By CONOR NICHOLL
DODGE CITY – Jetmore-Hodgeman County girls’ basketball coach Trent Bright stood in the foyer at Dodge City’s United Wireless Arena on March 12. Bright and his Longhorns had just fallen to Burlingame, 55-45, in the Class 1A, Division I third-place state game. Bright was by one of the large UWA windows adjacent to the players, families and fans. Bright, also HC’s veteran athletic director and assistant junior high track coach, gave credit to the Bearcats and their coach, Jeff Slater.
“Burlingame, I knew they were going to be tough,” Bright said. “Their coach, he’s coached them to be tough – and they are. I hurt for our girls, again, but I can’t them not realize how good their season actually was.”
Hodgeman County, paced by seniors Kaylee James and Grace Shiew and junior Malynn Beil, finished with an undefeated regular season and went 24-2 for fourth place at state. It marked the second straight winter HC, the consolidation of Hanston and Jetmore, had won at least 20 games and advanced to the state final four.
It’s the best back-to-back seasons in program annals. Before 2021, the schools had not made state since ’05. Jetmore had the lone all-time final four showing in ’01, per historian Carol Swenson.
Bright, who had previously coached the HC boys, is in his third season with the girls and accomplished a big turnaround, especially with defense and rebounding. This winter, the Longhorns allowed 34.3 points a game, along with 32 percent shooting and a remarkable plus-14.8 rebounding margin per contest. HC lost the rebounding margin in just four games. Bright was pleased to win the SPIAA regular season title and the conference tournament.
“Being able to do that undefeated this season is big for these girls,” Bright said. “We finally got the league tournament championship, so that was good for them.”
Beil was first team all-league, while James and Shiew were each second team all-conference. James, whom Bright called the team’s best on-ball defender, finished with 8.4 points, 3.8 rebounds, 2.8 steals and two assists a contest.
“I am super proud of them,” Bright said. “They play hard. They have always played hard all year long. … They have always played hard for us, and that’s one thing that I am very, very proud of them for.”
Bright, though, also knew the girls could have a terrific track season. Last spring, Hodgeman County, led by a huge 1A state meet from James, earned state runner-up to Kiowa County, a Southern Plains Iroquois rival.
“Oh yeah, they are going to have another good year in track,” Bright said. “Kaylee James is strong in the track side, and they have some others that will complement that. They are going to have a good track season.”
Thus far, James has continued her success with a big start – and ranks among 1A’s and the state’s best in multiple events. James has run 13.05 seconds in the 100-meter dash, which is tied for second in the classification, according to SIK’s weekly statewide list released Thursday by historian Carol Swenson.
James is also second for all Kansas classes in the 100 hurdles with 15.34 seconds. Only seven girls have cleared 16 seconds. She is also third for all classes in 300 hurdles in 47.37 seconds. Additionally, teammate Alexis Bradshaw is third in the long jump with a 16-6 leap.
Last season, James set two HC school records. She has the 300 hurdle mark in 46.4 seconds. She was on the 400 relay that set the school mark with 52.13 seconds. The relay had James, Shiew, Bradshaw and Kaytlin Ewy.
HC has had limited change in school track records. All other Longhorn records have lasted at least nine seasons. James is very close to the 1974 mark of 15.3 seconds set by Vicki Bradshaw.
Hodgeman County girls opened at the 12-team La Crosse meet March 31. The Longhorns finished second with 68 points, six behind Larned.
Last spring, KC captured its second consecutive state title with 64 points. The next six teams were separated by six points. Hodgeman County delivered 35 points.
James finished second to star Kiowa County sprinter Addi Heinson in the 100-meter dash 12.59 to 12.96. In the prelims, Heinson posted a 12.29, which broke the 1A state record that has stood since 1985. The top-3 runners came from the SPIAA.
James finished second in the 100 hurdles in 15.66 to Hanover’s Ceegan Atkins, a junior this spring. In the 300 hurdles, James won in 46.57 with Atkins third. James and Atkins have been the top-two 1A hurdles in early 2022.
Bradshaw was eighth in the 400 dash in 1:02.24.
The 400 relay also took state runner-up with James, Bradshaw, Shiew and Ewy. Shiew has elected not to run track this season after all-conference recognition in volleyball and basketball. The 1,600 relay earned ninth with four non-seniors: Beil, Shiew, Tatum James and Bradshaw.