By CONOR NICHOLL
HAYS – On Dec. 3, Hays High girls’ basketball opened the Len Melvin era with a 47-26 home loss to Class 3A Hugoton. The Eagles feature four players who are highly recruited, including sophomore guard Mikyn Hamlin. She already has an offer from Division I Abilene Christian. HHS sophomore Carly Lang guarded Hamlin throughout the contest.
Afterward, Melvin lauded Lang’s defense and called her play “like a champion.” Melvin has looked to change Hays High’s culture, a team that has had four head coaches in the last four years. Melvin, a Rule 10 coach who has experience at multiple levels of coaching with different sports, wants to establish a defensive-first mentality. Hays trailed 23-17 midway through the third quarter before Hugoton pulled away.
“We want to be a team that whether you beat us or not, you don’t like playing us, and that’s going to come defensively,” Melvin said after the Hugoton game.
Ten weeks later, Lang has continued her hard-nosed play, no matter the circumstances. The 5-foot-5 sophomore guard has already played in 37 career games with 30 career starts, per HHS broadcaster Dustin Armbruster. Lang has averaged more than six points and three rebounds a contest. She paces HHS in free throw attempts and free throw percentage.
Lang, the primary ball handler, has helped Hays High to a 6-11 start and post strong statistical defensive numbers. Overall, HHS has permitted 43 points per game. However, when strength of schedule is factored, the numbers look markedly better. Hays High’s opponents have averaged 50.2 points per game when not playing the Indians.
That’s a difference of 7.2 points a contest. Hays High has held 14 of 17 opponents under its season scoring average, including the last four, per SIK research.
After Tuesday’s results, Hays High’s opponents had a collective 176-95 record (64.9 percent).
Lansing is a 12-3 squad that is currently ranked sixth in 5A behind a highly experienced group which includes its highly decorated duo of Caitlin Bishop and Kamyrn Farris.
Their opponents have a combined mark of 103-129 (44 percent), per KSHSAA. Lansing’s teams have scored 43.4 points a game when not playing the Lions. Lansing has held opponents to 38.5 points a contest.
That’s a difference of 4.9 points per game.
Hays High has matched last year’s six-win mark despite a bevy of hurdles, including a highly challenging schedule, COVID-19 issues and a midseason injury to 5-foot-10 junior Aleyia Ruder. She is out for the year. Ruder has earned several accolades, including SIK honorable all-state basketball last winter.
Hays High has received solid play from its lone seniors Re Green, Maia Lummus and Ginny Ke, along with a nice year from junior Jersey Johnson and sophomore Morgan Engel. Assistants Brandon Maska and Mark Watts are experienced veterans. Watts was the HHS boys assistant for 30-plus years and the Indians’ longtime golf coach.
“She’s a tough kid, man, and she competes her tail off,” Melvin said. “I mean, if you find a three to five second spurt in a game where Carly is not playing hard, I want to see it, because I won’t believe you.”
Lang played in 45 volleyball sets as a freshman. This fall, Lang finished second for the 13-24 Indians with 157 kills and 233 digs in 82 sets. Lang earned all-tournament team honors at the season-opening Maroon and Gold tournament held at Hays High. It’s highly rare for a sophomore, especially at the 5/6A level, to already see the playing time that Lang has in two sports.
Lang, like all spring sports, had her freshman track season wiped out from coronavirus. In the eighth-grade Western Athletic Conference meet in 2019, Lang was second in the 200-meter dash and won the 100 hurdles, the 200 hurdles and the 400-meter run. She captured the 200 hurdles by nearly five seconds.
“I always try just go out there and give my best effort, whatever it is,” Lang said.
Like Hamlin, Lang has continually guarded elite players. Lang often face-guarded Salina Central junior Aubrie Kierscht, a Division I Navy commit, in a 64-43 loss on Jan. 29. Kierscht recorded 28 points, though many baskets came on fast-break run-outs, which Melvin called not Lang’s fault. In the half court, Lang helped hold Kierscht to 2 of 5 from 3-point range, tied for her fourth-fewest treys in a game this year.
“She played her butt off again today, and it’s just a tough chore,” Melvin said. “I mean, she is guarding a Division I basketball player running all over the place.”
After Tuesday, Hugoton stood at 15-0 and ranked No. 2 in Class 3A. On Wednesday, Hugoton lost, 58-53, to Liberal. The 47 points against Hays High still represents the Eagles’ lowest point total this year.
Melvin has mentioned that the Indians have played a ranked opponent nearly every week of the season. MaxPreps’ metrics has Hays High with the state’s hardest strength of schedule among Kansas’ top-150 teams for all classes.
The slate included Dodge City (14-1 after Tuesday), two games versus Liberal (13-3), and one contest versus crosstown rival Thomas More Prep-Marian (14-3), Goodland (15-2), Salina Central (12-4) and Osborne (11-4).
As well, HHS has played non-KSHSAA Life Prep twice, which is 13-4 and has wins against Topeka Seaman and Cunningham, ranked No. 3 in Class 1A, Division II. Life Prep is the only team to beat Cunningham in the regular season in the last two years. Currently, Dodge City is fifth in 6A, SC is sixth in 5A and Goodland is fifth in 3A.
In a 52-26 loss to Dodge City on Feb. 5, Hays High had just seven varsity players.
“I was just like keep playing hard,” Lang said. “I know you guys are tired just because we were down girls.”
Around six hours before game time, multiple Indians went into COVID-19 quarantine. At the end of the third quarter, Lang drove in and took a nasty fall.
“She’s a tough matchup,” Dodge City coach Kelley Snodgrass said of Lang. “Obviously, she can really take it to the goal, and finds her teammates, and defensively, she does – she has to guard their best all the time. It’s a young group, but they are playing hard, and coach is doing a great job with them.”
Lang started limping. Hays High was down by 24.
“Got a really nasty dead leg and I just was like trying to keep going, but my leg was just not working right,” Lang said.
Lang, though, wanted back in the contest. She quickly returned and took HHS’ first shot of the fourth quarter. In the fourth, Lang delivered a behind-the-back dribble, tallied a pair of free throws and grabbed a rebound.
On Tuesday, Hays High won at Abilene, 38-22, a three-win team. Hays High held the three-win Cowgirls just four points off its season low. After three quarters, HHS had a 25-13 lead. Lang kept her high energy. She opened the fourth with a drive inside and a kick to Engel on the sideline for a trey. Then, she twice helped on a trap that forced a 10-second call and turnover.
Lang finished the quarter with three points, two assists and two steals. She set up free throws with a nice pass that led to a foul. Twice, she also raced to the out-of-bounds line to try and save a ball. Ball-handling, Lang showed a nice cross over.
“It’s exhausting watching her, because she plays so hard,” Melvin said.
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