Top stories 2013 -- Several area teams make solid state runs
By NICK McQUEEN
While one state prep basketball appearance came as no surprise, several others threw their name into the hat during state finales in March.
The Hoxie girls, who now have won 53 straight contests, won their second straight crown in 2013, and are the favorite to go for a three-peat in 2014. But a few others who jumped into the state scene in 2013 are eyeing similar success.
The Hoxie boys and Stockton boys met up in the first round at state in Class 1A Division I last season, while the Russell girls and Golden Plains girls made their presence felt in 3A and 1A Division II, respectively.
They combine for one of the HDN's top stories for 2013.
The Indian girls continued their domination by running through a regular season where they were never challenged. Hoxie won its 23 games leading up to state by an average of 46.2 points per contest. The closest any team came in that span was within 24 points. Hoxie, known more for its defense and balanced scoring under longtime coach Shelly Hoyt, then disposed of South Haven in the first round, 81-36. The Indians weren't challenged until they faced perennial power St. John-Hudson in the semifinals, a 47-41 win. In the championship against another familiar state mainstay, Olpe, Hoxie had to grind out a 68-63 win -- and finished the season 26-0.
"It really just hit me all of a sudden," Hoyt said after the title game. "As a team we really don't talk about winning streaks and state titles. We really focus on teaching the girls, helping them grow. But this is pretty amazing, to win another championship."
For the first time all season, Hoxie had to rely on good shooting in that game. Hoxie hit 12 of 26 3-pointers, led by Carly Heim and Gabi Spresser, who combined for five 3s in the third quarter, where Hoxie had to hold off a big rally by the Eagles that spanned through the end of the second and beginning of the third quarter.
"Honestly, we prefer to be in close games like this because it's more of a challenge," Heim said after the win and leading her team with 21 points and 11 boards. "I had open shots because my teammates did a great job of setting me up."
Now, Hoxie, ranked No. 1 in the coaches poll for 2013-14, looks for the three-peat with the bulk of its team back. The Indians are 6-0 and are nearly matched by Hoxie's boys' team, which entered the holiday break at 5-1. The Indians' only setback so far, after a disappointing loss to Stockton to end their 2013 run, was to Wallace County, the No. 1 ranked team in 1A Division II.
The Hoxie boys, led by guards Chase Kennedy and Kade Spresser, entered the 2013 state tourney with a 20-3 record and the No. 3 seed, but suffered a 58-42 loss to the upset-minded Tigers, fueled by the play of their two big men -- sophomores Jaden Williams and Justin Wiltfong.
Hoxie, which finished third at state in 2011-12, started 3-3 before the holiday break last season, then reeled off 17 straight victories before the upset loss. They did it all despite not having a player taller than 6-foot-1 (Spresser).
"If we go back to Day 1, we didn't really know who we were or what we were looking at in terms of the season for us," said Hoxie coach Aaron Dardis, who was named the HDN's top coach. "But the kids, through their hard work and dedication, we really progressed throughout the season, and it ended up being a pretty fun year for us."
But Stockton's height (6-4 Wiltfong, 6-5 Williams) took advantage in the first-round game. Wiltfong had 16 points and 11 boards, helping send Hoxie home. The Tigers went on to finish fourth with a 65-58 loss to South Haven and a 78-47 loss to Centralia, in a game where Williams got hurt. Williams missed track season and sat out of football this fall. Williams is now Stockton's leading scorer for the 5-1 Tigers. Wiltfong has yet to play after he suffered an injury during football.
At the Class 3A state tournament in Hutchinson, the Russell girls made a rare appearance, and could do the same in 2013-14. Led by forward Madison Beagley, the Broncos made the school's first state appearance in nearly 30 years. Beagley averaged 16.3 points and six rebounds, and put up 17 points as the Broncos earned a first-round upset of Caney Valley, 50-42 in the Hutchinson Sports Arena. Russell coach Frank Schulte, now in his fifth season, saw Russell go winless in his first year, but helped turn things around with 15, 14 and 19 wins the past three seasons.
Russell eventually finished fourth, and return a great deal of experience this season.
The Golden Plains girls made a similar run in Class 1A Division II, although the Bulldogs were able to cap their season with a win. Led by the play of then-junior Jordan Christensen, the daughter of head coach Parker Christensen, Golden Plains nabbed a 77-67 win in the third-place game at Gross Memorial Coliseum. Parker Christensen and Mike Miller, the father of then-freshman guard Kami Miller, were players on the Bulldogs' boys' 1A state title team in 1985.
The Bulldogs won 18 straight games entering the state tournament after a 1-2 start, then knocked off sixth-seeded Hope in the first round. Golden Plains, though, couldn't quite match second-seeded Norwich, and fell 32-29 to fall into the third-place contest against Wilson. Despite 42 points from Wilson's Karlie Steinle, Golden Plains was able to capture a 77-67 win.
Jordan Christensen had 26 points, while the team's lone senior, Angela Ritter, and Hailee Spresser had 15 points each. All but Ritter were expected to be back in 2013-14, but Kylie Jones, who would have played a key role, skipped basketball in her senior season to focus on volleyball after signing with Barton Community College.
The Bulldogs are off to a similar start this season and are 3-2 at the holidy break.
"That's our goal, we want to get back (to state)," coach Christensen said after the Castle Rock Classic in Quinter. "We struggled, we only won one game here last year, because it's a difficult tournament. If you can get two wins here, you are doing a good job, but we want to be playing our best toward the middle of February."