By CONOR NICHOLL
A prevailing thought among Southeast Kansas League girls’ basketball coaches was the conference race would likely be decided in a flurry of games between the top teams in early February.
Three teams have pulled ahead in the league standings: Pittsburg, Chanute and Labette County. None of them were ranked in the preseason. As of Feb. 2, Pittsburg was sixth in 5A, the first time the Purple Dragons have been ranked in around 20 years.
Pittsburg moved to fifth on Feb. 9. Labette County was seventh in 4A in both polls on Feb. 2 and 9. Pittsburg has Madden Petty, and Chanute features Kori Babcock, both 1,000-point career scorers this winter. Babcock is pushing for first team all-state 4A recognition.
On Feb. 2, LC beat Independence, 70-29. On Feb. 4, Labette County held off a strong shooting night from Chanute in a 60-57 home victory. After a 36-point win versus Parsons on Feb. 5, LC picked up a pair of big wins last week. On Thursday, Labette County earned the marquee 50-36 win versus Pittsburg. On Friday, LC beat Fort Scott, 41-33.
Entering this week, Labette County stood at 13-2, 8-0 in the SEK. Pittsburg was 11-3, 5-2. Independence stood at 7-7, 4-2. Chanute was 11-5, 4-4. With three conference games left, LC just has to win one to assure at least a share of the league standings. LC has the Pittsburg rematch Friday, followed by Chanute on Feb. 22 and Coffeyville the following day.
Two years ago, Labette County finished as co-league champions. Last year, the Grizzlies went 17-5, 11-1 in the SEK and lost in the sub-state title game. LC had four key players back. Junior Madison Brannin recorded 12 points and five rebounds a game for first team all-league. Senior Elsie Sorrell and junior Anna Dean both delivered six points a contest. Junior Karsyn Stewart also returned.
Dean, Brannin and Stewart were returning volleyball starters. In the fall, LC had a five-win improvement to 25-9, won the SEK and advanced to the 4A state tournament.
Longtime coach Kristi Snider won more than 600 matches in volleyball for Labette County and has cleared 400 career basketball victories. Labette County has made two state title games, in ’01 and ’05, with losses to Marysville and Buhler. Overall, the Grizzlies reached state eight times from ’95-18, per Kansas historian Carol Swenson.
Most recently in ’18, LC finished in fourth place at state with Tristan Gegg, the SEK’s all-time leading scorer who cleared 2,000 career points. Gegg has went on to an excellent career at Pittsburg State and cleared 1,000 career points on Feb. 6.
Overall, Labette stands at 13-2 and leads the Independence sub-state that also features Chanute, Independence, Parsons and Coffeyville. LC has an average score of 51.6-34.7.
In 4A entering Tuesday, the only teams with a better scoring defense are Wamego (34.2), Clay Center (28.8) and Andale (32.3). The only squads with a higher winning percentage are top-ranked Bishop Miege (14-1), Nickerson (15-2), Clay Center (16-0) and Louisburg is 13-2.
Labette County opened the season with a 44-31 loss versus 5A Emporia, and then won five straight. The Grizzlies lost, 43-30, to Rock Creek on Jan. 18. Since then, LC has reeled off eight straight victories, per KSHSAA, and seized control of the SEK.
Against Pittsburg, Brannin tallied 14 points, while Dean and Lauren Forbes each scored nine. Versus Fort Scott, Brannin paced with 15 points.
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