By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN
Both know how hard it is to get to state, and once there, how tough it is to make the finals.
So it should come as no surprise Donna Devlin and Nancy Sebelius were using words such as "thrilled" and "ecstatic" to describe their team's reactions to their performances at Saturday's state high school scholars bowl meets.
Smith Center's third-place finish in Class 2A competition at Moundridge was the first top-three finish at state in school history for Devlin's squad, which earned third-place medals and a trophy as well.
And although Sebelius has led teams to state several times in her 25-plus years as Norton's coach, she said it never gets old. Plus, the Bluejays' fourth-place effort at the 3A season finale at Douglass was the first time this particular group was able to bring home hardware.
The two Mid-Continent League schools were the only ones of 13 area state-qualifying teams to bring home medals or a trophy from state.
"We were so excited," said Sebelius, who, along with her team, thought only the top three teams received medals. "When they announced that we had gotten fourth and to come up for medals, we were pleasantly surprised."
So, too, were Devlin and her squad.
Smith Center took advantage of its experience it gained with its first-ever state-qualifying berth a year ago to finish 2014 strong.
After winning its first regional title at Inman the week before, SCHS accomplished another first by going 3-2 in pool play at state to make the finals.
Once there, the Redmen posted a 3-2 mark, including a victory in a final match that included a tiebreaker question that ultimately earned them the third-place trophy.
"We knew if we won that match, we were going to place (third)," Devlin said. "It was exciting, intense."
She said it was a fitting ending to her team's record season.
"They have been calling it, bringing home a 'ship," Devlin said in reference to her team's championship and other top three performances the past two years.
"They were focused on bringing home a 'ship (Saturday), and we didn't care which place (first, second or third). We just wanted to bring home any 'ship."
Monday was an in-service day for Smith Center, which didn't hold classes, and Devlin said her team was looking forward to getting to school and showing off the new trophy.
Approximately 60 miles west on U.S. Highway 36, Norton's team also is celebrating this week.
After all, only one other area team cracked the finals at state Saturday -- Ransom-Western Plains in Class 1A, Division II, which finished fifth, one place shy of earning medals.
"It's exciting and thrilling to get to state," Sebelius said. "And if you don't make it to finals, it can be crushing, because you're only there an hour or so.
"To drive five and a half hours and not go on, that would have been crushing."
Sebelius didn't have to worry about that this time. Neither did senior captain Leif Carlson.
Carlson has been on varsity at Norton since his freshman year and went to state as a freshman and sophomore, only to watch the season end abruptly after not advancing out of pool play.
"I told them our goal was to get to state because that's quite an accomplishment," Sebelius said. "I told them to do their best and have fun."