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Sports in Kansas 2020 Girls Basketball Coach of the Year

Chris Strathman of McPherson is 5A Coach of the Year. (photo: Kendall Shaw)
By: Conor Nicholl for Sports in Kansas w/ Chet Kuplen
Mar 22, 2020

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Congratulations to the 2020 Sports in Kansas Coach of the Year Honorees. Coverage is powered by American Implement, Nex-Tech Wireless, Seatbelts Are For Everyone (SAFE), Labette Community College, & Wheat State Elite. Voting for Coach of the Year is done by a statewide media vote of over 25 people in the media from every part of the state. Conor Nicholl and Chet Kuplen of Sports in Kansas finalize the selections after counting votes. 

Sports in Kansas Girls Basketball Coaches of the Year

6A: Carter Kruger, Liberal

Coach Carter Kruger continued his excellent success with the Liberal girls’ program. Liberal posted back-to-back perfect regular seasons and finished 23-0 this winter. The Redskins held off Olathe South, 41-33, in the first round of the state tournament. South featured Missouri State signee Dani Winslow. Kruger was 52-41 as the Barton CC women’s coach, and is 96-18 with Liberal. In the last four years, the Redskins are 85-8 with four straight league crowns, including a 68-3 record in the last three.

Kruger collected Western Athletic Conference coach of the year honors and had three players on the first team. Point guard Katie Horyna was league player of the year, and posts Machia Mullens and Aubrey Warden were first team picks.

Liberal had very similar overall efficiency numbers the last two years. In ’18-19, the Redskins tallied 1.02 points per possession and allowed .586 points per possession. This year, Liberal was at .979 points per possession and .593 points allowed per possession. The offensive rebounding rate was 35 percent last year, 36 percent this year. The turnover rate was 23.3 percent of possessions last winter, 23.8 this season.

Warden became one of the state’s most improved juniors and delivered eight points and 5.7 rebounds a game. Division II Newman offered a scholarship earlier this month. Sophomore Ashley Carrillo, after she missed all of her freshman year with injury, finished with 5.3 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.2 assists.

Liberal finished as the No. 5 team in Kansas for all classes, according to MaxPreps with a strength of schedule rating of 8.5. The Redskins had one of the season’s best non-conference wins with a 55-37 road victory at Olathe West on Dec. 13. OW won the Sunflower League, a conference that also included Olathe South.

Liberal to OW was 772 round trip miles, a very long distance for any Kansas school (in perspective, Bishop Miege’s road trips to top competition in St. Louis and Fort Smith, Ark. Are both at least 194 miles shorter). Hugoton, Dodge City, Salina Central and Olathe West went a combined 0-6 against Liberal – and 62-17 (78 percent) against everyone else.

Special consideration also went to Topeka’s Hannah Alexander. Topeka, with virtually all of its production from non-seniors, also finished 23-0 after a state runner-up finish last year. Topeka had a MaxPreps SOS rating of 4.5. Alexander had two of the state’s best players in freshman Kiki Smith and sophomore Nijaree Canady.

5A: Chris Strathman, McPherson

McPherson and St. Thomas Aquinas were considered the top-two teams in 5A girls all season. They were set to meet in 5A semifinals before the tournament was cancelled. McPherson finished 22-1, and Aquinas, the four-time defending state champion, was 19-4.

McPherson coach Chris Strathman earns the nod for 5A Coach of the Year based on the Bullpups’ complete body of work. Strathman dealt with three key players missing some or nearly all of the season with injury: Lakyn Schieferecke, Emma Ruddle, and Andrea Sweat. All three players had signed to play NCAA Division II basketball for a Kansas MIAA school.

Schieferecke was returning from a knee injury. Ruddle missed the first nine games with compartment syndrome and Sweat played just two contests before she was lost for the season with a knee injury. As well, Emma Malm missed a month with injury. Still, McPherson won at Andover Central, 54-50 in overtime on Dec. 10, and at Derby, 49-40, on Dec. 13. As well, McPherson won at K.C. Piper, 44-39, on Jan. 4. Schieferecke eventually played in 17 games, Ruddle 13 and Malm 12.

When SIK spoke with Strathman in mid-January, he was most pleased with his team’s ability to overcome “so much adversity.” Additionally, McPherson won at league rival Towanda-Circle, 45-34, on Jan. 24, and beat Circle, 46-35, on Feb. 21. Those four teams went 0-5 against McPherson – and 82-4 against everyone else. Andover Central, Piper and Derby all advanced to the final four, and Circle was the last unbeaten in 4A.

The team’s only loss was a 44-37 defeat to 6A Shawnee Mission Northwest on Feb. 1 in the McPherson tournament finals. Grace Pyle, Kassidy Beam and Cassie Cooks all led the team. Pyle emerged to win 5A Player of the Year, and Beam averaged more than 14 points per game and shot above 40 percent on treys. Entering the year, the trio had just 624 career points, including 64 from Beam. They collectively tallied more than 900 points this season. Strathman, the all-time winningest coach in McPherson history, is 302-56 in 15 seasons.

The senior class posted a career record of 87-9, 45-5 at the Roundhouse and reached the final four every season. Steve Sell, the legendary McPherson sports writer who has covered McPherson County for decades, wrote regarding Strathman that “considering all the adversity his team faced this year it may have been his best coaching job.”

McPherson HS Athletic Department would like to congratulate the girls basketball team on an outstanding 2019-2020 season. We are proud of you! Congrats to Coach Strathman on the 5A SIK COY! 

4A: Jon McLean, Nickerson

Nickerson finished 21-2 and joined Bishop Miege and K.C. Piper with the top record in Class 4A girls. The Panthers ended the season on a 10-game winning streak, including a 61-36 victory versus Buhler in the first round of the state tournament. Nickerson lost only to Central Kansas League rival Haven twice, with both games on the road.

Nickerson then defeated Haven, 44-37, at home on Feb. 14. Nickerson won the highly competitive CKL with an undefeated league record, including a 40-29 win at Halstead on Feb. 7. Nickerson defeated Cheney, 55-53, on Jan. 21. Both Halstead and Cheney were 3A final four teams. Nickerson allowed just 32.9 points per contest, second in 4A to Wamego (31.3), according to MaxPreps’ classification records. It marked the first CKL title for the senior classes.

While the CKL featured established highly recruited players like Haven’s Faith Paramore (Oral Roberts), Hesston’s Elise Kaiser (Newman) and Halstead’s Karenna Gerber (D1/D2 interest), Nickerson had just one player on the first team all-league squad with freshman Ava Jones. Freshman Josie McLean and senior Morgan Stout were second team, and senior Madison Ontjes earned honorable mention. Stout returned after she missed the majority of last year with a torn ACL.

Madison Ontjes also came back following an offseason injury. The 6-2 Jones averaged 13.2 points, eight rebounds and shot 63 percent from the field. McLean delivered 9.4 points, two rebounds, 2.7 assists and 2.3 steals a game. She shot 35 percent from 3-point range.

Ontjes had 8.3 points and 5.2 assists (third-best in Kansas), along with 38 percent from beyond the arc. The 6-2 Stout delivered 13.5 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.1 blocks a game. Sophomore Kieryn Ontjes and senior Aspen Apfel were also key players.

The senior class has helped Nickerson turn around a program that had 51 straight losses from ’13-15. Nickerson has made three straight state tournaments, including back-to-back final fours.

Nickerson High School would like to congratulate Coach McLean on the 4A Coach of the Year from Sports in Kansas. We are very proud of you and the Panther girls basketball team! Go Panthers! 

3A: Hadden Hiltgen, Nemaha Central/Halstead’s Derek Schutte

Only fitting that we had a tie in the media voting in this loaded class that didn't get to finish the 2020 season to determine champions. In the state’s deepest classification, Nemaha Central was the only perfect team with a 24-0 mark. NC defeated Osage City, 45-35, in the first round of state before the tournament was cancelled. Halstead (21-3) emerged from the highly challenging Central Kansas League, reached state for the first time in program history, and then beat Scott City, 45-41, in double overtime in the state quarterfinals.

SC was picked to win 3A by at least one media entity. Halstead had a plus-four win improvement. Six-foot Karenna Gerber led Halstead with 19.7 points per game, while Alleigh Kramer had 18.5 points, five assists and five steals a contest. Gerber, a junior, has received high level Division I/II interest, and Kramer has signed with Benedictine. Halstead had no seniors and will again return all five starters for next year.

Halstead finished with nine straight wins and permitted just 28.1 points a contest. That included a 45-43 win at Cheney on Feb. 1, another 3A final four qualifier. Nemaha Central beat Big 7 rival Sabetha three times, including in sub-state.

Sabetha was 19-1 when not planning NC. The Thunder had five seniors, including Kramer, and qualified for state for four straight years. Hiltgen has coached NC since ’10-11, while Schutte has been at Halstead since ’13-14. Before Halstead, Schutte coached at Jetmore-Hodgeman County.

Congratulations to the players and Coach Derek Schutte on the girls basketball program first trip to the state tournament and an amazing experience for the school and community winning our first round game in overtime. As good of coach as he is, he is an even better role model for our students and players. The Halstead Dragonbackers are proud to support Halsead HS sports and sports coverage with Sports in Kansas. 

2A: Kody Kasselman, Garden Plain/Spearville’s Andrew Kempke

In a very close call for 2A girls’ coach of the year, Garden Plain’s Kody Kasselman and Spearville’s Andrew Kempke share the award. Spearville (24-0), Valley Heights (22-2), WaKeeney-Trego (23-1) and Garden Plain (19-5) were the remaining final four teams. Spearville, WaKeeney and Valley Heights all returned the bulk of its players from last season. The Lancers brought back more than 80 percent of its scoring, WaKeeney returned 95 of its scoring, and VH brought back six players who started at some point last winter.

Garden Plain, which won 3A two years ago and 2A last winter, lost 64 percent of its scoring – and its top-three scorers. GP was the only one of the final four squads that did not have a career 1,000-point scorer. VH, WaKeeney and Garden Plain are had similar MaxPreps strength of schedule ratings (from 5.7 to 6.8), while Spearville was at 2.2.

However, the Owls again retooled as Kasselman picked up his third straight COY honor. Garden Plain was ranked No. 10 in the final poll, and beat No. 5 West Elk in the sub-state championship game, and No. 2 Sterling in the state quarterfinals.

Garden Plain significantly raised its steal rate from 13.7 percent of possessions last year to 19.1 percent of possessions this winter. In ’18-19, Kennedy Horacek and Brooke Hammond, more known for state title performances in volleyball and track, respectively, combined for 15 steals. They tallied 100 steals this winter.

GP maintained the same turnover rate (21 percent of possessions) as last year, a fine mark. The Owls continued to play a very moderate pace with 55 possessions a contest. Compared to ’18-19, GP did offensive rebound better, and helped by the steals, significantly lowered its defensive efficiency from .733 points allowed per possession to .658 this winter.

Horacek led the team with 10.3 points per game, and junior Madysen Zoglman was second at 9.9 points per game. Junior Alli Puetz was third at 9.6. Horacek tallied 218 points in her first three years – and had 237 this winter. Zoglman missed a little more than a month in midseason; GP was 13-2 in games she played.

Against WE, Garden Plain had three players between 10 and 15 points and seven more turnovers than the Patriots. Versus Sterling, GP held the Black Bears to 29 percent shooting. Garden Plain has historically done well on 3FG defense. West Elk and Sterling were a combined 6 of 39 from beyond the arc.

Spearville, which moved up from 1A, opened the season tenth in the rankings. The Lancers played a much quicker tempo than most teams with 62.6 possessions per game. Coach Andrew Kempke led Spearville to its first midseason league tournament title since 2012. The Lancers had a huge change defensively from .625 points allowed per possession in ’18-19 to .523 this year. Spearville, featuring 2A Player of the Year Ehlaina Hartman, and standouts Alissa Heskamp and Brianna Ede, only had three games within single figures, none after Jan. 11.

The three close games came against Bucklin, South Gray and Coldwater-South Central. In the second half of the year, Spearville combined to face those three squads four times – and won by an average margin of 20 points. In the sub-state final, Spearville won at Elkhart, 77-52, and then the Lancers beat Pittsburg Colgan, 55-41, in the first round at state. Elkhart had lost just once to a Kansas team before playoffs.

Special consideration was also given to WaKeeney-Trego’s Donnie Shubert. Last year, Trego finished fourth, its best showing in 42 years, and set the school record for scoring defense. This season, the Golden Eagles had a bevy of firsts and school marks. Known for its pack-line defense, the Golden Eagles again set the school record for scoring defense at just 30 points a game. Trego was virtually even with Spearville at .529 points allowed a possession. Trego also had the most wins ever in the regular season and won the Mid-Continent League tournament for the first time.

Spearville High School would like to congratulate the girls basketball team on an incredible undefeated season. We are proud of you! Congrats to Coach Kempke on 2A Coach of the Year! 

Garden Plain High School would like to congratulate the Owls on their 2019-2020 season and to Kody Kasselman on the 2A Coach of the Year. 

ALL-CLASSES & 1A: Pat Stiles, Central Plains

Last season, Central Plains went 28-0 and set state records for fewest points allowed per game (24.5) and average margin of victory (plus-49.2). CP returned five of its top-six players: seniors Emily Ryan, Addison Crites, Delaney Rugan and Rachel Lamatsch, along with sophomore Kassidy Nixon. CP went 26-0 and shattered its own state marks. The Oilers allowed just 21.2 points per game and outscored teams by 57.1 points per game (1957-530). CP also tied 1983 Leavenworth with the best team field goal percentage at 58.7 percent.

Central Plains ran its all-time winning streak to 136 games. As well, CP set the record for most perfect seasons in state annals with six. The Oilers were 26-0 before the state tournament was cancelled. CP set the record for the fewest fouls (276) in state annals. All records confirmed by the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame. Central Plains has one loss since the start of the ’13-14 season.

In the summer, Central Plains significantly spent time on the half court defense, a look that helped in key early season wins versus Phillipsburg and Haven. CP finished second in MaxPreps all-class rankings behind 4A Bishop Miege. The Oilers won every game by at least 20 points. Central Plains went 5-0 against Phillipsburg, Haven, Sterling and Otis-Bison. All four of those teams won at least 20 games.

Teams were acutely aware of Central Plains’ dominance. Thunder Ridge coach Darren Grauerholz told his team the Longhorns had to go undefeated, so TR would assure to avoid Central Plains in sub-state. The Longhorns did. In midseason, South Gray coach Paul Clancy said the Oilers were “on a different planet.”

In addition to the Xs and Os, Stiles, known as “Pat” by his players, runs the CP weight room for the girls and has universal respect. Several players, including Crites, at sizable weight room gain and improved athleticism in their careers. Longtime assistant Jim Ryan, Emily’s dad, again served on the bench with Stiles. Emily will play college basketball at Iowa State, and Crites, the 1A Volleyball Player of the Year, will play volleyball at Barton CC.

First Kansas Bank in Claflin would like to congratulate the Central Plains Oilers on an another undefeated season. Congrats to Pat Stiles on 1A and All-Classes Coach of the Year! 

Central Plains High School would like to congratulate the Oilers on all their success. Congrats to Coach Stiles on the 2020 Sports in Kansas All-Classes & 1A Coach of the Year! Congrats to Emily Ryan on being named the All-Classes POY! Also congrats to all of the Oilers honored this postseason! We couldn't be more proud of you! 

Congrats to all Finalists

Sports in Kansas 6A Girls Coach of Year Finalists

Tyler Stewart, SM Northwest

Hannah Alexander, Topeka

Carter Krueger, Liberal

Jodie Karsak, Derby

Brian Martin, Olathe East

Sports in Kansas 5A Girls Coach of the Year Finalists

Chris Strathman, McPherson

Matt Tinsley, Topeka Seaman

Rick Hetzel, Aquinas

Stana Jefferson, Andover Central

Jason Tatkenhorst, Basehor Linwood

Sports in Kansas 4A Girls Coach of the Year Finalists

Terry English, Bishop Miege

John McLean, Nickerson

Drew Gruver, Chapman

Shane Stout, KC Piper

Jeff Edwards, Clay Center

Sports in Kansas 3A Girls Coach of the Year Finalists

Haden Hiltgen, Nemaha Central

Scott Fields, Frontenac

Derek Schutte, Halstead

Rod Scheer, Cheney

Rachel Miller, Phillipsburg

John Malloy, Jefferson West

Sarah McCormick, Scott City

Sports in Kansas 2A Girls Coach of the Year Finalists

Donnie Schubert, Trego Community

Kody Kasselman, Garden Plain

Andrew Kempke, Spearville

T.J. Trout, Bennington

Abby Farabi, Colgan

Jordan Broxterman, Valley Heights

Sports in Kansas 1A Girls Coach of the Year Finalists

Bobby Trapp, Otis-Bison

Pat Stiles, Central Plains

Jesse Nelson, Olpe

Chris Beikmann, Hanover

Eric Meyers, Cunningham

Roger Holthaus, Centralia

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