By CONOR NICHOLL
QUINTER – In 2020-21, Quinter girls’ basketball enjoyed an 11-win improvement to 17-6 for a team that had one senior. Anna Briggs, Kennedy Werth and Cashlyn Kvasnicka, all freshmen or sophomores, played key roles.
Briggs averaged 12.4 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks a contest. Werth and Kvasnicka combined for 9.4 points, 5.5 assists and 2.1 steals for veteran coaches Matt Havlas and Scott Crist.
Briggs comes from a longtime Quinter farming family. She is the middle of three sisters. Their mother, Amy, passed away on Feb. 13, 2020.
Their father, Bart, remarried and the family eventually moved to Nebraska. Last winter, Anna played for York, a Nebraska powerhouse, and set the school single season mark for blocks. Quinter, affected by Anna’s absence and several injuries, dropped to eight wins. Werth received all-conference honors.
The Bulldogs had an inkling that the new blended Briggs family – now with six daughters – would return to Quinter for the 2022-23 school year.
“We were hoping and praying she would come back for her senior year, because not just for basketball, but we love her,” Werth said. “We love Anna.”
Anna, a 6-foot-2 post, returned to Quinter and played the full summer with her teammates. The Bulldogs lost just one game. Briggs, who has played for Western Kansas Elite, has received significant collegiate interest, especially from Tabor.
In her first three seasons, Kvasnicka made 35 treys and shot 22 percent from long range. Between volleyball and basketball in 2022, Kvasnicka and her younger sister, Caybrie, shot every day. They honed the 3-point shot. One drill came when a sister shot, ran in, grabbed the rebound, came back out and played defense on each other.
“That really helped for this year,” Kvasnicka said.
Quinter was not ranked in the preseason top-10 in Class 1A, Division I by the Kansas Basketball Coaches Association. SIK named QHS a Potential Breakout team in December.
Helped by Briggs’ return, Kvasnicka’s vocal presence, much improved outside shooting and another strong all-around year from Werth, the Bulldogs won the early season Quinter Castle Rock Classic. On Tuesday, Quinter delivered a signature 47-44 comeback win against Rexford-Golden Plains. Kvasnicka and Briggs are captains.
“It’s been really special,” Briggs said.
Havlas is 104-86 with a state title and two state appearances in nine seasons at Quinter, easily the most successful run in Bulldog girls’ basketball annals. Quinter trailed 33-18 with 3 minutes, 30 seconds left in the third quarter.
The 15-point deficit marked the biggest comeback in Havlas’ tenure. A jubilant Havlas labeled the result a “great win” and a “total team effort.” Sophomore Bryn Gillespie, along with juniors Kelsey Selensky and Saige Betz are key players, too.
Werth made a trey and went 4 of 4 from the foul line in the final 3:15, including two free throws with 17.9 seconds left after she received a softball-type throw. Werth projected calm at the foul line, though was shaking after the game. Briggs was in foul trouble throughout the second half and fouled out with 5 minutes, 7 seconds left. She finished with seven points, 11 rebounds and four blocks.
“We work so hard, and I just knew I had to do that for my teammates and my coach,” Werth said. “It was crazy.”
Quinter has already exceeded last year’s win total and is squarely in the state championship conversation in relatively wide-open Class 1A, Division I. The Bulldogs are currently ranked ninth at 11-1. Quinter has beaten every team on its schedule. QHS lost to Wallace County, 50-29, on Jan. 13, and earned a 43-26 tournament semifinal victory Jan. 20 versus WC.
The GP game starts a stretch of four games against ranked teams that will shape league title races and team’s resumes.
“Oh my gosh, it was crazy, we really needed that, especially with this big week and next week,” Werth said. “It made us a lot better, and we are really excited for the rest of the season, and that was a big confidence booster.”
On Friday, Quinter will travel to rival Hoxie (9-3). The veteran Indians, led by 5-foot-10 junior Kinley Rogers and junior point guard Josey Kennedy, finished second in the Mid-Continent League tournament that concluded Monday because of weather. Kennedy averages 18 points a game. Hoxie is ranked No. 10 in 2A.
On Jan. 30, Quinter faces St. Francis (12-1, No. 10 in 1A-I) at Dighton in the Northwest Kansas League midseason tournament championship. The game was rescheduled because of the significant snowstorm on Jan. 21. Then, QHS will play at SF on Feb. 3 in a game that could decide the regular season conference crown. Quinter and SF are both in the Quinter sub-state.
“Those teams are going to make us better,” Havlas said. “Just like tonight. They made us better.”
Golden Plains, final four and state runner-up the last two years in Class 1A, Division II with longtime coach Parker Christensen, stands at 8-3. GP has the state’s longest regular season winning streak end earlier this season. GP is currently ranked fifth in Division II. Golden Plains has routinely faced limited resistance in the regular season. The Quinter game helps for a possible state run to Great Bend.
“Win or lose, it doesn’t matter playing this kind of a team,” Christensen said. “So I told the girls, the way we competed, I think we got a little tired. I don’t have the depth, and some of the close outs, when they began to get hot, we were just a little short and not quite there, so give them credit, they hit it, too.”
Quinter had lost four in a row against Golden Plains since 2018 and was 1-10 in the previous 11 meetings since 2011.
“It’s never going to be easy to beat Parker Christensen,” Havlas said. “He’s the best coach out here in western Kansas. All he does is win.”
In ’17-18, Havlas and Crist guided Quinter to a 20-5 mark and the first girls’ basketball title in school annals. It marked a huge climb. Five years earlier, QHS was winless in girls’ basketball. Then, Havlas took over and Quinter improved to seven and 11 wins before a state berth in 2017.
The state championship team, paced by co-SIK classification players of the year in Peyton Havlas and Kylie Crist (Matt’s daughter and Scott’s sister), averaged 59 possessions a game. The team scored .78 points per possession and allowed .63. Quinter grabbed 30 percent of offensive rebounds, posted steals on 18 percent of possessions, shot 37 percent from field and 25 percent from 3-point range.
This season, Quinter has bettered several key markers from the state team – and showed massive improvement over last year. Havlas has told the ’22-23 team he’s never had a squad work harder.
“I think that just motivates us to work harder, and harder and harder,” Kvasnicka said. “It’s so exciting. Everyone is ready on game days. Everyone is pumped up. We all get along. Team meals are fun. We are all just really close, and it’s just a good chemistry this year.”
Plus, this winter is expected to mark the end of Crist coaching in Quinter. Scott Crist, a former QHS point guard, has done an excellent job coaching Quinter’s junior high and sub-varsity, along with assisting Havlas. Crist is engaged to Kassie Maddox. They have bought a house in Texas.
“It’s tough,” Werth said. “He has always been around. He has coached me since sixth grade, and it’s going to be weird going into my senior season without him, and it’s sad, but I knew he’s going to be happy going where he is.”
This season, Quinter has averaged .82 points per possession and allowed .48 points per possession. Quinter has produced steals on 23 percent of possessions and blocks on 6.2 percent. Including her time at York, Briggs has more than 850 points, 600 rebounds and 300 blocks in her career, per MaxPreps and SIK research.
“I am significantly taller usually,” Briggs said. “I just kind of put my hands up and just try to get my hand on the ball.”
Quinter has shot 40 percent and made 29 percent of treys. Briggs leads with 15.8 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks a game.
By comparison, Pretty Prairie won 1A-I last year with statistically one of the best scoring defenses in modern girls’ basketball. PP allowed .45 points per possession and had blocks on 6.6 percent. Pretty Prairie shot 43 percent and made 29 percent of treys.
“She saves us a lot of points,” Havlas said of Briggs.
Briggs’ return has shifted Werth’s role. An unselfish player, she delivered 11.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.5 steals last year. This season, she is at 7.4 points, 1.7 rebounds – though has increased to 3.7 assists and 2.4 steals per game. Her shooting efficiency, though, is way up from 39 percent as a sophomore to 51 percent this year.
“I just have to know my role,” Werth said. “I might not be the biggest scorer, but I know I just have to encourage my teammates, make the best passes, play defense, everybody on the team knows their role this year, and it’s great, the energy is just different.”
She finished with 15 points on 4 of 9 shooting, including 3 of 5 from the 3-point line against Golden Plains.
“She has given her stats up because we have Anna on the team,” Havlas said. “She has more assists. She doesn’t score as much. She doesn’t care, she doesn’t care if she scores or not. Tonight, we needed her to score.”
Kvasnicka, the basketball team’s positive vocal leader, exceeded 1,000 career assists in volleyball this fall.
“That’s just me,” Kvasnicka said. “That’s just me at practice. There were some seniors a couple of years ago that did it, and I knew I wanted to be just like that for the younger classmen coming up, because I think it helps so much.”
“She is like the heart of the team,” Werth added. “She is always encouraging us no matter what, even if we are down.”
Quinter trailed Golden Plains, 25-16, at halftime. In the locker room, Havlas echoed his familiar phrase “don’t hang your head.” Kvasnicka saw players disappointed. She remained positive.
“I am clapping and I am getting everybody ready,” she said. “It’s a lot of work, but I think games like that, it’s so fun. Each team got better tonight. I love the game, and I think that helps so much, playing with my best friends, it’s so cool out there.”
Then, Quinter came out of the locker room and was going through normal shooting in the final minutes before halftime. Kvasnicka went over to Werth and told her, “You are having a great game.” Werth was 3 of 5 in the first half for eight points.
“She is definitely due for a great game, because she hustles and she has great defense, and she is a team player,” Kvasnicka said.
Quinter trailed 33-18 before the comeback. Gillespie hit a shot off a Selensky pass. Betz made a trey. Kvasnicka found Gillespie for another basket. With 24 seconds left, Gillespie delivered a steal and fast break layup. With six seconds left before the third quarter buzzer, Havlas yelled at Werth to look at the clock. She made a good pass to Kvasnicka, who sunk a trey from just above the top of the key. Quinter trailed 35-30 entering the fourth.
“That was probably what changed the course of the game for us,” Werth said. “That was a big play.”
Kvasnicka, shooting with more confidence this year after the offseason work, sank another trey in the fourth quarter. After 5.3 points per game and 29 percent shooting last year, she has 10.1 points and 42 percent shooting this winter.
By percentage, Kvasnicka is among the state’s top 3-point shooters at 39 percent (27 of 70). Overall, Quinter made eight treys, its second-most this year. The last one, from Werth, broke a 40-40 tie and propelled Quinter to a memorable win in a much-improved season.
“We did not want to lose that game,” Werth said.