HHS boys ready for TOC field
By AUSTIN COLBERT
The Hays High School boys' basketball team's motto this season is to "Win the day."
It's a reminder to the players to take the season game-by-game and not get caught looking too far ahead, something that has been very important in the Indians' school record 9-0 start.
And the motto could become even more meaningful this week when Hays High heads to Dodge City to compete in the 71st annual Tournament of Champions at United Wireless Arena.
"Just by going by that motto it has helped us all realize we can only take one step at a time," HHS junior Brady Werth said. "We are going in this year a lot better to the best tournament in Kansas. The main thing we need to focus on is winning the day, not looking ahead to the next game. We have to win one game at a time and I think we have a good chance at winning it all."
Hays High, ranked No. 3 in Class 5A, will open the TOC at 2 p.m. Thursday against Hutchinson (3-6) in the tournament's first game.
The field features some of the most highly ranked teams in the state including Wichita Heights (No. 5 in Class 5A), Wichita East (No. 2 in Class 6A) and Leavenworth (No. 6 in Class 5A). Also in the tournament is host Dodge City, Maize and Manhattan.
"We are looking forward to playing," HHS coach Rick Keltner said. "We got some guys that are working hard and we are in the tournament we want to be in. I think we are in one of the best tournaments in the state of Kansas. There are some great teams there and we are looking forward to being part of it."
Hays High competes in the TOC every other year and has had varying levels of success, from making the championship game on numerous occasions to going 0-3 in the three-day tournament. The Indians have one tournament championship to their credit, coming back in 1955.
The last time the Indians played in the TOC was in 2012, a field that included eventual state champion Heights, led by current University of Kansas player Perry Ellis. Hays High, which had many of its current upperclassmen on the bench as freshmen or sophomores, went 0-3 that year.
"We are going to be a little older this year and we are going to go back to the scene of the crime and see if we can't do a little bit better," Keltner said. "I think our guys understand we have to show up every night and they kind of stick to the philosophy just to win the day. We can't think about anything other than trying to beat Hutch. We aren't going to talk about anybody but Hutch. Hutch is the biggest game of the year right now."
Hutch has been up and down this season over its 3-6 start, but has faced a rigorous schedule that included an opening season 72-54 loss to Goddard Eisenhower, No. 2 in Class 5A. The Salthawks have wins over Haysville-Campus (57-36), Kapaun Mount-Carmel (51-50) and Newton (47-46), which had been ranked at the time of the game.
Hutch will have its hands full against Hays High, which could have one of the deepest teams in the state. Werth, the reigning WAC player of the year, leads the Indians with 15.1 points per game. Senior guard Jordan Windholz is second on the team with 12.4 points per game, and senior guard Lane Clark is third with 8.4 points a game.
"We have good tournament depth. We have some guys on our bench that have good plays in them," Keltner said. "Our leadership is good. We have guys that are helping guys that they are competing for playing time with. I've been coaching a long time and we've had some good chemistry, but we have some guys that really act like they want to do whatever they can do to help our team."
Depending on the outcome of Thursday's 2 p.m. game with Hutch, Hays High will either play at 2 p.m. or 7 p.m. Friday against either Wichita Heights or Manhattan.