By CONOR NICHOLL
Sports In Kansas looks at multiple key results and tournaments from the weekend and specifically looks at: Bucklin girls, South Gray boys, Maize South girls, Atchison County girls and St. James girls.
SG, Maize South and SJA are not currently ranked. Bucklin and Atchison County were not ranked in the preseason. All five won tournaments.
1.Bucklin girls 50, Spearville 35 for SPIAA title – The Southern Plains Iroquois (SPIAA) has consistently been a terrific 1A/2A basketball league for multiple years. Both boys and girls have consistently had upsets in the league tournament held at Dodge City’s United Wireless Arena.
In the preseason, Bucklin was unranked in Class 1A, Division II. In their league, Hodgeman County, South Gray, Ashland and Coldwater South Central were all ranked. Bucklin girls went 11-13 last winter, the Red Aces’ first sub-.500 season in five years under veteran coach Craig Bowman.
However, Bucklin had just two seniors on last year’s team and returned more than 91 percent of the scoring. Last year, Sydnie Jones averaged 13.8 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 2.6 steals a contest. Halie Feikert had 12.3 points and 10.5 rebounds.
This season, Bucklin is 12-2 and has won 10 in a row after a 50-35 championship win against Spearville on Saturday night at UWA. Bucklin entered the tournament as the No. 2 seed, while Spearville was seeded fifth. Last year, Hodgeman County beat Coldwater-South Central in the championship game.
By preseason rankings, Bucklin girls are one of the biggest surprises for all classes.
Bucklin lost to 3A Hoisington and 1A-1’s St. John in competitive losses in December. Since then, the Red Aces own victories against Kiowa County (43-39), Attica (61-43), South Gray (57-47), South Central (54-17), Ashland (40-33) and South Gray (41-39).
Last year, Bucklin averaged .70 points per possession and allowed .68. The Red Aces had turnovers on 30 percent of possessions. This year, Bucklin has significantly upped to .85 points per possession, allowed .62 points per possession and lowered the turnovers to 23 percent of possessions. Bucklin has a sizable lead in the 1A-II Deerfield sub-state. Ashland is the only other team with more than five wins in the sub-state.
Bucklin has elevated to fourth in the Class 1A, Division II rankings, trailing only Hanover, Lebo and Hutchinson Central Christian. In the final, Bucklin controlled throughout. The Red Aces led 17-6 after the first quarter, 33-17 at halftime and 41-26 after the third quarter. Spearville, which is known for its 3-point shooting, finished with just two made 3s.
Jones, who started as a freshman when Bucklin won the SPIAA tournament, delivered 13 points. Bucklin went 11 of 30 from the foul line. Feikert tallied eight points. Freshman Karlee Evans had 11, while Emmerson Kirk delivered 13 points.
Jones has upped to 15.2 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.2 steals and 2.6 assists a contest. Kirk has delivered a huge freshman year with 11 points, 3.8 assists, 3.2 rebounds and 2.8 steals. Feikert had averaged a near double-double again with 9.9 points and 10.8 rebounds per game. Evans has 3.4 points a contest. Freshman Isabel Bowman has stepped up with 6.3 points and 3.5 rebounds per game.
In the third-place game, tournament No. 1 seed Hodgeman County defeated third-seeded South Gray, 54-45. The game was tied entering the fourth quarter. HC was a state final four team each of the last two years and did not lose in the regular season in 2021-22. Morgan Ruff and Malynn Beil each delivered 20 points for the Longhorns, which entered last week ranked third in Division I.
In the semifinals, Spearville girls upset Hodgeman County, 52-49. HC’s Ruff, who averages more than 17 points a game, scored 28 points in the loss. Faith Ackerman had 18 and Cameron Offerle delivered 15 points in the win.
Bucklin held off South Gray, 41-39. Jones finished with 13, while Kirk had 10 and Evans eight.
This week, Hodgeman County girls rematch against South Gray at home on Tuesday. Then, Bucklin hosts to Hodgeman County on Friday. These games will likely decide the SPIAA regular season championship. Additionally, Hodgeman County, Spearville, South Gray and Kiowa County are all in the 1A-1 Kinsley sub-state.
2. South Gray boys 63, Pawnee Heights 54 in SPIAA championship – It’s extremely rare for South Gray boys to not be ranked. SG has longtime coach Mark Applegate. He and Hill City’s Keith Riley are the state’s all-time winningest boys’ coaches. SG has taken second to Olpe at state each of the last two winters. SG opened third and Meade seventh in the 1A-1 preseason rankings. Pawnee Heights was fifth in 1A-II.
However, South Gray dropped out of the rankings after some early season losses. After Saturday, though, SG re-stated itself as a significant 1A-I state contender in a highly balanced classification. S
outh Gray lost its second and third games of the year with an overtime defeat versus Meade and a nine-point loss to Holcomb. Since then, the Rebels have reeled off 10 straight and stand at 11-2.
That included 48-42 against Coldwater-South Central on Tuesday, 68-57 in the rematch against Meade in the tournament semifinals and 63-54 versus Pawnee Heights in the championship game. PH is 10-3 and a significant 1A-II state title contender.
In the final, PH led South Gray, 20-14, after the first quarter. However, South Gray led 34-32 at halftime and 51-45 after three quarters. SG, always known for great shooting under Applegate, went 11 of 13 from the foul line and made eight 3-pointers. Jorge Lupercio scored 18 points, Dominic Martin had 16 and Keegan Loewen delivered 15.
Pawnee Heights’ standout Alec Carlson, the frontrunner for Division II player of the year, scored 32 points for the Tigers.
In the semifinal win against Meade, South Gray again trailed after the first quarter. Meade was up 16-13 after the first quarter, SG led 25-23 at halftime and 52-39 after three quarter. South Gray made nine 3s – and made 13 of 18 from the foul line.
Meade was 3 of 10 from the foul line and sunk four threes. In the Meade victory, Joey Dyck had 20 points, Carter Jantz scored 16, Dominic Martin scored 13, Lupercio had 13.
While Olpe was a sizable favorite last year, 1A-I is much more open with Olpe, Macksville, Centralia, Norwich, Osborne and others. Add South Gray back into the mix after another SPIAA title.
3.Maize South girls win, Lowe named MVP at El Dorado – Maize South won the 30th annual El Dorado Lady Cat Classic last week and standout post Avery Lowe earned MVP honors. Lowe has committed to Nebraska-Kearney basketball and is having a huge season. In the 52-20 first-round tournament win against MV, Lowe delivered 20 points, six rebounds, four steals and three assists and shot 80 percent from the field.
In the 68-45 semifinal win against Wichita East, Lowe delivered 20 points, 14 rebounds, three assists and three steals. Lowe made a pair of treys. East had all five starters foul out. Maize South held off Gardner-Edgerton, 44-43, in the championship game. Lowe finished 16 points, six rebounds, four steals and three assists. Maize South is 9-3. The Mavs are not ranked in 5A, but own wins against Andover Central (No. 10 5A) and Gardner-Edgerton (6-5).
Maize South scored the game’s last nine points, including a Lowe 3 and another basket through a double team.
Maize South, AC and Hutchinson are in a three-way tie for third in 5A West; the top-four teams in 5A West will own sub-state. Maize South has won six in a row. Only one KSHSAA team, Hutchinson in a 56-50 win against the Mavs on Jan. 6, has scored more than 44 points against Maize South this year.
4. Atchison County girls continue gauntlet, win at Jeff County North; Schletzbaum closing in on 1,000 career points – Atchison County, which was in 2A last season and finished 17-5, has enjoyed a great season in 3A. Atchison County won the Jefferson County North tournament over the weekend.
The Tigers are highly experienced and returned 98 percent of the scoring. AC has seven seniors: Natalie Nitz, Aleah Wallisch, Addison Schletzbaum, Jenna Pitts, Jordan Caplinger, Lainey Pantle, and Emme Smith.
Atchison County is 13-0 and is currently ranked sixth. Starting with last Friday, AC played Friday, Saturday and then has games this Monday, Tuesday and Friday. AC won the first two of those contests at the JCN to Rossville (68-62 in overtime) and beat Perry-Lecompton, 60-35, in the final.
Rossville is 9-4, while P-L stands at 6-7.
Nitz averages 14.6 points and 4.1 assists and ranks as one of the state’s top shooters. She has made 42 of 97 treys (43 percent). Wallisch has 13.5 points and 7.8 rebounds. Sophomore Kinzee Bauerle has 12.7 points and 3.9 rebounds a game.
Schletzbaum has multiple collegiate offers and has changed her game this season. She averaged double-figure scoring each of her first three season. This year, she has averaged a career high in assists. Her line is eight points, 6.2 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.9 steals per contest. She has 977 career points. The 5-foot-3 Nitz has delivered 871 points.
All four players made all tournament team for coach Austin Eckert.
Wallisch earned the honor after 14.3 points, 10.3 rebounds, 2.6 blocks and two steals a contest. Bauerle had 12 points, 3.6 rebounds and three assists per game. Schletzbaum had nine points, seven rebounds, five assists and 1.6 steals a game. Nitz was also all-tournament after 16.3 points, 4.3 assists and three rebounds.
Overall, Atchison County has upped its offensive efficiency from .89 points per possession to 1.03 this year (anything above 1.00 is outstanding statistically at the high school level). Plus, the defense permitted .61 points per possession last year to .53 this season. The Tigers have lowered their turnover rate to 22 percent.
On Monday, AC plays Doniphan West (9-3) before a league game against 7-3 Maur Hill on Tuesday. On Friday, the Tigers have the rematch versus rival Jackson Heights (11-3). On Jan.7, AC earned its marquee 62-46 win against Jackson Heights. That ended Jackson Heights’ 51-game Northeast Kansas League winning streak.
5. St. James girls win the 28th annual McPherson tournament – St. James Academy had taken four losses entering the prestigious McPherson Mid-America Classic tournament. From Dec. 16-Jan. 6, the Thunder lost three straight, all to top-five ranked teams: rival Aquinas (77-60), McPherson on a neutral floor (69-61) and to rival Bishop Miege (62-60 in overtime).
SJA was ranked fourth in the 5A preseason, though had fallen out of the rankings.
After three wins, the Thunder fell to Raytown (Mo.) in overtime. Then, SJA defeated Staley (Mo.) in a wild 86-78 overtime contest, the last game before McPherson. The Thunder rolled over Manhattan (64-31) and defeated McPherson, 56-48, in the rematch Friday. In the championship, SJA beat Wichita Southeast, 49-38.
The five-player tournament team was: St. James’ Riley Bruggeman, McPherson’s Jordan Sears, Dodge City’s Becca Unruh, Wichita Southeast’s Ma’Khiyah Jones, and Clearwater’s Carli Carlson. Clearwater earned the Team Sportsmanship Award.
Bruggeman hit four treys against McPherson in the win. Sears, headed to Newman, finished with 17 points and 12 rebounds against SJA. Bruggeman is among the state’s top players with 21.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists. Plus, 5-foot-11 sophomore Reese Messer has enjoyed a great season with 13.1 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3.4 assists a contest.
McPherson is 11-2 and ranked second in 4A. St. James is unranked, though should bump back in this week.
Undefeated girls teams left in Kansas: 6A Shawnee Mission South, 4A Wellington, 3A’s Goodland, Atchison County, Nemaha Central and Phillipsburg, 2A’s Colgan and Berean Academy, 1A-1’s Pretty Prairie, 1A-2’s Hanover and Lebo.
The top-7 3A ranked girls teams are a combined 88-4: Goodland, Phillipsburg, Nemaha Central, Cheney, Haven, Atchison County and Silver Lake.
Other top showings:
Cheney girls won the Haven tournament for the third straight year with a 45-31 win against Garden Plain. Leah Durr and Campbell Hague earned all-tournament. Hague has committed Division I San Diego State volleyball. In the final, Reagan Ayres delivered 14 points, Hague finished with 12 and Durr had 10.
This season, the 6-foot-2 Hague has 11 points, nine rebounds, three assists, three steals and three blocks a game. Durr is at 11 points and 7.8 rebounds. Durr is a terrific offensive rebounder with 5.1 a game, including six against Garden Plain. Cheney is 12-1 and ranked fourth in 3A.
Lebo girls continue to roll and won the Lyon County League regular season and tournament championship. The Wolves are ranked second in Class 1A, Division II.
In Class 6A, Olathe North have enjoyed a nice turnaround to 10-2. The Eagles were 11-11 last season. ON is currently ranked fourth in 6A.
Rose Hill’s Kellan Simoneau cleared 1,000 career points.
Today is the rescheduled Northwest Kansas League tournament championship game between Quinter and St. Francis girls. This game will occur in Dighton. The teams will match up Friday, too. That contest will likely be for the NWKL regular season crown.
Quinter is 11-2 and ranked No. 9 in Class 1A, Division I. St. Francis is 13-1 and ranked tenth. The squads are also in the same sub-state.
Sunflower Smack, which regularly covered K.C. area teams and the Sunflower League, provided its weekly SL update. Shawnee Mission South leads at 11-0, 5-0, followed by Lawrence at 10-2, 5-0. Olathe North is 8-4, 5-1. SM Northwest is 7-6, 4-2.
East’s Abigail Long continues to lead the conference with 22.3 points per game. She has committed to Yate. West’s S’Mya Nichols has 18 points, six rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2.5 steals a contest. She is second in points and third in assists.
South’s Camryn Smith has 16.4 points, 7.7 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2.9 steals per game, which ranks in the top-three for all numbers. Lawrence’s Daphne Bracker Sturm has 8.4 rebounds a contest, while SM Northwest’s Paige Cheffey has 8.2 rebounds.
G-E’s Landri Schaffer has 15.5 points per game, while Northwest’s Jillian Huckabey has 15.1 points a contest.
Olathe East’s Braylee Rogers has 4.4 assists per game. G-E’s Brenley Cunningham has 4.2 steals a contest.