By CONOR NICHOLL
In 2019-20, Jetmore-Hodgeman County athletic director Trent Bright elected to take over the Longhorn girls’ basketball program. Bright, at HC since 2009, had not coached in three years. A Macksville graduate, he had previously served a stint as Hodgeman County’s boys’ coach and recorded a 74-80 mark.
HC girls had encountered some up-and-down years, including just four wins in ‘13-’14. The Longhorns had made the Southern Plains Iroquois Association midseason tournament semifinals in ’17 and went 11-11. In ’18-19, HC finished 10-12.
Bright spoke with many girls’ basketball coaches and noticed that teamwork was a prevailing issue. He fostered team bonding and has developed the motto WE/ME. Bright has put the slogan on team newsletters, materials and shirts.
Bright has a seven-page team handbook on the school website that includes the role of the coach, role of the player, and five concepts that parents should follow – cheer everyone, model appropriate behavior, following the 24-hour rule after games, know your role and become a good listener/great encourager. Bright addresses good behavior on and off the court, including being on time and proper social media posts.
“They haven’t really always had that winning attitude,” Bright said.
Last year, HC received 87 percent of its points from non-seniors and had just one senior on the roster. The Longhorns displayed a highly balanced offense in a two-win improvement and 12-10 season. No HC player averaged double figures, extremely rare for any team that finishes with a winning record. Twenty SPIAA girls received all-league recognition at some level, and Colette Pelton was the Longhorns’ lone representative as an honorable mention pick.
“We are trying to start something with these girls,” Bright said.
This year, the turnaround has continued, especially since play resumed in January. Hodgeman County went 3-3 before Christmas. Then, the Longhorns won seven straight, including a pair of upsets at the league tournament in late January against higher seeded Montezuma-South Gray and Spearville.
Hodgeman County was seeded fifth, South Gray fourth and Spearville first.
HC had lost 15 in a row to Spearville. The last win versus the Lancers was a 55-49 defeat on Jan. 16, 2009. Before this year, the Longhorns had lost two straight and eight of 10 to South Gray.
“It’s always fun,” Bright said. “We always talk about how we have got the 15 in the locker room. We always believe. But it is not always that everybody else believes it, but we always do in the locker room.”
On Jan. 30, Hodgeman County lost, 44-36, to Bucklin in the SPIAA tournament championship at United Wireless Arena in Dodge City. HC currently stands at 13-4 after Tuesday’s win versus Ashland. It marked the Longhorns’ first trip to the SPIAA tournament title in at least 15 years. This season could yield one of the best showings in school annals. The Longhorns have three seniors this winter.
“They ran a gauntlet,” Bucklin coach Craig Bowman said. “They beat all the top seeds, and got to us, and it was a pleasure playing them. Trent does a great job with those girls. It was a great win for us.”
Jetmore has two all-time state appearances in ’01 and ’05, while Hanston girls never made the state tournament, per Kansas historian Carol Swenson. HC has never reached state since the schools consolidated. Jetmore finished as state runner-up in ’01.
Most recently, former coach Derek Schutte led Hodgeman County to a 14-11 season in ’09-10, per MaxPreps. That still stands as the most wins for the program in the last decade. Schutte is currently the highly successful girls’ coach at Halstead, and last winter took the Dragons to the 3A Forever Four in its first all-time state trip. Schutte coached in Jetmore from ’06-12.
Hodgeman County is in the Ingalls sub-state and leads a close pack that has HC, Victoria, Quinter and Ingalls all at 10-5 or better.
This winter, Hodgeman County has again posted a balanced slate. No player averages double figures. Sophomore Malynn Beil is at 9.9 points per game. Pelton, a senior, delivers 8.7 points a contest. Junior Grace Shiew has 7.4 points a game. Junior Kaylee James is also at 7.4 points per game. Seniors Kiley Bryant and Jaiden Borger, along with sophomore Jessie Ruff, have been key players.
Shiew, James, Pelton and Bryant have all started at least three seasons.
Shiew and James lead in rebounding at 6.7 and 6.1 per contest among Longhorns that have appeared in more than one varsity contest. Pelton paces with 4.3 assists a game. Three players, James, Beil and Pelton, all deliver between 2.3 and 2.8 steals a contest. The 5-foot-5 Beil delivered 3.9 points in 14.3 minutes a game last winter and is up to 26.9 minutes a contest this season.
HC has improved in several key areas from last winter and has continued to play strong defense. Last season, the Longhorns finished 16 of 79 (20 percent) from beyond the arc in the first 19 games. This year, HC is 27 of 98 (28 percent) on treys.
HC has upped from 56.3 possessions last year to 60.2 this winter. The Longhorns have lowered its turnover rate from 30.1 percent of possessions to 25.9. HC has slightly made an offensive jump from .72 points a possession to .74 this year.
The Longhorns allowed .62 points a possession last year and .56 this season. Through its first 13 games, Spearville, ranked No. 5 in 2A, has allowed .61 points a possession.
The defense has paid off in several of the quality wins. The winning streak started on Jan. 8 with a 37-29 win against Coldwater-South Central and legendary coach Tim Rietzke. He captured career win No. 800 on Tuesday. SC is 12-5 and it marked the T-Wolves’ second-lowest point total this year.
Hodgeman County ended a 14-game losing streak against South Central that dated back to Feb. 6, 2009.
In the two wins against South Gray on Jan. 26 and Feb. 2, Hodgeman County held the Rebels to 30 and 16 percent field goal shooting. HC limited the Rebels to 3 of 20 from beyond the arc.
In the 48-43 win against Spearville, Hodgeman County limited the Lancers to 29 percent shooting. The Lancers are 37-2 since the start of last winter. It’s been Spearville’s second-lowest field goal percentage this year and easily its lowest 2-point field goal percentage (21 percent).
“We beat some tough teams along the way,” Bright said. “South Gray is a good team. We were able to get by them, Spearville.”
Versus Bucklin, Hodgeman County led 31-28 entering the fourth quarter.
“We were struggling so much offensively,” Bowman said.
Hodgeman County ran out of energy down the stretch, and Bucklin earned the win.
“Our girls battled,” Bright said. “We missed some easy shots.”
However, the Longhorns have since won three straight games by a combined 12 points. Overall, HC is 5-2 in games by eight points or fewer. Last year, the Longhorns were 4-5 in games within eight points.
“We have got a lot to look forward to,” Bright said.
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