After a one-win season three years ago, the Phillipsburg girls basketball team made steady strides the next two seasons, including a huge leap forward last year.
They continued this season, making program history in the process.
The Panthers (20-3) are set to make their state debut, facing No. 5-seeded Cheney (20-3) at 4:45 p.m. Thursday in the first round of the Class 3A tournament at Hutchinson Sports Arena.
“I couldn’t be more happy for those girls,” Phillipsburg coach Rachel Miller said. “Those seniors went from a one-win season three years ago to going to state for the first time in school history.
“The wins are great, but ultimately, these girls wanted to accomplish getting to Hutch. I just couldn’t be more proud.”
The Panthers were hampered by devastating injuries during a 1-19 season in 2016-17 and a 5-14 campaign in 2017-18.
The turnaround began in earnest last year with a 12-10 season.
“It took us a while to learn how to win again,” Miller said. “We figured that out, and the girls put in the time that the girls needed to put in. They knew they needed to work harder and to put in more time and get better.
“I thought last year was great. Last year, we lost five or six games by five or six points. We’re right there in terms of having a comparable season to this year.”
This year has been a banner season for the Panthers, highlighted by a Mid-Continent League regular-season championship and a sub-state title, which was earned with a 40-36 win over Norton.
“I think the girls are hungry, they’re determined,” Miller said. “We’re not satisfied but we’re really happy with where we’ve gotten.”
Freshman Taryn Sides leads the Panthers with 18.4 points per game, while Meredith Jacobs and Emily Schneider have been key inside.
Cheney, last year’s Class 3A runner-up, advanced to state with a win over Eureka in the sub-state title game.
Miller wants the Panthers to soak up the experience.
“You don’t want to go down there and not be able to take in your surroundings,” she said. “Have fun. The game’s played to have fun.
“There’s a lot of weight on one game and there could be a lot of excitement winning one game. I just want them to take it all in, and work hard and have fun.”
Otis-Bison will be the only other area girls team in action on Thursday. The No. 5-seeded Cougars, led by 6-foot-2 senior Maddie Wiltse, will take on No. 4-seeded Hanover (23-1) in the first round of the Class 1A tournament at United Wireless Arena in Dodge City.