League champs, runners-up mark highs of MS girls basketball season
While high school basketball in Jackson County was just heating up before the Christmas break, the middle school girls basketball season was winding down during that same time.
Like some of the county high school teams off to fast starts, though, several squads from Holton, Jackson Heights and Royal Valley middle schools put together similarly strong finishes to cap off the 2015 campaign.
Jackson Heights, for example, proved nearly untouchable this season. The “A” team went undefeated through the regular season to capture a Northeast Kansas League title and nearly matched that feat in the season-ending league tournament.
With 15 seconds to go, JHMS led JCN after trailing by 14 at halftime. A lot of that was due simply to improved intensity and modified pressure on defense, according to coach Mark Fenton, but the Chargers hit a last-second three (after the Cobras nearly forced a steal) to come away with a 34-31 victory and the tournament title.
The Cobras may not have gotten the championship sweep, but it didn’t detract from an impressive season that saw the program lose a total of only five games at all three levels (A, B and C) of competition.
In fact, outside of the near comeback and two previous comebacks against JCN in the regular season, Fenton noted the teams really dominated their competition. From summer league play, Fenton said the young Cobras knew the challenge the Chargers posed and were driven to rise above that during the winter season.
“You could tell in their eyes they did not want to lose this year and they came out every game and really understood the fact that you had to prove a point in the first quarter and let them know who’s in charge. They were great at that,” Fenton said.
Outside of the JCN games, Heights usually won by 20 points or more this season and Fenton noted that success stemmed from an unselfish team attitude with all of the players pushing each other and exerting a great amount of effort, especially on defense, all season.
“Our man-to-man defense started good and just got better all season long. I thought our conditioning as the season went on got better and better, too,” Fenton said.
With the success of the past two seasons, Fenton said he is excited to now see what these players can come together and achieve in high school competition. The JHMS “A” team finished the season 15-1 overall, the “B” team was 9-2 and the “C” team recorded a 7-2 record.
For the Holton eighth-grade girls basketball team, the season could have ended on a sour note. Before their final game recently, the dreams of a league title had just been dashed by eventual Big Seven champion Sabetha.
The Young Wildcats did not dwell on that, however, as the team had to battle Jeff West for the runner-up spot and the HMS squad lifted its collective head high to close out the season on a positive note.
“You always wonder how they’re going to respond after a big loss like we had to Sabetha,” HMS coach Brian Hickman said. “They played well (against Sabetha), but they came back. Then, we came out and jumped on Jeff West early and got up, I think, 13-2 or something.”
It was perhaps the best offensive performance of the season for the Holton squad, according to Hickman, as the team was clicking on all cylinders early on the way to a 32-19 victory over the Tigers.
While Hickman noted this particular team was good at creating offense, he noted an early goal was to enhance the eighth-grade team’s ability to run sets and they showed their progress in that area against Jeff West.
Defensively, the Wildcats were also strong in a balanced performance to wrap up the season. If the players keep pushing each other, something that Hickman said is a defining trait of this eighth-grade class, then they should continue to see success as they move on to the high school level.
“That’s hard to instill in a group and this group has that. They get after it. They don’t mind the physicality of it. They enjoy it and they buy into it,” Hickman said.
Holton’s eighth-grade “A” team finished the season 12-2 and runner-up in the Big Seven League, while the “B” team went 11-1.
Royal Valley also had a league runner-up, as the seventh-grade squad took second in the Big Seven this season. While coach Bill Higley noted the team hit a lull midway through the season, he said the players were challenged and pushed to pick it up in practice, which translated to a strong finish for the young Panthers.
“Our seventh-graders really responded well. The last several games down the stretch they came out with a purpose and ready to get after it right from the get-go,” Higley said.
That was on display in a 30-14 victory over Jeff West to end the season, as the athleticism of a group that took the league title in volleyball this fall was on display in that game and throughout the basketball season.
While the seventh-grade team had athleticism and players in spades, the eighth-grade team was the exact opposite as the team finished the season with eight players and Higley admitted even some of those players were operating at less than 100 percent.
It may have been a burden for the eighth-grade team to deal with injuries and limited numbers and while that hindered the group’s final record, Higley noted they still managed to accomplish some goals as the situation did foster some camaraderie amongst the team members.
“The biggest thing was they came together as a team and had a great time. They had so much more fun this year than I think they did last year. That was kind of a highlight for them,” Higley said.
Royal Valley’s eighth-grade team ended up splitting with Jeff West in the final games, as the “A” team fell 35-19 and the “B” team won 12-2.
While the seventh-graders may have a higher ceiling, if both groups continue to push each other and work together then Higley said he believes they can make some good things happen in the future.
The eighth-grade “A” team finished 3-11 this season, while the seventh-grade “A” team was 10-4.
Holton’s seventh-grade team may have struggled in stretches throughout the 2015 season, but coach John Deitrich also noted his team learned a lot along the way.
With the Wildcats’ strong tradition, the coach noted his team likely got opponents’ best shot in many instances and this group wasn’t quite ready for that at times, though they still managed to come along in terms of skills throughout the season.
“I think when it came down to it, with the Xs and Os and stuff, I thought we got a little bit smarter with our basketball IQ,” Deitrich said.
Through the winter, Deitrich noted the Wildcats developed some offensive depth and adapted on defense. The coach said he eventually sees double-digit wins in the future for this group, but the most important thing he hopes his players take away from the season is how overall athletic skills can help them in the sport and vice-versa.
“There’s a lot to the game and I guess the lesson I wanted them to figure out was basketball doesn’t have to be their thing for them to be a basketball player,” Deitrich said.
The seventh-grade “A” team finished the season 7-7 overall.