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Top stories 2012: Hays High girls on the winning side

By NICK McQUEEN

nmcqueen@dailynews.net

After the Hays High School girls' basketball team started the 2011-12 season with a 3-3 record, it seemed the Indians were headed for yet another mediocre campaign, something that had been relatively customary in recent seasons.

But, after a 59-28 blowout win against Liberal early after the holiday break, the Indians started to find their groove.

Standout Paige Lunsford started to take control of the game, and the elevated play of Katelyn Schumacher and Taylor Herman on the inside mixed with the shutdown style defense of Hanna Pfannenstiel all led to one of the best seasons in recent history.

It's one of the HDN's top sports stories of 2012.

Hays High had just lost 42-30 on the road to Pratt, but the win against Liberal spawned a string of five straight wins, and Hays High won 14 of its final 15 games before losing in the Class 5A sub-state championship game.

"We started to do little things we hadn't done in the past," Maska said after the season.

The success of the Indians' season was evident in a strong run at the McPherson mid-season tournament, a perennially competitive field. Hays High started with a 58-55 overtime win against Class 6A ranked Manhattan, defeated 4A ranked Andale in the semifinals, but lost to host McPherson, a team among the elite in high school girls' basketball for several seasons in 5A and 4A.

The 52-42 setback against McPherson was the Indians' only loss in 15 games following the rough start.

"Went into the McPherson touranment thinking we were a lot better than our seed, and kind of proved that by making the championships game,"  said Maska, who was named the HDN Coach of the Year. "I think the girls' confidence grew, and they expected to win."

Hays High, after that tournament, became more balanced as well. Lunsford, who averaged a career-best 15.1 points per game, led Hays High in scoring in 11 of its first 12 games. She scored many of her points on her dribble-drive. Eventually, she averaged 4.6 assists and 2.6 steals for the season. Those numbers were also team-bests.

"It's probably always been the strongest part of my game,"  said Lunsford, the HDN Player of the Year now a freshman at Fort Hays State University. "This year, everyone moved a lot, leaving somebody open when the double came. My teammates made great cuts and finished on the back end of them."

In the final 10 games after the McPherson tourney, either Herman or Schumacher led or tied Lunsford in scoring in five of them.

"We finally learned how to control the tempo of the game,"  Lunsford said. "We also kind of figured out what offense worked in what situations."

Hays High finished 17-5, earning its first winning season since 2004-05.

The Indians also rolled to an 8-0 Western Athletic Conference mark, the first conference title since 2002-03.

"The wins were nice, but the group of girls I got to work with, they came to practice excited, willing to work hard every day," Maska said. "They were just a fun bunch of kids to be around, what made the year fun was having such a great group of kids."

Hays High eventually lost to Newton, 51-43 in the 5A sub-state title game. Of the Indians' five losses, two were to Newton, the other coming in the season-opening Hays City Shoot-Out.

This season, without the services of Lunsford and Pfannenstiel, who graduated, Hays High is again off to a 3-3 start heading into the holiday break. The Indians' season resumes Jan. 4 at Liberal.