By CONOR NICHOLL
The road to creating one of the great dynasties in Kansas high school basketball started in elementary school when Hoxie parents first had their daughters play for coach Shelly Hoyt.
The Indians have continually worked hard in the summer with weights and basketball and fully embraced Hoyt's fast-paced, aggressive philosophy.
Hoxie junior high, coached by Hoyt and Emily Bogue, just completed its fifth straight undefeated season and has a cumulative 66-0 record in that span. The work produced a state runner-up three seasons ago, a state championship in 2011-12 and an undefeated crown last year.
"Their parents are just amazing people," Hoyt said. "There is no way that we would have had that success if they hadn't trusted me way back when these kids were in second and third grade. Honestly, I think there were days when they didn't, and they were, 'What is this woman doing? She is crazy.' But they stuck with me."
This weekend, Hoxie, 23-0 and ranked No. 1 all season in Class 1A Division I, goes for its third straight state title at Emporia State University's White Auditorium. The Indians will play eighth-seeded Spearville (13-9) at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday. Hoxie has won 69 straight games. The last three seasons, the Indians have faced traditional powers Olpe and St. John, but both teams moved up to 2A this year.
"Anything can happen in those tournaments," Hoyt said. "I like the fact that we have been there and have the experience, but we know that it doesn't matter if it's St. John or Olpe or whoever -- they're still tough teams there, otherwise they wouldn't be there."
While Hoxie has had more talented individuals in Hoyt's tenure, the senior class of Kristina Farber, Natasha Allmer and Gabi Spresser has all earned all-state in at least one sport, and has an opportunity to graduate as the winningest basketball class in area annals.
Senior Kelsey Kelch is also on the roster, but has missed most of the year with a knee injury.
"This is such a bittersweet week for me," Hoyt said. "I am so happy for them and thrilled that they took our program to the state tournament again. ... I am just saddened by the fact that I only get to spend another week with them."
Just six Kansas girls' schools (Bishop Miege three times) have ever won at least three crowns in a row, according to Kansas historian Carol Swenson. No area squad has accomplished the feat.
Only four Kansas squads have collected back-to-back undefeated crowns. Little River did it three years in a row in 1995-97 as part of its state record 91-game run.
Silver Lake ('83-'84), Sublette ('04-05) and Wichita Heights ('11-12) have won two straight.
"I don't know if there is a group that plays better and loves each other as much as this group," Hoyt said. "That makes a very hard team to beat."
Hoyt and assistant Marlin Beougher have sometimes wondered how teams will guard the Indians' depth that features the senior trio, juniors Carly Heim and Lexi Schamberger, both three-year starters, and sophomore Terran Hoyt.
Hoxie has seen a variety of defenses, including a triangle and two, box and one and a 3-2 defense by Thunder Ridge when the Longhorns chased the guards and put two players in the lane.
Hoxie led by two after the first quarter, but then won 63-36 against Thunder Ridge in the sub-state championship game. Farber finished with 21 points, Heim had 15 and Schamberger 11.
The top-six players all average between nine and 14.7 points per game. Heim leads the team in scoring, assists (6.5), while Allmer has a team-high 6.3 rebounds and Farber has 4.6 steals.
"Anyone of these kids are capable of lighting it up for us any night," Hoyt said.
Hoxie has received four tests, a pair of 64-56 victories against Dighton and Ellis in the season-opening Castle Rock Classic, a 64-55 win versus Dighton in the league tournament championship, and a 69-63 road win Feb. 14 against Dighton. The Hornets have qualified for the Class 1A Division II state tournament and Ellis is in the 2A field.
"Each time, we could kind of check ourselves as far as where we were, and how much better we had gotten," Hoyt said.
As the season has progressed, Allmer, a Bethany College volleyball signee, has played very well and freshman Brynn Niblock has stepped into Kelch's role as the No. 2 player off the bench. Even this week, Hoyt pushed her seniors to play even better for state.
"Our senior parents right now are teaching our younger parents what it takes, and the commitment," Hoyt said. "It's just nice. They see that, and then when they come into the high school, I have three freshmen right now, I am not afraid to play any of them, because they have known what they are doing. It's the same system they have been in for three years basically. It makes it a lot easier."