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Team hoping practice pays off at regional meet

By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN

dobrien@dailynews.net

Debbie Hagans prepares her scholars bowl teams much like she did when she coached sports teams for several years in Bazine and Ransom schools.

Practice. Practice. And practice some more.

"It's the same as basketball and football," said Hagans, the Western Plains High School coach in her 26th year of coaching scholars bowl. "You're going to play just like you practice."

That philosophy especially has paid off in recent years when the Bobcats qualified for state the past two seasons.

She tries to schedule a variety of tournaments each year, and this season the Bobcats have placed in the top two of all but one tournament.

"I tell the kids, 'I'll take on any team with this team,' " Hagans said.

The Bobcats will get a chance to go up against some of the best in Class 1A, Division II on Thursday.

Western Plains not only is in the same regional as perennial 1A power Rolla, but by luck of the draw, those two teams are in the same pool as Sharon Springs, a top-three state finisher in Class 1A, Division II state the past two years, and Weskan, another state qualifier from a year ago.

"Some very good team is not going to make it to state," Hagans said.

The Kansas State High School Activities Association places schools in four regionals, and teams for pool play for each tournament then are drawn by lot.

The top three teams from each pool advance to the finals, and the top three teams from finals then advance to state.

Hagans tries her hardest to make sure the Bobcats are in the running every year.

Her students practice for approximately 20 minutes a day in a seminar period before lunch, giving those who also compete in sports in the small school the opportunity to do both.

"Scholars bowl competes with basketball and football, and that's tough," she said. "Some coaches at other schools say pick (between scholars bowl and their sport), but we don't."

Rolla, winner of 11 state titles since scholars bowl became an official KSHSAA event in 1987, has won back-to-back titles in Class 1A -- in Division II last year and Division I in 2011 -- and took home top-three trophies from state in each of the four years before that.

Also in Class 1A, Division II, Natoma, host of the Division II state tournament the past two years, will compete in the Wilson regional along with several other area schools.

In 3A, returning state qualifiers Russell and Norton will be in regional action at Russell. Oberlin and WaKeeney-Trego are two other returning state qualifiers (in 2A) from a year ago. Oberlin will compete in 2A regional action at Lincoln, while Trego, which dropped to 1A this year, will be at a 1A, Division I tourney at Stockton. Area schools also will compete in regional meets at Ellinwood (2A) and Abilene (4A).