By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN
The Class 3A regional scholars bowl tournament for area schools is back at Thomas More Prep-Marian High School after a year's absence.
And Monarch Coach Don Hoffman hopes his team is back to the level of two years ago, when his team won its second of two consecutive state championships.
The Monarchs (49-8 overall this year) will enter Thursday's state-qualifying event in their own school fresh off a runner-up finish Monday at the Norton Invitational.
Norton beat TMP in the finals of that meet, avenging an earlier-season loss to the Monarchs.
Those two will be trying to make the top three and qualify for the 3A state meet the following week at Douglass. Starting time for Thursday's regional is 3:30 p.m.
TMP, which has qualified for state three of the past four years, has finished in the top two of all but one of its six tournaments this year. The only one where it failed to get in the top two was when the Monarchs were missing several of their top participants because of another commitment, and the team still placed third.
Hageman hopes depth can help his team return to top form of a few years ago when the Monarchs won back-to-back state titles in 2010 and 2011.
"I thought Russell did a good job of hosting (regionals) last year," Hageman said. "But we're glad to have it back here."
The Monarchs won the Mid-Continent League title a week ago in their first competition in that tournament by going 7-1, including a victory over Norton, then followed up with their second-place finish Monday. Joining junior Lucas Diehl in making up the regional team for TMP will be five seniors -- Rachel Becker, Jacob Brull, Ryan Hammerschmidt, Kayla Hockett and Justin Raynesford.
Russell, which hosted the 3A regional for area teams a year ago, will host another regional this year, only this time in 4A after moving up a classification this year.
The Broncos, 3A state runners-up last year, will be looking to qualify for their fourth straight state meet. The top three finishers from the 4A regionals will qualify for the state meet Feb. 15 at DeSoto.
Hays High School, which placed fourth at the Norton meet after losing a close match to TMP in the semifinals, will travel east to Shawnee-Mill Valley for its 5A regional. Seniors Nicole Feyerherm and Samantha Rohleder will compete in their final regional meet, joined by junior Sara Rooney, sophomore Trenton Potter and freshman Hannah Norris.
"They felt good about how they did at Norton," HHS coach Cheryl Shepherd-Adams said of her squad. "It's always a very competitive meet, and having that close a match with TMP was encouraging because (TMP) always has a good team ... really experienced."
Because there are just two 5A regionals, the top four from each of those will advance to state the following week at Wichita.
Other area teams will be spread across the region in their particular classes, including two 1A schools that placed in the top five at state a year ago.
Ransom-Western Plains and Grainfield/Wheatland-Grinnell, which finished fourth and fifth, respectively, at the Class 1A Division II state tourney last year, will compete at the Tribune-Greeley County regional Thursday. Natoma will host another 1A-II regional, as will Ashland.
Area schools in Class 1A Division I will compete in either the Quinter or Scandia-Pike Valley regionals, and area 2A schools will be at either Inman or Leoti.