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Russell narrowly misses state scholars bowl title

By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN

dobrien@dailynews.net

One team jumped to a fast start, and the other lost two of its first three matches.

Both Blaine Maier and Debbie Hagans knew they had a long way to go, however.

Maier's Russell High School team kept to its consistent winning path en route to a runner-up finish at Saturday's Class 3A state scholars bowl meet at Cimarron.

Hagans' team from Ransom-Western Plains might have given her a few gray hairs as it won some and lost some but still made the finals and finished fourth in Class 1A, Division II state action at Natoma.

Russell, which led 11 area schools in state competition, received both medals and a large trophy for its efforts, which was one of the team goals.

But it was a bittersweet ending, said Maier, whose team came within a whisker -- five points -- of being state champions.

Russell lost a challenge question in its finals match with defending state champ Wichita-Independent.

The victory against Russell gave Independent its seventh top-two state finish in the past eight years.

"Oh, yes, I was pleased," Maier said of his team's state performance that concluded an incredible 21-1 run in the postseason. "But I felt badly for our captain (senior Nathan Barney) because he gave the right answer. They had the wrong answer written down so they threw out the question."

Close calls were common across the state.

In Natoma, Western Plains actually finished second in its pool after that 1-2 start. Another area team, Grainfield/Wheatland-Grinnell, made the finals for the first time since Wheatland and Grinnell joined forces in 2007 and finished fifth, just one spot out of medaling. The last time Grinnell made the state tourney was 1999, and it had been eight years prior to that for Wheatland.

In Saturday's finals, Western Plains entered its last match with a 2-2 mark and a shot at winning a trophy, but the Bobcats lost to Junction City-St. Xavier, a team it had beaten in pool play.

"I am worn out," Hagans admitted at the end of the awards ceremony in the Natoma High School gym. "It's been a long day."

It was a day that began a little scary for Hagans and the Bobcats, who were hoping to post a better record than 2-3 in pool -- which they had done the past two years and just missed making finals.

After that 1-2 start Saturday, the Bobcats bounced back for victories in their final two pool play matches to make the finals, where they finished fourth to earn the final group of medals.

"You always want more," Hagans said as she watched the top three teams pose for photos with their trophies. "But you have got to look at the bigger picture.

"There were some darned good teams here today," she added. "And this is another step for our program."

Wheatland-Grinnell coach Monica Countryman agreed, saying she was happy her team accomplished its goal of making the finals.

After all, there were a lot of area teams that didn't.

In Class 3A, Thomas More Prep-Marian High School, competing in the pool opposite Russell in Cimarron, went 2-3 in pool play, one win short of the finals.

The Monarchs were trying to bring home a trophy for the third time in four years after winning back-to-back state titles in 2010 and '11.

In 2A action at Brookville, both area teams -- Smith Center and Oberlin-Decatur Community -- just missed making the finals.

The same was true for area schools Stockton, Hoxie and Atwood-Rawlins County at the Class 1A, Division I state meet at Rosalia.

Northwest Kansas was well represented at the small-school state meet at Natoma. In addition to the two area schools that made the finals, Brewster and Bird City-Cheylin also competed but didn't get out of pool play.

The Class 1A, Division II title came down to two state heavyweights. Hutchinson-Central Christian, which had finished in the top two the past two years, won the 2013 championship with a victory over perennial state power Rolla, winner of state titles 11 times since 1991. That flip-flopped last year's top two results.

For Russell, Saturday was a culmination of a highly successful season.

The Broncos, who had gone a perfect 12-0 at regionals, finished 9-1 Saturday. That gave them a 91-11 overall record for the year that included top-three finishes in every tournament in which they competed, including four team titles and six runner-up finishes.

"I'm very happy for the kids," Maier said. "It's going to be hard to see three of them go."

In addition to Barney, the other two seniors on this year's Bronco team were Christopher Gullick and Ethan Kaufman. Led by that trio, Russell qualified for state the past three years.