By CONOR NICHOLL
Class 5A: Salina South significantly improves defense, yields undefeated start
Salina South finished 11-10 last winter. The Cougars enjoyed quality wins against Maize, Maize South, Arkansas City and Hays High, an eventual Class 5A Forever Four squad. The 65-51 win against Hays High on Feb. 4, 2020 is the Indians’ second-to-last loss. HHS is currently on a 20-game winning streak.
However, the Cougars struggled down the stretch. Salina South lost seven of its last eight contests, including its final three. It marked the Cougars’ most wins since a 15-8 season in ’15-16. Through 19 games last winter, the Cougars scored .94 points per possession and allowed .95. South had steals on 12.8 percent of possessions.
Since the end of last winter, veteran coach Jason Hooper emphasized the Cougars needed to be good on defense. In Hooper’s eyes, the Cougars enjoyed athleticism “across the board” and plenty of length. This winter, SS returned four players that have started since sophomore year.
Salina South was unranked in the preseason and came into the Class 5A poll at tenth on Dec. 8. Andover was No. 1. South has steadily moved up the rankings and defeated Andover, 55-52, to win the Salina Invitational last Saturday. It marked the Cougars’ first SIT title in 10 years. Andover dropped to 10-2. The Trojans have an experienced senior class, led by Jack Johnson, a Division I Dallas Baptist commit.
“We don’t have any huge like 6-7 or 6-8 kids, but we have a lot of kids in the 6-2 to 6-5 range that are great athletes,” Hooper said. “And we felt like maybe we could crank it up and cause some havoc in the full court, and not just rely completely on half court situations, and our kids have really done a nice job of that.”
Senior Devon Junghans, sophomore Tejon McDaniel and senior Colin Schreiber made the all-tournament team. In the final, Junghans led with 17 points and senior Josh Jordan tallied 12. McDaniel tallied 11 and has posted an impressive year. Schreiber collected 10 rebounds.
On Tuesday, Salina South beat Buhler, 73-49, on the road to move to 9-0. South travels to Newton on Friday. In the new Kansas Basketball Coaches Association rankings that came out before Tuesday’s results, Buhler is third in 4A. Salina South bumped to No. 2 in 5A behind Hays High. Those two squads are in the same sub-state.
Salina South, Hays High and K.C. Sumner Academy (2-0) are the lone undefeated 5A squads, according to KSHSAA statistics. Sumner did not play in December because of coronavirus concerns. Hays High and Salina South have played each other every year since at least ’07 but will not face in the regular season this winter.
South joins Class 2A Hoxie boys and 5A Lansing girls as teams that are enjoying rare undefeated years through the season’s midpoint. Lansing took its first loss Thursday but has vaulted up the 5A girls’ rankings.
After Christmas, Salina South was able to come back and practice Jan. 4-5. Then, the morning of Jan. 6, SS found out one of the players tested positive for coronavirus.
The Cougars continued to meet virtually, though did not play from Dec. 22 to Jan. 20. Salina South missed three games because of COVID-19 quarantine, though is expected to make up the contests. Hooper was pleased with the team’s conditioning and mental sharpness once they returned from quarantine. The Cougars had just a few days to prepare for the Salina Invitational.
“I am happy for these kids that they are getting this opportunity to prove that they are a solid group of kids,” Hooper said.
Entering this week, Junghans led with 14.1 points a game, while Jordan was at 12.5. Schreiber delivered 9.5 points and 2.3 blocks a contest. Last winter, South lost, 63-43, to Andover and 69-54 to Buhler.
“This is a group of kids that has been battle-tested,” Hooper said. “They have been through everything that could possibly come up. It’s their senior year. It’s their last one, and they have high aspirations, and so I have been pleased with what we’ve done so far.”
South has made sizable changes in defense and steal rate. South is scoring .93 points per possession, right in line with last winter. However, the Cougars have massively improved its defense and permitted .74 points per possession. South has a steal on 17.1 percent of possessions. Hooper made a “point of emphasis” for South to generate points from its defense. South has used a man-to-man press.
“It’s not a zone press where you can kind of predict where our traps are going to come from and all that,” Hooper said. “It’s a man-to-man press, and there are some principles to it where our kids, they understand when we want to try to double the ball, and when we want to rotate. And so they have done a nice job with that. And the unpredictability of it is probably a strength. And just obviously the kids being athletic and having a good enough basketball IQ to be able to pull something like that off.”
South graduated Cade Hannert, who paced the Cougars with 1.6 steals in ’19-20. This season, Junghans is up to 2.1 steals per game and Jordan is at 1.9. Senior Kade Barber and Schreiber have 1.6 steals a contest.
Schreiber is at 2.3 blocks per game. Senior A.J. Johnson, one of Kansas’ top defensive backs, has multiple collegiate football offers. He has delivered 6.5 points, a team-high 7.1 rebounds and 1.4 steals. Schreiber, McDaniel and Johnson are all 6-3. Senior Darell Evans is a reserve.
“You’ve got Colin and A.J., who are just great athletes,” Hooper said. “…Play above the rim, run the floor. They are unselfish. Just like take A.J. for example this year, he could really care less how many points he gets. It’s all about guarding and rebounding for him.”
Hooper is in his 23rd year with Salina South, which spans his entire coaching career. He was inducted into the Bethany College Hall of Fame in 2010 after a standout football and golf career. Hooper, who teaches geometry and A.P. Calculus at South, serves as girls’ and boys’ golf coach. This is his eighth year with boys’ basketball after seven years as girls’ coach. Hooper was South’s offensive coordinator for many falls and was on staff on state football titles in ’00 and ’04.
In ’09, his South girls squad went 18-4, and 19-3 two years later. Both South squads last made state in ’13, according to Kansas historian Carol Swenson.
With the current group, Hooper has talked about past successful South squads and “what made them special,” including characteristics they brought to practice and work ethic. Earlier in their careers, Hooper believed the current group could have success later. Hooper hopes this team sets a precedent for future Cougar squads. In the last several years, Hooper has learned and participated with Key5 Coaching, a national coaching program.
“They were playing early and young, and we were kind of taking our lumps,” Hooper said. “…When they finally became men, that was going to pay off, and we would be in a completely different situation – and we are kind of there. So I am happy that we are able to play. I was concerned coming into the season that these kids may get cheated out of that opportunity with COVID being such a big issue. But so far we have gotten some games in.”
Junghans and Jordan play on the perimeter.
“They are good scorers from the 3-point line,” Hooper said. “Both of them are really good getting to the rim and making good decisions about whether to finish or find somebody else.”
South held Andover, known for its offensive efficiency, to 37 percent shooting. That included 5 of 19 from beyond the arc. South limited Andover to .83 points per possession. In the previous two seasons, the Trojans produced 1.01 and 1.10 points per possession, respectively.
In all other games this season, Andover has 1.07 points per possession. Andover has seven seniors and sophomore Eli Shetlar, among the state’s top shooters. Andover had won 31 straight games that Jack Johnson has played. Jordan started out on Jack Johnson. Schreiber and A.J. Johnson both guarded Jack Johnson.
“Did a pretty good job on him,” Hooper said.
Overall, Hooper said South, compared to last year, has done a much better job with securing rebounds and not allowing second-chance points.
“You can’t really get into transition if you don’t secure the board and finish the possession,” Hooper said. “So that’s been huge for us.”
South has highly emphasized and frequently practiced the transition from offense to defense and defense to offense. South has looked to limit easy transition baskets.
“Spacing is huge in that,” Hooper said. “If you are talking about from defense to offense, it’s a lot just getting guys to run with effort. We talk about telling our kids to get dangerous and not worry about necessarily where the ball is to start with, but just get dangerous. Get up the floor, and then let our other people find you. That’s a big thing.”
Class 2A: Hoxie looks to have first undefeated season in Mid-Continent League boys’ history
Jared and Jennifer Dowell currently serve as head and assistant coach for the Hoxie girls’ basketball team. Jennifer Dowell also helped form the foundation for the current Indian boys’ basketball success. The Dowell’s son, Ashton, is a junior guard and Hoxie’s starting quarterback. This fall, Hoxie football finished as Eight-Man, Division I state semifinalists.
During Ashton’s elementary school years, Jennifer put together a Hoxie team that includes many of the current Indian players. The group includes Dowell, seniors Gavin Tremblay and Caden White. Several years later, center Harlan Obioha, then living in Quinter, started to play with Hoxie. Obioha eventually moved to Hoxie.
Last winter, they helped Hoxie to a 21-3 record and Class 2A state tournament appearance. The Indians, though, lost in overtime to Ellis in the Castle Rock Classic final. Hoxie was upset early in the Mid-Continent League tournament to Phillipsburg. At state, the Indians fell, 50-47, to Garden Plain and finished 21-3.
“We were a young team last year, and the ability to play with each other all last year, and then we get to play again this year, that’s always huge for a team,” Dowell said.
This winter, Hoxie will try to do what no Mid-Continent League boys’ team has ever accomplished – post an undefeated season.
“That haunts us,” Dowell said of the GP loss. “And this year, the bar is set high. We want to win that state championship, and we would like to go undefeated, so I would say it’s a mindset.”
“We are going to try and go undefeated, and hopefully win state,” White added. “That’s our goal – win state.”
Last winter, Bishop Seabury was the significant 2A favorite – and probably the biggest boys’ favorite for any ’19-20 classification – before the tournament was cancelled at the final four from coronavirus. This year, Seabury is a non-contender after its two Division I players transferred out of state, and Seahawk coach Jonathan Raney became the assistant coach with the Washburn men.
Hoxie has been ranked No. 1 in 2A since the preseason by the Kansas Basketball Coaches Association. On Saturday, the Indians completed a highly impressive performance with a Mid-Continent League tournament championship against WaKeeney-Trego at Ellis High School.
“We just lift each other up,” White said. “I mean, I have never seen one game where we put each other down.”
Hoxie is the remaining undefeated in 2A boys. Erie (10-1) is the only other 2A squad with fewer than two losses. The 7-foot Obioha averaged more than 20 points and 10 rebounds en route to first team all-state last season. This year, he is at more than 24 points and 12 rebounds per game. Obioha, in just his third season on varsity, cleared 1,000 career points in Saturday’s title. He has Division I offers in both football and basketball.
While Obioha has received plenty of attention, Hoxie’s guards are highly impactful players. Dowell is at more than four assists per game and has delivered great lobs to Obioha.
“Most of the time, they try to front, and so to be able to throw it farther back and get it high is the best thing because…he is able to go get it being as tall as he is, and as athletic as he is,” Dowell said.
Tremblay is a strong passer and shooter. Sophomore Brady Jones is rounding into form after he missed time in football with a shoulder injury. Multiple opposing coaches have noted White’s play.
Hoxie stands at 10-0, including two wins versus Thomas More Prep-Marian and two against WaKeeney-Trego. It’s likely the Indians will face Trego two more times this winter. TMP and Trego are a combined 19-2 when not playing Hoxie. The Indians are scheduled to play Quinter on Friday, and Colby on Saturday. Quinter is 10-2, Colby 6-5.
“Caden White kicked our butt,” Trego coach Sean Dreiling said. “Some of the other guys really kicked our butt. So we have got to do a better job of minimizing Harlan, but also not letting other guys beat us. They have got good players besides Harlan, guys that can step up – and they play so well off of him. They cut off of him.”
Since 1970, six Mid-Continent League boys’ teams have won a state title. Hill City has had coach Keith Riley on the bench for more than 50 years. He won in ’70, ’78 and ’98 with 24-1, 26-1 and 23-3 records, respectively. Stockton finished 22-3 in ’81.
Then, Norton went 22-5 in ’03 for a crown. WaKeeney finished 23-3 and a title in ’06, according to Kansas historian Carol Swenson. Hoxie has never won a state boys’ basketball title, though has been a consistent contender under former coach Aaron Dardis and current coach Jake Moss. Dardis, who is currently Scott City’s principal, led Hoxie to its lone state runner-up in ’14 to Marais des Cygnes Valley in Class 1A, Division I.
Hoxie has most recently made state in ’12, ’13, ’14, ’17 and last winter. Hoxie reached the final four in ’12, ’14 and ’17. This season, Moss’ brother, Jaxsen, joined Hoxie’s staff for the first time. Jaxsen was instrumental in turning around Hoxie and a standout player on the ’12 team that took third. Moss finished with 1,049 career points. He graduated from Kansas State and has helped with the family farm. Jake is a financial advisor. Jake took over as head coach in ’14 after four years on staff. He is 111-36 as head coach.
“My first year I actually coached him,” Jake said. “We had an opening this year, and I just thought, ‘Hey, what a great time to bring him in.’ And he’s been a great asset for our team, and it’s nothing better doing it with your brother. So it’s fun, and the guys really respect him. He does a great job for us, too.”
Class 5A: With longtime chemistry, Lansing girls start 8-0 before Thursday loss
Julie Slater retired from Lansing volleyball after the 2019 season. Slater cleared 1,000 career victories, just the second coach in state history to reach the milestone. Last fall, Lindsay Zych took over as head coach. The Lions finished Class 5A state runner-up to St. Thomas Aquinas.
Junior setter Caitlin Bishop and junior libero Kamryn Farris collected second team all-state by the Kansas Volleyball Coaches Association. Bishop paced Kansas with 987 assists.
The success has carried over to basketball, too. Lansing has typically been solid in girls’ basketball. In the previous six years, Lansing won between 10 and 15 games each winter. Last season, Lansing finished 15-7 and in a three-way tie with Basehor-Linwood and De Soto for the United Kansas Conference title.
Often, top K.C. area volleyball players don’t play basketball. Lansing has had more volleyball players come out for basketball the last several seasons.
It has helped the Lions open 8-0 with coach K.C. Simmons. This week, Lansing moved to third in Class 5A. On Dec. 22, Lansing was unranked, and then came in at fifth on Jan. 19.
On Thursday, Lansing took its first loss with a 40-35 defeat to Nemaha Central, ranked No. 3 in 3A, in the Wellsville tournament. NC was undefeated in ’19-20 and again this winter.
Lansing has typically started Bishop, Farris, Kenzi Moburg, Skylar Weaver and Mackenzie Krause. Other than Krause, the other four have played together for coach Jon Bishop since they were eight years old.
“They have good chemistry together,” Simmons said.
Bishop had formerly served as University of St. Mary men’s coach and was the 2013 KCAC Coach of the Year. He had also been a college coach at several other places, including as an assistant with Missouri Western men.
Krause is a senior, Bishop, Farris, Moburg are juniors, and Weaver is a sophomore. Bishop and Farris are returning all-league basketball players. Farris is 5-11, and Krause 5-10.
Lansing is known for its defense, though Farris is the standout. Farris generally defends the other team’s best player since she can guard all five positions on the floor. Last year, Farris paced Lansing with 11.1 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game. On Tuesday, Lansing defeated Baldwin, 39-38. She is averaging 18 points and eight rebounds a game. Entering the week, 6-foot-1 junior Mackenzie Manthe, a newcomer, has delivered 11.9 points and 8.7 rebounds.
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