Phillipsburg girls basketball making early-season noise

Randy Gonzales
Special to Hays Daily News
The Phillipsburg girls captured the Amos Morris Classic title last week in Russell.

After previously enjoying the role of underdog, the Phillipsburg girls basketball team now has its opponents’ full attention after a history-making victory.

“I think our goals are high again, and I think we know we can’t hang in the shadows like last year,” said Panther coach Rachel Miller, in her eighth season. “Now, we have a target on our back.”

The Panthers ended Central Plains’ 138-game winning streak last Friday, claiming a 49-44 victory in the semifinals of the Amos Morris Classic. Historically, it was the third-longest girls’ streak nationally.

“I think this is one of those years where we had that confidence going in, that this might be the time,” Miller said. “We said, 'Somebody’s got to beat them sometime, why not us?'

“You always want to play the best. I feel like the girls were ready to go, they were excited about the opportunity. They put together a pretty good game against them.”

Central Plains graduated standout guard Emily Ryan, now playing for Iowa State. Ryan finished with more than 3,000 career points and never lost a game in high school, winning three straight state titles and on track for another before the state tournament was canceled last March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Central Plains had won six straight state championships overall.

“There are several players on our team who are huge Emily Ryan fans,” Miller said. “There’s just a lot of respect for the program, a lot of respect for the coaches and players who have gone through that system.”

Miller said her players realized the magnitude of the win.

“It was neat to see they understood what they did,” Miller said. “They were just really proud of themselves. I was proud of them.”

Phillipsburg has a young point guard of its own making a name for herself. Taryn Sides averaged 18.7 points per game last season as a freshman, helping the Panthers go 20-4 and make the state tournament for the first time in school history. Phillipsburg is off to a 5-0 start this year, with the 5-foot-6 Sides averaging 19.5 points, 7 steals, 5 rebounds and 4 assists going into Friday’s home game against Plainville.

Basketball is in the blood for the Sides family. Dad Keith is the school’s boys coach; mom Robin is an assistant girls coach; Taryn’s older brother Ty is a senior standout guard for the Panther boys; and older brother Trey starred for the Panthers and is now playing for NCAA Division I Jacksonville University.

“Taryn does a great job with the intangibles part of the game you can’t teach, can’t coach,” Miller said. “She’s very unselfish, always looking to get her teammates involved. She prides herself on getting those assists. She leads a lot by example.”

Miller said the team’s secondary scorers play a role in the Panthers’ success. Heather Schemper, a 5-11 sophomore forward, is averaging 10 points per game. Averaging about seven points are senior forward Kay Pakkebier; senior guard Ava Schemper; and junior guard-forward Abby Babcock. Phillipsburg also has 6-0 senior post Meredith Jacobs, who battled through injuries last year and missed the start of th season because of COVID-19 protocols.

“That’s what I like about this team is how unselfish they are, and how they are all a threat,” Miller said. “On any given night they can get double figures.”

Miller said everybody also knows that on any given night it could all end, due to the ongoing pandemic.

“We know first-hand, being at state basketball last year,” Miller said. “Our team motto is ‘make it count.’ We understand that it could be our last practice, be our last game. We’re definitely blessed for every opportunity.”