Russell falls, finishes fourth in Class 3A

By BRETT MARSHALL

Special to The Hays Daily News

HUTCHINSON -- The one thing Frank Schulte told his Russell High School girls' basketball team Friday following their 57-35 Class 3A semifinal loss to Garden Plain was the consolation game on Saturday was both a learning tool for next year, as well as a character examination for the team's final game.

It's always difficult to come back from a disappointing loss in the season's most important game to play for third place.

On Saturday at the Sports Arena, there were lessons learned in the Broncos' 59-44 loss against the Lady Trojans, giving the Broncos a fourth-place finish.

It had been nearly four decades, 39 years to be exact, since the Russell girls had competed at the 3A state tournament, and despite the 1-2 record in three days of play, Schulte and his team will take plenty of positives home with them.

"We took a really big step this year by making state," said Schulte, himself a Russell native who played on the Broncos' boys' 1979 state championship team. "It's important to the program. Last year, we came close. This year, we got it done getting here. We won one game here against some of the best teams in the state, and we are excited for the future."

In Hillsboro, the Broncos were facing a team that had been ranked No. 1 for much of the season, and Schulte knew that it would be a tall order after losing to Garden Plain on Friday.

Russell never led the game, and had the game tied only once at 13 early in the second quarter.

With just under two minutes left in the first half, the Broncos found themselves within three of the Trojans.

Then, in what became the first of two critical runs, Hillsboro finished off the second quarter on an 8-0 run, producing a 33-22 halftime advantage.

The Broncos stayed within range during the third, down only six, 36-30, with 1:35 on the clock. As it had happened in the second quarter, Hillsboro had an 8-2 finish to the third, providing the Trojans with a 44-32 lead heading to the final eight minutes. The lead never went under that margin in the fourth.

Madison Beagley, one of just three seniors on the team, finished her career with 20 points off 8-of-14 shooting, including 3 of 6 from 3-point range. She had 17 of those points to keep the Broncos close in the first half.

"We needed that out of her," Schulte said of Beagley's performance. "She's moving on and it's a great way to end her career."

Beagley, who will play at Iowa Western Community College next year, said it was a bittersweet day to the end of a four-year span in which she, along with senior teammates Savanna Huff and Chantal Prester, helped pull the program from the doldrums into a state-caliber team.

"When we were little and playing MAYB, we were just terrible and couldn't score," Beagley said of her early years of playing. "Just to make it to state was amazing. I'm thankful that I had a chance to play with these girls and for coach Schulte. The outcome here wasn't what we hoped for, but still we're very proud of what we've done."

Indeed, after a long drought of not playing in the state tourney, Beagley feels she and the others, including this year's nine underclassmen, have established a legacy.

"We've been able to bring back some pride to the community and to the school," Beagley said. "It's a very nice feeling. I think they're already looking forward to next season."

In fact, there were three juniors, two sophomores and four freshman on this year's state roster for Schulte, a businessman who took over the program and has seen it go 7-14, 15-7, 15-8 and now 19-7.

"This year, the girls got a taste of what a state basketball tournament is all about," Schulte said. "I've known it, but now they have an idea of what it takes to compete. The seniors have worked hard, have left their legacy and we have a lot to look forward to in the future. This group (seniors) will always be remembered as the group that got the building of the program started."

Schulte got into coaching five years ago at the middle school where his girls' team went 11-1. That next season, he was on the bench coaching the Broncos' varsity team. Things have been on the uptick ever since.

He said his postgame talk in the locker room was one of encouragement with an eye on the future.

"The underclassmen were emotional for the seniors," Schulte said. "They want to win. We will take some momentum into next year. It should be a fun time. I never thought I'd be coaching girls basketball at age 51, but I'm having a great time."

In addition to Beagley's 20 points, junior Janna Schulte added 10. Hillsboro got a game-high 21 points from Danae Bina and 16 points from Tena Loewen. Hillsboro had a slight 28-27 edge in rebounding.

Notes

When the Broncos made their 1974 appearance, they won their opening game 61-45 over Garnett. They lost to Goodland in the semifinals, 71-46, before winning third with a 58-56 victory over Haven. This year, they opened with a 50-42 victory over No. 3-seeded Caney Valley.