A day after an abrupt ending to a memorable season, Hays High coach Alex Hutchins and the Indian boys basketball team were still trying to process a complex set of emotions.
Hays High was set to play a Friday Class 5A semifinal against Basehor-Linwood in Emporia, but the Kansas State High School Activities Association announced Thursday night it was canceling the final two days of all state tournaments because of concerns over the spread of the coronavirus.
"In terms of how we’re feeling as a team, there’s a lot of really disappointed people. Pretty devastated that we don’t get to keep playing," Hutchins said Friday. "Part of it is because we would like a chance to compete for a state championship, and part of it is because we don’t feel like we get closure on the season. Even if we were to lose in the semifinal game or in the championship game, we at least then could kind of wrap our heads around the end of the season.
"This is hard. It’s just difficult to process and come to grips with how it finished. But at the same time, we understand the gravity of the situation and understand the state had to make some tough decisions. It’s not worth compromising the health and safeties of players or family members or anyone that’s in the arena."
Hutchins said the team was eating dinner Thursday night when it heard word that KSHSAA officials were meeting and would soon have an announcement. The players had gone to their hotel rooms when the official announcement was made.
"Our coaching staff, we were all sitting together in a room when we got word," Hutchins said. "Down the hall, you could hear our boys reacting and then almost a silence fall over the floor in our hotel."
The sudden ending of the season has been hardest on the Indians’ two seniors — Brock Lummus and Dylan Ruder.
"We feel for Brock and Dylan a lot," Hutchins said. "(Assistant coach Tre Giles) is planning on leaving and doing some mission work in some foreign countries. He won’t be back next year, so we’re sad that he loses those last couple games, too.
"There’s a handful of people that won’t be back next year. While we’re still excited about the future and what the years to come hold, we are pretty devastated by the pieces of our group that had their time cut short this year."
In what turned out to be the Indians’ lone game of the tournament, Hays High earned a 46-43 quarterfinal win over Topeka-Highland Park on Wednesday at White Auditorium.
"I think that first game was a great experience for us," Hutchins said. "It was a really good opportunity for us to be tested by someone outside of western Kansas.
"I think it gives our returning players some confidence that they were able to battle in a state environment and get a win. I think it’s something our two graduating seniors can take a lot of pride in. I think it’s something our program can use to build on."
The Indians, who shared a Western Athletic Conference championship with Great Bend and beat the Panthers in the sub-state championship game, finished with a 17-6 record in Hutchins’ first year as HHS boys coach.
"We’re very proud of what we were able to accomplish this year and we’re very proud of our boys," Hutchins said. "We think it was a very successful year. I think we’ve been able to think about that at times. The emotions have just been coming in waves. There’s been an hour or two of sadness and an hour or two of getting to embrace what we had and enjoy that.
"It’s going to take some time to completely comprehend everything and accept it and move on."
Hutchins said he was glad the team was together when the news broke.
"It sounds a little crazy, but I’m thankful we were on the road and in the hotel together when it happened and not at home and scattered out in different houses and separated," Hutchins said. "I’m thankful that even though it was bad news, we kind of got to go through it together.
"We did get to have almost a last night together at the hotel just to hang out together and spend time together and enjoy one last night of each other’s company as a team."