By CONOR NICHOLL
La Crosse boys, at state for first time since 1991, looks to continue remarkable ride
In 2011, Victoria seniors Colin Schmidtberger and Kyle Schmidt helped the Knights enjoy a remarkable postseason run.
In its first sub-state game, Victoria came back to win at ranked Quinter on a last-second shot. Victoria eventually defeated two ranked teams, Stockton and Downs-Lakeside, to qualify for state.
The Knights were the No. 8 seed and marked Victoria’s first state trip since 1991. Victoria upset top-ranked Hanover in the first round of state and eventually finish fourth.
Twelve years later, Schmidt is the head coach at La Crosse. Schmidtberger is on his first season as an assistant coach. He had previously served as Victoria’s head coach. Kyle convinced him to join the Leopards’ staff.
Additionally, Richard Schmidt is an assistant. Richard coached La Crosse to its last state berth – also in 1991.
Last week, La Crosse, like Victoria in 2011, went to the Quinter sub-state. Last Friday, Kyle Schmidt missed the sub-state semifinal because his first child, a son, was born. Schmidtberger stepped in and led a 62-31 victory.
“Best friends,” Kyle Schmidt said. “…I am so happy he’s here, I am so happy he’s a part of it.”
Kyle Schmidt returned for Saturday’s sub-state title game – against Quinter. Kyle Schmidt mentioned the 2011 similarities to his team. Last Saturday marked the last time Kyle Schmidt had been in Quinter since 2011.
La Crosse players and fanbase were aware of the long drought. Like ’11, La Crosse needed a big comeback versus the Bulldogs. La Crosse trailed by 14 and came back to win 59-57.
“I can’t say enough about him and coach Schmidt,” Kyle Schmidt said. “Great job.”
Afterward, the coaches and players were soaked from spraying water bottles in the locker room. La Crosse had a massive fanbase and enjoyed the first qualification in 32 years.
“I can’t say enough about the comeback,” Schmidt said. “I am speechless.”
The Leopards have enjoyed a plus-nine win improvement after an injury-plagued 8-14 season last year where LHS had several players out and couldn’t get a consistent lineup. La Crosse brought everyone back except one player and had a great summer. La Crosse has won nine in a row and stands at 18-5. The Leopards have talked about a state berth since Day 1.
The Leopards’ last loss came in a 69-37 defeat to Central Prairie League foe Macksville on Jan. 31, though not all of the Leopards were available for the game. Macksville forced 27 turnovers and led by 18 after the first quarter.
On Thursday, No. 2 seed Macksville (21-2) plays No. 7 seed La Crosse (18-5) in the Class 1A, Division I state championship quarterfinals at Dodge City’s United Wireless Arena.
La Crosse senior Bryce Conner missed all his junior season because of a knee injury suffered in football. He has come back with 8.4 points, 3.5 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 2.2 steals a contest. La Crosse has averaged more than 60 possessions per game, a highly quick pace. Conner has come back as the point guard because senior Brodie Schmidt is out.
“It’s huge,” Schmidt said of Conner’s return. “He loves this sport, he loves these guys, and I think it was hard last year for him, and even coming back this year, his role changed. … Took him awhile to get used to that role, but man he found it about midseason, his stride, made the passes, did what he needed to do, did what we asked them to do, and just so proud.”
Junior Caden Morgan, the starting quarterback and an all-state baseball pitcher, paces with 13.8 points, along with 5.1 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 3.2 steals per game. Junior Gage Burk, the team’s emotional and vocal leader, has 8.7 points and 6.2 rebounds a contest. La Crosse opened 1-3.
“It can go either one of two ways,” Schmidt said. “Either you are either going to bounce back. Walked in the locker room after that loss, after starting out 1-3, Gage was stepping up, being a leader, getting vocal with the guys, and started backing it up on the floor, and really from that moment on, we knew we had a chance. We needed a leader. I think Caden is our leader with his play and his actions on the floor. Gage is more of a vocal guy for us, and both those guys together are pretty darn tough.”
Junior Conner Barriger has 8.5 points and a team-high 7.2 rebounds. Junior post Logan Skillett has 7.4 points and 4.4 rebounds per game. Seniors Devyn Braun and Chet Irvin have combined for more than 11 points a contest. Irvin made 16 treys in the first 16 games and hit five in the sub-state title game.
“He’s a shooter,” Schmidt said. “He didn’t always show it this year, but he kept shooting. He fired away, didn’t give up, trusted himself, believed in himself, and I am proud of him. That’s great for his senior year.”
Wellington/Miege girls highlights Day 2
Day 2 of the Kansas state basketball tournament features many high-profile games. Storylines to watch:
4A Girls: Wellington (21-1) versus No. 8 Bishop Miege (13-9) – The Crusaders lost to Miege in the state semifinals last season. For the bulk of the season, Wellington has had Kansas’ best defense. Wellington struggled shooting at state in 2022, and has several great offensive pieces, such as Val Norwood, Kylan Gregory and Britt Zeka. Miege features sophomore Kirston Verhulst, well over 40 percent from 3-point range. Miege has won the last two 4A titles.
2A Girls: Berean Academy (22-1) vs. Hoxie (18-5) – This could be the day’s best game. BA leads all of Kansas in defense entering state, per Massey Ratings. Hoxie is in the top-10 percentile for all classes in offense. Both teams very experienced.
Can the undefeated teams win? Class 2A Pittsburg Colgan girls (22-0) and 5A boys Highland Park (22-0) both have elite scorers and at least two first team all-state playmakers. However, each team has not played a great strength of schedule. Highland Park gets Basehor-Linwood, which has plenty of state experience, and Colgan faces St. Marys and its excellent player in Hayden Heim.
1A-II Boys: At 8 p.m., Beloit St. John’s/Tipton (19-5) faces Lebo (16-7). Both teams had its girls’ teams win Wednesday. Which school will qualify both teams to the final four? As well, Bucklin (15-9) will need to pull an upset against Axtell to match the Red Ace girls qualifying for the final four.
Will league strength continue?
Four leagues dominated Day 1 of the state basketball (record for both genders combined)
Eastern Kansas League: 5-0
Twin Valley League: 3-0
Mid-Continent League: 2-0