Indian girls look to keep rolling
By NICK McQUEEN
It's amazing what a little determination and consistency can accomplish.
Take a look at what the Hays High School girls' basketball team has been able to do.
Just five years ago, Hays High was a program teams wanted to play. For lack of a better term, the Indians were the bottom-dwellers in the Western Athletic Conference. In the 2007-08 season, Hays High was 4-17. When the current Indian seniors (Paige Lunsford, Hanna Pfannenstiel, Sidney Schmeidler) came into the program, Hays High doubled that total to eight wins -- Lunsford being a key contributor on offense.
Three years later, it might be safe to say the program is back on track under third-year coach Kirk Maska.
Already ensured of their first winning season since 2004-05 (12-9), the Indians set their sights on the home stretch -- starting with Tuesday's non-league game against Abilene (11-5) at the HHS gym. Game time is 6 p.m.
"We work really hard," Pfannestiel said following Hays High's 64-33 drumming of Liberal on the road Friday night. "... all through the offseason, and we're working really well together."
The Indians (11-4), ranked No. 8 in Class 5A, have won eight of their last nine games, the only loss being a 52-42 second-place finish in the McPherson Mid-America Classic to the host school, which is still unbeaten and ranked No. 2 in Class 4A.
Hays High is also 5-0 in WAC play with three games remaining on its conference schedule to close out the season. Sandwiched in there is a makeup game with Concordia on the road Saturday. The Indians sit second in their Class 5A sub-state seeding behind Salina Central.
"Every game is important. Salina Central might have felt like they were in control, and they dropped another game, so they're sweating a little with a little more pressure on them," Maska said.
"Newton and Salina South are trying to keep up -- and they have to play each other."
Meanwhile, Hays High just wants to take care of business. The balanced play as of late is something the Indians hope to continue. On the road Friday, seven players put up at least three points each against a struggling Liberal team.
Maska said Hays High will have to do the same thing against an Abilene team with an 11-5 record, and a possible contender in Class 4A.
"Their record is as good as ours. They are a quality team with a great tradition over the years," Maska said of Abilene. "They have some good athletes in their program, so we're going to have to be ready to play."
Since having a break in the action from Jan. 13 to Jan 26, the Indians have found the rhythm. At the start of the season, it was all Lunsford and junior Katelyn Schumacher. Since then, the two still lead the team in scoring at 15.2 points and 8.7 points, respectively, but several others have stepped up to give HHS a more rounded threat.
"We've done so many things through the summer, and coach Maska has been with us for his third year," Pfannenstiel said, eluding to the team's consistency. "... now that we're all set, have a foundation, we just keep building off that ever year."
Schumacher is coming off her biggest offensive game of the season, putting up a career-high 18 points in Friday's win. Lunsford chipped in 16 points, and four more players scored at least six points each (Pfannenstiel, junior Taylor Herman, junior Janae Gagnon, and junior Emily Bird).
The Cowgirls are led by 14.1 points a night from senior Karina Anderson, a 3-point threat that has 28 treys this season. As well, junior Carly Gassman has chipped in 10.8 points a night, and has similar numbers from long range, making 26 for the season.
"We haven't really talked about them too much. I know they've always had a decent ball team," said Pfannenstiel, who will likely draw defensive duties on one of the team's top scorers. "There is going to be some good competition there. I also know as soon we hit (today), we'll be all over it."
Indian boys face unbeaten Abilene
The Hays High boys (4-11) will be looking to snap an eight-game losing streak. The Indians have not won since defeating Liberal, 55-47 on Jan. 6, and lost in Liberal, 52-40, on Friday, after nearly rallying from a 10-point deficit.
The Indians will face a 16-0 Abilene team, ranked No. 3 in Class 4A.
"We've played them the last couple years, and they've been close games, so we expect a battle,"Indian coach Rick Keltner said. "We'll have to play well -- excited to play again and get to play at home.
"I haven't watched them a whole lot, but will this weekend," Kelter added after Friday's loss.
Hays High experimented with a different lineup Friday, starting five guards against a taller Liberal team, and bringing freshman center Brady Werth and junior forward Hunter Gonzales off the bench.
Liberal coach Drew Gruver was worried Friday when he saw the lineup because that style of play can be difficult to defend, especially when Hays High has shown the ability to shoot from long range.
"They're never out of it -- when you can shoot the ball like that," Gruver said after HHS nearly erased a 10-point third-quarter deficit, narrowing it to two before tripping down the stretch. "As a coach, that always makes you nervous going up against one of those types of teams."
The Indians will be matched up against a taller Abilene team with a 6-foot-3 guard, and 6-8 center in the middle. Andy Wilson, the team's shooting guard at 6-3, averages 18.1 points per night, and has hit 39 3s this season. The Cowboys have four players averaging at least eight points a night, and have three players hitting at least 50 percent of their shots.
The Indians are led by junior guard Derek Bixenman at 11.6 points per game.