Russell riding five-game win streak to state
Published on -3/5/2013, 10:11 AM
By CONOR NICHOLL
Russell High School girls' basketball coach Frank Schulte has issued several messages to his team in the last few weeks -- and years. Schulte was the junior high coach when the current senior class was in eighth grade.
That year, the eighth-grade girls' basketball team was 11-0, but suffered a loss in the league championship game by four points to Belleville-Republic County.
"I told them in the locker room after the game that 'Yes, this game really, really hurts,' " Schulte said. " 'I know that you are really, really hurting, but listen to me right now when I say this, you guys have a lot bigger things to look forward to when you get to high school.' "
At that time, Schulte didn't know he was going to be the coach of the varsity team. However, Schulte ended up taking over the high school program before the next season.
"I knew then that this was a special group of kids," Schulte said.
Four years later, Schulte, helped by senior Madison Beagley and his daughter, junior Janna Schulte, has engineered a big turnaround. The Broncos, one of Kansas' weaker teams before Schulte became coach, have improved every year. This season, Russell went 18-5 and won the Norton sub-state.
The No. 6 seed Broncos will play No. 3 seed Caney Valley (20-1) on Wednesday at 4:45 p.m. at the Hutchinson Sports Arena.
It marks the second time in school history Russell girls' basketball has made state; the first came in 1974.
The program was started in the early '70s. Russell has enjoyed success with a slower-paced, defensive-minded style that has allowed 39.7 points per contest.
"We match up very well with them," Schulte said. "I think that our defense is going to be the key to the game, and if we can hold them down defensively, which I believe that we can, we should come out victorious."
The Class 3A girls' sub-states had several upsets, most prominently Cimarron, ranked No. 2 in the state, which saw its undefeated season end. Russell was the top seed in Norton, but turned its season around late. On Feb. 8, Russell lost at Beloit, a team it had beaten earlier in the season, 46-41.
Then, the Broncos won five straight to close out the year, the last three in sub-state. Beagley averages 16 points per contest, while Schulte averages 10 points and seven rebounds. Schulte delivered two double-doubles in sub-state. Coach Schulte said Beagley has verbally committed to Iowa Western Community College.
"I said that sub-state is two games away," Schulte said.
"I said, 'We need to start right now preparing for the sub-state tournament.' We have two games left in the regular season, and we need to start focusing on winning the rest of the games of the year and we need to start now, because most teams that go into sub-state with a loss or not a little winning streak, normally don't make it out of sub-state."
In the sub-state championship, Russell played Ellsworth for the fifth time this year. The Broncos went 4-1, including a loss on Jan. 22. However, Russell collected a 55-37 sub-state victory, the biggest margin of victory between the two teams this year.
"This is what I told them," Schulte said regarding playing Ellsworth five times.
"I told them, 'I have played a lot of ping-pong in my life, and I am a pretty good ping-pong player, and I said whenever anybody ever beat me one time in ping pong, they never beat me again. I said, 'Do you understand that?' They all shook their heads that they did. But that was the analogythat I used. But we obviously knew a lot about Ellsworth and I knew what we had to stop, and we did it defensively."
Six of the eight teams in the Class 3A bracket were ranked in the final coaches' poll. Caney Valley checked in at No. 9. Russell and eighth-seeded Sabetha were not ranked. The Broncos have not been ranked all season - or anytime during the program's climb, a fact Schulte is well aware of.
"I love the fact that we were not ranked all year," Schulte said.
"...I do know this, we are a very, very good basketball team when we put four quarters together. So didn't bother me one bit that we weren't ranked, not one bit."