By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN
It probably seems like a long two days from Wednesday's first round of the state basketball tournament to Friday's semifinals.
But it's not nearly as long of a wait as a year.
That's how long Davis Dubbert from St. John's High School in Beloit had to endure before returning to Hays for state competition.
Dubbert was an eighth-grader a year ago when he represented Mitchell County in the Sunflower Spelling Bee the first weekend of March at Fort Hays State University.
He was hoping to return a few days later to watch his older brother and his teammates compete in the Class 1A Division II state basketball tourney at Gross Memorial Coliseum.
But the Blujays of St. John's in Beloit and Tipton -- the two Catholic schools 30 miles apart participate in a cooperative program for sports -- lost their 2013 sub-state game on a last-second shot and had to watch the state tournament from the stands.
This year, residents from both Beloit and Tipton came to Hays in full force. Not only did the Blujays win their first-round game in dominating fashion -- a 25-point victory over Almena-Northern Valley on Wednesday -- they were back in town Thursday.
The St. John's-Tipton girls' team also qualified for state and gave second-seeded Bucklin a scare with a come-from-behind effort before falling in overtime.
Dubbert was in the stands cheering on the girls' team Thursday, dressed in an old jersey like his teammates. Today, he will be back to his familiar No. 13 jersey when he and his teammates take the court against Chetopa.
If the Blujays win, it will be the first championship appearance in a state basketball tournament for either St. John's or Tipton. It has been an especially fun experience for Tipton Principal Gery Hake, also the assistant coach for the Blujay boys' team.
A Tipton native, Hake played basketball in the 1980s for the Cardinals, whose boys' teams never made it to state. This is the fourth year of the St. John's-Tipton cooperative, which is trying to make history. St. John's teams had qualified for state four times in years past but never made the championship game, finishing third in 1975 and '76.
"They were here and watched last year's finals," Hake said of the Blujays, who watched the team that beat them in sub-state, White City, take home the third-place trophy and medals. "And they said that's where they want to be this year."
Although just a freshman, Dubbert is one of the top players off the bench for the Blujays, whose only loss this year was in overtime to state-ranked Class 2A Plainville, which is playing in today's 2A semifinals in Manhattan.
"This place is a lot bigger than our small gym in Beloit," he said. "But I think last year motivated everybody to get here this year."