Hays High girls deliver win in opener
By CONOR NICHOLL
The Hays High School girls' basketball team is virtually all seniors. Several players, especially Janae Gagnon, Taylor Herman, Katelyn Schumacher and Megan Bird, have seen plenty of playing time, some dating back to their freshman years. While they have all played key roles, mainly defensively, none of them has had to be a leader or take over offensively.
This season, with the graduation of first-team all-state selection Paige Lunsford, the senior class has needed to take on a bigger responsibility. They showed that against Colby in the season opener Thursday night at the Hays City Shoot-Out at the HHS Gym. Hays High delivered a solid offensive effort and had its usual strong defense en route to a 43-33 victory.
"They haven't had to be leaders until this year and that's the one thing that I have been preaching on," Indian coach Kirk Maska said. "I think we are going to good if we have some people step up and be leaders."
Today, HHS was set to play Newton at 6:30 p.m., the team that ended the Indians' season in the sub-state championship game last winter. Hays High received 16 points and six rebounds, both team-highs, from Schumacher. Gagnon finished with a career-high 15 points. Herman, long known for affecting the game in many ways, had four points, four assists, four steals and two blocks.
"They don't have to be vocal, they don't have to be the dominant person on the court," Maska said. "They can lead by example and things like that. I was pleased. I thought Janae really, really elevated her game tonight and did a good job."
Bird didn't score, but had a key play near midcourt. Bird and two Colby players went after a ball, but she beat them to it. The ball was knocked down the court. Bird rushed down, picked it up, and found Gagnon for a wide-open layup.
"I think our girls have kind of bought in and they all do a good job and Taylor on top of that has that knack that you don't coach, and she anticipates really well and reads things," Maska said. "She got two or three steals at key times."
Colby, known for a winning tradition under veteran coach Parker McKee, led 9-2 early, but Hays High used an 11-0 run to take the lead. Lauren Bell paced the Eagles with 10 points. Hays High held the Eagles to 9-of-32 shooting.
"They did a good job of making adjustments throughout the game," McKee said. "Our ability to reverse the ball and catch it in places where we could be effective -- I thought Hays did a really good job of taking those things away from us. From a defensive standpoint, we did a poor job of on-ball defense, and we just broke down way too many times."
Colby did surprise Hays High and played a lot of zone, a tactic McKee correctly thought would catch Maska off guard. Both teams struggled early on with turnovers. Each squad finished with 19 for the game.
"The reason why we don't play man is we are not as good this year at defending on the ball, so we have to mix up some things and kind of keep that hidden," McKee said. "We are going to play predominantly zone this year."
Herman, who didn't take a shot until the second half, played well in all facets.
"During practice, I get really frustrated because I don't make it that much, so I kind of shy away from shooting," Herman said. "I look for my other girls, which I am fine with. As long as we are winning."
Last year, the long-armed Herman finished fourth all-time in Indian history for single season blocked shots with two per game. On Thursday, she ended the first half with four assists and three steals.
"I think it's because my sophomore year, Coach put me on Paige (Lunsford) a lot," Herman said of her rare ability to block shots and make steals. "I was like 'Really?' I don't want to look stupid, so I think she taught me a lot."
She collected two blocks after intermission and never fouled until early in the fourth quarter.
"My lengthy arms help a lot with my width," Herman said. "I just make sure that I am going for the ball and not their arms."
Between the girls' and boys' contests, Hays High announced the Shoot-Out will bear Gerald Mitchell's name starting next year. Mitchell was a longtime successful Indian girls' basketball coach who won more than 300 games. His wife, Kathy, accepted the award in an emotional ceremony for Mitchell, who died in June 2012.
"We are really going to miss Mitch," said Maska, a HHS graduate, whose dad Jim, also was a longtime coach.
"He was a great friend of my dad. ... Been around their family for a long time. Kathy is special. It's just exciting that he started this thing and his name is going on there."