with their son who wanted to go to St. James. And they didn’t want to have two kids going to two different schools, so they ultimately just made a very tough decision.”
Hawthorne has played in two games, a 54-17 victory on Jan. 8 against winless University Academy (Mo.) Charter and a 62-34 loss to Bishop Miege on Tuesday. Hawthorne paced SJA with 11 points against Miege. Before she was able to play, Paradise said Hawthorne was an excellent team leader on the bench. Notably, SJA defeated Lawrence, 45-41, after a 60-26 loss to the Lions last winter.
St. James features two juniors and has received strong seasons from junior point guard Claire Worthington and 6-foot junior power forward Abby Dunsmore. As well, junior Lindsey Russell and freshman Lauren Steinlage have stepped up. Worthington and Dunsmore lead the team in points.
On Jan. 4, SJA defeated St. Michael the Archangel (Mo.), 42-40. Late in the game, Steinlage took a charge, and then Worthington sunk a pair of free throws with 2.7 seconds left for the win.
“A scrappy team that is building each and everyday to be better than they were the day before,” Paradise said. “Which is always a positive thing when you have kids that they just never settle for anything, so they are always pushing themselves to be better.”
Class 2A: Koop returns to West Elk; averaging near double-double
Junior Madelyne Koop went to school at Howard-West Elk through the seventh grade. Her dad, Chad, won state wrestling titles for WE in ’95-96. Her mother, Marty, briefly served as the Patriots’ head girls’ basketball coach.
Then, the family moved to Tennessee for less than a year. Koop came back at the end of eighth grade. She elected to attend Eureka, 29 miles north from Howard on KS-99 for two years. Last winter, Koop helped the Tornadoes, under legendary coach Shelly Hoyt, reach the state tournament for the first time.
The day after school ended, Koop re-enrolled at West Elk. Patriot coach Dave Miller said he had “no clue” Koop was returning.
“They decided they really wished they would have just stayed here, where they were at,” he said.
In the fall, Koop helped West Elk volleyball achieve a huge turnaround from 13-20 to 29-11. Koop finished second in Kansas with 696 digs. In basketball, Koop is part of a tall Patriot squad that has opened 7-0 and eighth in Class 2A. West Elk has reached the 2A state tournament in each of the last two years.
“She brings a lot of physicalness to our team,” Miller said. “She is highly competitive. She goes after every single rebound. She defends, shoots. She is outstanding at posting up, getting position.”
West Elk has Koop at 5-foot-10, along with 5-11 freshmen Molly McClendon and Katy Beeman, and 6-foot sophomore Alanna Walker. Koop, who is on Wheat State Elite for club, would like to play in college. Koop has averaged 13.4 points, 9.9 rebounds and 1.7 steals a contest through seven contests. Senior Megan McClendon leads with 14.4 points a game.
“Very strong and has good feet,” Miller said of Koop.
Last year, West Elk went 18-5, though graduated three of its top-five scorers for a team that collected 29.8 percent of offensive rebounds. This year, WE, despite losing its top-three offensive rebounders, is up to 42.1 percent collection of available offensive rebounds, an excellent rate. Koop ranks in the top-15 in rebounding in Kansas.
Koop’s transfer is part of a more experienced corps of top 2A girls’ squads. Last year, the state tournament featured key freshmen playing for Sterling, no seniors for Stanton County, and a heavy non-senior squad from WaKeeney-Trego.
This winter, Sterling, Stanton County and WaKeeney are all more experienced and returned the bulk of its key players. Spearville has bumped from 1A to 2A. Jefferson County North has Missouri Western signing Josie Weishaar, and Alma-Wabaunsee has Washburn commit Madelyn Hutley. Defending champion Garden Plain, currently ranked second behind Sterling, and WE are in the Sedan sub-state. Spearville, Trego Community, JCN, Wabaunsee and West Elk are all at least 6-0.
“The 2A state is going to be outstanding this year,” Miller said. “Sterling is loaded, they have got their girls back.”
Class 6A: Carrillo is back for Liberal girls; Derby with two transfers; 4A Buhler with big improvement
Last winter, freshman Ashley Carrillo had to watch as Liberal girls had an undefeated season until a loss in the first round of the Class 6A state tournament. Carrillo had suffered a torn ACL and partial meniscus tear and missed the whole year. She labeled the experience “difficult.”
In the summer, Liberal coach Carter Kruger noticed Carrillo’s talent as her burst and athleticism continued to improve.
“She just keeps getting better and better, too, which is a good thing,” Kruger said. “She is eager to learn, and when they are that way, and they are talented, you can really do some things as a basketball coach.”
Carrillo has emerged as a starter on a highly experienced squad that continues to rank No. 2 in 6A. Liberal is 8-0 after a 53-29 victory at Hays High on Saturday and 52-15 versus Garden City on Tuesday. This Friday, Liberal is home versus Dodge City for likely the Western Athletic Conference championship. Carroll called herself 100 percent.
“I always wanted to start varsity, just kept working,” Carrillo said.
“She provides another dimension, the ability to attack,” Hays High coach Kyle Porter added.
Liberal, against a strong schedule, has permitted just 31 points a contest, tied for third-best in 6A. Notably, the Redskins own a road win versus Olathe West, now 6-2 and this week moved into No. 8 in the 6A rankings.
“The key is communicating, and just talking through everything,” Liberal junior Aubrey Warden said. “And just playing with a lot of effort, because when the effort is there, then your feet are there, and your mind is in the game.”
Derby girls, ranked No. 6 in 6A, is 6-1 behind the deepest roster in coach Jodie Karsak’s tenure. She has led the Panthers to second, first and third showings in the state tournament the last three years. In addition to key returners in senior and Newman commit Sydney Nilles, junior Katelyn Kennedy and standout freshmen Addy Brown and Maryn Archer, Derby added 6-foot-2 sophomore Tatum Boettjer and junior Derryana Cobbins.
Boettjer came from Circle and played volleyball for Derby in the fall. She was among the Panthers’ leaders in kills and blocks and led in hitting percentage as the Panthers reached state volleyball for the first time since 2002. Cobbins, from Wichita Heights, became available at semester.
In Cobbins’ first game Jan. 6, Derby defeated Salina Central, 62-60, on a last-second layup from Archer. SC is currently ranked fourth in 5A. Cobbins delivered 16 points, and Boettjer tallied four.
On Tuesday, Derby rolled over Campus, 63-19. Cobbins tallied 11, and Boettjer scored six. On Friday, Derby plays host to Andover.
In 4A, Buhler boys are ranked fifth after a 6-14 team last winter. Buhler returned three senior starters with Isaac LeShore, Drake Dick and Braden Sides. As well, junior Max Alexander transferred from nearby McPherson, and junior Myles Thompson came from Valley Center. Alexander and Thompson both received all-conference recognition last year. Buhler is 6-2 and has the top winning percentage in 4A West. Alexander averaged a team-high 24 points a game after the first two contests.