By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN
A total of 13 area schools will participate in five different locations at Saturday's state scholars bowl meets across the state.
Four of those teams will go into state as regional champions after winning their respective division last week, including Ransom-Western Plains, which didn't know it was regional champ until Friday morning.
It was announced at Thursday's awards ceremony at the Class 1A, Division II regional at Tribune that Palco and Western Plains had tied for first with identical records. Palco was awarded the first-place trophy and medals because of its victory over Western Plains in their head-to-head matchup.
It was not until she returned home that Palco coach Sandra McNames realized Western Plains had finished with a 9-1 mark, while her Palco team was 8-2.
She called the next morning and reported the error to the regional tournament director, who immediately checked the records and called Western Plains.
"Out of the clear blue, there's this announcement at school that we did win first place after all," said coach Debbie Hagans, who had been pleased with the runner-up regional finish that assured her school of a fourth consecutive trip to state.
Western Plains just so happened to play basketball against Palco that night, so the two schools exchanged trophies.
While celebrating a regional championship was nice, Hagans said she constantly stresses to be ready for the next opponent.
"I tell the kids every day is a different day, a whole different set of questions and a whole different set of kids," she said.
"Every year, we want to take another step," added Hagans, whose team won the fourth-place medals at last year's Class 1A, Division II state meet.
This year, Hagans said her team "would like to bring home some wood" from state, in reference to a trophy, which are awarded to the top three teams at state.
Also making its fourth straight trip to state will be Russell. After finishing as state runner-up in 3A last year, the Broncos moved up to 4A this year, and the result was much the same.
They hosted a regional meet for a second straight year, and won their second consecutive regional title, going undefeated in 11 matches to keep the championship trophy at home.
The senior-dominated team at Thomas More Prep-Marian High School in Hays is back at state for a second straight year.
Members of this year's varsity team had to sit and watch and learn and wait their turn as other senior-laden teams put up big numbers -- and impressive finishes, including those back-to-back 3A state titles in 2010 and '11.
Finally getting its chance last year, this group finished second at regionals and qualified for state, where it went 2-3 in pool play and barely missed making the finals.
The Monarchs picked up where they left off a year ago with another runner-up finish at regionals.
The Monarchs' next victory will be No. 60 on the season, which will mark the first 60-win season since the state championship squad of 2011.
Hageman thinks getting to state last year could help his team Saturday.
"They were disappointed last year; they wanted more," he said. "They left (state) hungry. This year, they've got a purpose."