Sports in Kansas has released its annual list of coach of the year winners across the seven classifications in Kansas. A media panel of over 30 members in Kansas vote to compile finalists and winners each and every year.
Capsules are provided by Conor Nicholl of Sports in Kansas. Media day was handled by Bethany Bowman of Sports in Kansas and Chet Kuplen of Sports in Kansas. Photos by Terry Rinehart for Sports in Kansas.
Class 6A: Joe Auer, Wichita Heights
One of the state’s legendary coaches, Wichita Heights’ Joe Auer exceeded 700 total wins with Falcon basketball and baseball programs. He was inducted into the Wichita Sports Hall of Fame last winter. Auer last won a title in 2015. He also won in ’09, ’10, ’11 and ’12. Heights was the No. 2 seed and finished 23-2 with both losses to City League rival Kapaun Mt. Carmel. He is 428-191 in 27 seasons as Heights head basketball coach. Including 17 years as baseball coach, Auer is 710-287 at Heights.
Two years ago, Heights had a highly rare sub-.500 season before a state qualifying 15-8 season last winter. Heights graduated two players who earned some type of all-league recognition. However, the Falcons brought back a quartet of key players: seniors Dreylin Kemp, Chase Harris, junior Marcus Ziegler and sophomore T.J. Williams. Ziegler came back after he missed time from a car accident last winter and played in just 12 contests. Those were Heights’ top-four players this winter.
In the sub-state championship game, Heights beat Junction City (54-39), before state wins versus Olathe North (61-30), Olathe West (61-46) and Blue Valley Northwest (61-54) in the championship game. Junction City had scored 61.4 points a contest. Entering the postseason, North had averaged 52.8 points a game, West 59.6 and Blue Valley Northwest 64.3.
At state, Heights was a collective +18 on the glass in the three games, Defensively, they held state opponents to 30.8 percent from the field and 21 percent from beyond the arc. Heights finished the year with 12 straight victories. Compared to last winter, Heights was a substantially better team in multiple facets, especially defensively. In ’20-21, the Falcons scored .97 points per possession, allowed .86, and collected 26 percent of available offensive rebounds. This season, Heights upped to 1.06 points a possession, permitted .71 and collected 32 percent of offensive rebounds.
Zeigler had 13.7 points per game, Williams 13 and senior Chase Harris at 12.6. All three players had at least 1.8 assists and steals a contest. Kemp led the team with 5.8 rebounds a game. Heights was ranked third in the preseason.
Class 5A: Craig Cox, Topeka Seaman
Topeka Seaman went on an historic run as the Class 5A No. 8 seed with veteran coach Craig Cox. Seaman was 7-7 and finished the season with 11 straight victories for an 18-7 mark.
Seaman’s only previous state win came in 1941. Seaman last qualified for state in 2018, and second one since ’06. Seaman had a plus-five win improvement from ’20-21 after a rare two-win season two years ago.
The Vikings won at 5A Hays High, 61-44, in the sub-state championship game. HHS was 50-2 in its last 52 games. At state, Seaman defeated No. 1-seed Kapaun Mt. Carmel, 54-43. KMC coach Steve Eck had won 999 games at all levels of basketball. In the semifinals, Seaman beat Maize, 66-54. Maize was the defending 5A state champion. In the championship, Seaman beat De Soto, 66-47.
As well, Seaman beat Topeka West, 69-59, on Dec. 7. Seaman was the only team to defeat West until state. Seaman was one of five Centennial League teams to earn a state berth. Cox started as head coach for Topeka Seaman in 2011. Cox spent a long stint at Shawnee Heights from 1986 to 2002. He moved to Washburn Rural in 2003. He won 5A state basketball titles at Shawnee Heights in 2000 and ’02 and baseball championships at ’94 and ’99. At Shawnee Heights, Cox coached Gary Woodland, who has gone onto great success on the PGA Tour, including the US Open title. Woodland played briefly at Washburn for basketball.
Last season, Seaman went 13-9, including 10-6 in the Centennial League. None of the starters were seniors. The Vikings returned seniors Ty Henry and Mateo Hyman, along with juniors Kaeden Bonner and Aron Davis. Henry averaged 15.2 points a game, while Hyman had 14 points and Bonner 12.8 points a game. Hyman had 3.8 assists a contest. Davis paced with 5.7 rebounds a contest. Davis missed time with injury. He played in 17 games, Seaman went 13-4 when he played. Davis had three blocks versus Kapaun Mt. Carmel and two dunks versus De Soto.
Seaman was a phenomenal offensive team. The Vikings shot 53 percent from the field and 40 percent from beyond the arc. Seaman averaged 1.13 points per possession with turnovers on just 20.3 percent of possessions. The Vikings were ranked eighth in the preseason and were not in the top-10 in the final regular season rankings.
Class 4A: Jeff Buchanan, Andale
Andale was not ranked in the preseason top-10 by the Kansas Basketball Coaches Association and fifth in the final KBCA poll entering the postseason. The No. 3 seeded Indians finished 18-7 and as state runner-up for 16th-year coach Jeff Buchanan. At state, Andale beat Paola, 62-52, in the state quarterfinals. In the semifinals, Andale beat McPherson, 49-42.
For the championship game, Andale lost to significant favorite Bishop Miege, 64-57. Andale has reached the state tournament four times in the last five seasons. The Indians made their sixth all-time state final four. Andale’s only other finals appearance was a second-place showing in 1997. Bishop Miege coach Rick Zych won his seventh title with the Stags, third-most in Kansas history, and highest among active coaches.
In his 16 seasons, Buchanan has won eight midseason tournaments, nine league titles, advanced to state eight times and has three third-place finishes. Andale had just one player average double-digit scoring, junior Wyatt Spexarth at 11.9 points per game. Buchanan noted his team’s grit and toughness. Andale allowed 44 points per game and consistently held teams under their season average. The Indians opened 0-2 and then won eight straight. Andale beat McPherson, 57-39, on Feb. 8 before the state semifinal rematch.
Andale had four players named to the AVCTL Division IV all-league team: Spexarth was first team, seniors Nathan Nemechek and Jacksyn Potucek second team, and senior Zack Winter honorable mention. Buchanan was league coach of the year.
Class 3A: Greg Raleigh, Hesston
Defending state champion Hesston was ranked No. 1 all season. Hesston won all three state games by at least nine points and finished 25-1. Hesston had the longest current boys’ basketball winning streak in Kansas for part of the winter. Hesston split with league rival Hillsboro, the back-to-back 2A state champion. Raleigh won his fourth all-time state championship, joining 1988, ’14 and last winter. He won with Lebo in 1988, and then his last three crowns with Hesston. He has 404 career victories.
Hesston has seven seniors: Ty Schroeder, Max Werner, Brayden Schilling, Matthew Waltner, Cason Richardson, Nathan Adams and Nick Arnold. Every varsity player was at least 6-1, except Waltner. Six seniors were in the top-eight. Raleigh founded the highly popular MAYB and has coached Hesston for 11 seasons. This winter, Hesston also navigated an injury to star Cason Richardson, who missed the first part of the winter and returned after Christmas. Hesston came through perhaps Kansas’ toughest sub-state and beat undefeated Cheney in the championship game.
Class 2A: Darrel Knoll, Hillsboro
Hillsboro captured back-to-back titles and was the heavy favorite all winter. The Trojans finished 25-1 and split with Central Kansas League rival Hesston, the back-to-back 3A state champion. Hillsboro won its state quarterfinal game by 27. In the semifinals, Hillsboro had to overcome Lyndon’s extremely deliberate offense in a 37-28 double-overtime victory. Knoll has five all-time titles: ’91, ’95, ’98 and the last two winters.
Hillsboro has standout junior Brekyn Ratzlaff, along with five seniors: Jaxxon Hanschu, Matthew Potucek, Frank Wichert, Grayson Ratzlaff and Duncan Duell. After an 0-2 start to 2020-21, Hillsboro is 48-2 since with both losses to Hesston. Potucek and both Ratzlaffs earned some type of all-state honors last winter.
Knoll has also finished second three times and third on three occasions. Both Grayson and Brekyn’s fathers were key players on previous Hillsboro state teams. Knoll has led Hillsboro for more than 32 years and collected more than 530 wins. Brekyn Ratzlaff was a unanimous all-league selection, while Grayson and Potucek both picked up first team.
Class 1A-I: Chris Schmidt, Olpe
Olpe was the favorite all winter and completed one of the most dominant 1A seasons in Kansas history. Per historian Brett Marshall, Olpe became the first school in state annals to win back-to-back 11-man football championships and 1A state boys’ basketball titles. These mark the lone state boys’ basketball titles in school history, according to historian Carl Swenson. Olpe finished 25-1 and only lost the season opener to St. Marys, which eventually finished as 2A runner-up. Schmidt has reached state 13 times in 25 years as Olpe’s coach with a career mark of 456-138.
Since 1969, 1A, along with 1A-I and 1A-II, have had 62 boys’ basketball state championships. This season, Olpe collectively outscored teams, 185-101, including a 24-point win in the championship versus South Gray. Since ’69, Olpe ranks second among all 1A champions in fewest points allowed and total margin of victory in state wins. Olpe is also tied for second for biggest margin of victory in a state title, per research from SIK and Kansas historian Carol Swenson.
South Gray is 26-13 all-time in state games since 1993 under 40th-year coach Mark Applegate. Olpe has defeated SG in the state finals the last two seasons. The 24-point loss ties for the biggest in a state game under Applegate, the state’s all-time winningest coach who has primarily coached boys. As well, Olpe bested the famous 1957 Tescott team that won the Class BB state title. For nearly 50 years, Tescott held the state record for average margin of victory for a season. In its state games, Tescott had a cumulative margin of 197-136, including a 23-point margin in the state finale.
Olpe had just four practices before the St. Marys game. Olpe didn’t have time to review the St. Marys film until Christmas. In December, Olpe played seven games with eight practices. Of the Eagles’ 25 victories, all but one came by at least 13 points.
Olpe has won 24 straight football games, including just 24 points allowed last fall. That marked the fewest allowed by a Kansas 11-man team since Smith Center’s record-breaking 20 in 2007. Three seniors – Derek Hoelting, Damon Redeker and Ted Skalsky – were highly accomplished players in both sports. Skalsky was Top 11 all classes in football and has signed with Fort Hays football.
Plus, senior Eli Foraker played a key role and is known for his basketball IQ. Schmidt still remembers when the seniors were in fourth or fifth grade. The young boys watched Olpe play at 2A state at Kansas State University’s Bramlage Coliseum. Schmidt walked up the steps and sat down by the boys. He said “Boys, what do you think of this atmosphere?” The boys liked it. Schmidt said they had the opportunity to be down there someday, but “it starts right now.” The day has stuck with Olpe, notably Hoelting.
Schmidt noted to SIK that Olpe loves “playing with each other” and is a “special group” that worked hard every day, including on the little things. After the state title, Schmidt called it “bittersweet” knowing the senior quartet would not wear the Olpe jersey again. Schmidt was pleased that Olpe, playing with a target on its chest, met every challenge with the right way. Olpe is combined K-12 and the little kids look up to the seniors.
Class 1A-II: Josh Gooch, Tribune-Greeley County
Tribune-Greeley County freshman Lincoln Shafer enjoyed a historic moment when he hit a last-second state championship-winning 3-pointer to defeat highly favored Hanover, 56-55. Greeley County was not ranked preseason top-10 by the Kansas Basketball Coaches Association and third entering the postseason.
Under coach Josh Gooch, Greeley County finished 24-2 and had a plus-11 win improvement from last winter. GC finished the winter with 12 straight victories. Greeley County became the first non-Centralia team to defeat Hanover since Feb. 27, 2020. Shafer made 11 treys at state, two off the all-time 1A record. Overall, Greeley County connected on 27 of 71 treys (38 percent) at state.
Gooch was on the ’01 and ’02 Greeley County squads that went to the final four and earned state runner-up respectively. GC’s only other titles came in 1968 and 2011. Greeley County had significant improvements across the board from ’20-21. That season, GC made 121 treys and shot 26 percent from the field.
This season, GC set school marks for most 3s made (164) and shot (572) for 29 percent. GC tied the school record with ’09-10 for best single season winning percentage. Gooch finished 70-35 as a JV coach at Salina Central. At Tribune, he is 79-60, all at the varsity level.
Gooch expected his team to reach state with all the experience back. The returning starters were Brandl, senior Cade Mangan, senior Jesus Martinez, Sherer, and junior Jariath Yanez.
Yanez became a key reserve – and even played more than starters – when Shafer earned a top-five spot. Plus, junior Valentin Villalobos played big minutes off the bench. Greeley County scored .96 points a possession and allowed .62. Last season, GC scored .74 and permitted .70.
Additionally, third-place finisher Almena-Northern Valley, under coach Kevin Sides, had a nine-win turnaround from last winter. Final Four participant Bucklin tied the school mark with 20 wins and had the best season in school history under coach Derek Bevan. Bucklin finished 215 of 782 from 3-point range. The state records are 237 of 825 set by Belleville in 2005, per Kansas Sports Hall of Fame and SIK research.