Basketball in Kansas: “Our time” – How senior-laden Macksville and Doniphan West capped a nine-year journey and exemplified the state tournaments

Doniphan West won the first girls’ state basketball title in school history behind three seniors who played together since third grade.


DODGE CITY – Nine years ago, Macksville boys’ basketball coach Jeff Kuckelman formed a third grade team. The squad included his son, Ryan, along with Rogelio and Alvaro Ibarra, Lance Lickiss and Alexis Barron.

Macksville went to Wichita for its first MAYB tournament and faced some all-star teams. The Mustangs earned a medal. Coach Kuckelman placed the medals around their necks.

“I told them that day this won’t be the last medal I will ever put around your neck, and they all knew what I meant,” Kuckelman said to SIK.

Back then, Kuckelman had already won two high school state titles, in 2006 and ’11. The ’11 team featured Lickiss’ uncle, Derek Bevan, as a standout player. Rogelio Ibarra’s brother was a reserve who played huge minutes in a sub-state win against Ashland. Kuckelman thought the third graders could accomplish similar success.

“I believed it,” Kuckelman said. “I wanted them to believe it, and so they have done nothing but work on it and make sure it happened.”

When the group entered sixth grade, Kuckelman pushed for the core group to play junior high basketball. Macksville didn’t usually do that, but the seventh and eighth grade classes were low in numbers.

“We knew it was going to be a group that was going to keep playing through the years,” he said.

As freshmen, Macksville won nine games but competed against more experienced teams. Ryan Kuckelman could see “the potential that we had” toward the end of the year. Macksville won 13 games two years ago and had the breakthrough season to a third place showing in Class 1A, Division I last March.

This season, Macksville was the 1A-I state favorite since midseason. Kuckelman and Barron started every game of their careers. Ibarra started nearly every contest. Lickiss started multiple years. Kuckelman, Barron and Ibarra all scored between 920 and 1,100 career points. Lickiss cleared 400 rebounds. More than 73 percent of the team’s points came from the seniors.

On Saturday morning, a Facebook post showed the current seniors as third graders after the first MAYB tournament. On Saturday night, Macksville achieved the longtime goal with a 73-62 victory against Wichita Classical in the Class 1A, Division I state championship game at United Wireless Arena. It marked Macksville’s first state title since 2011. The Mustangs finished 24-2. Coach Kuckelman labeled this group the deepest team he’s ever had in his 21 years.

“It means everything, this group of guys, we have been playing together since third grade,” Ryan Kuckelman said. “And this was our goal since day one, was a state championship, and to achieve it together with all our guys, it’s a dream come true for sure.”

In the postgame medal ceremony, coach Kuckelman reminded several of his players of the first medal he put around their necks – and now the last. Macksville shot 62 percent and 58 percent in the semifinals and finals, the best shooting percentages in any contest this year.

“We have had good chemistry with him,” Barron said. “And has worked with us and has done everything to help us improve as players.”

Lickiss finished with 23 points in the semifinals, 20 in the championship. He had one game of 20 points his entire career before Friday. Rogelio Ibarra, Barron and Kuckelman all scored in double figures in the state title game. Macksville tallied more than 70 points in each state game.

“It’s just unbelievable to have it come to fruition, because obviously we put in a lot of time together and a lot of hours, and all that effort paid off,” coach Kuckelman said.

Macksville, though, wasn’t the only seasoned group that made state history Saturday, a group that included 1A-I Doniphan West girls, 3A Goodland girls, 2A Berean Academy girls, and 2A Moundridge boys.

Macksville’s senior class accomplished a longtime goal with a state title. (Photo by Tessa Lickiss).


Doniphan West senior Kyra Johnson still remembers playing basketball in third grade with a group that included Chloe Clevenger, Claire Cole and Avery Weathersbee in the Hiawatha league.

“We were fourth graders playing in the sixth grade league,” Johnson said. ” And we were always getting beat, but that led us to here, so we stuck together. We do most of the sports together, and we just really count on each other.”

Doniphan West is the consolidation of Midway-Denton and Highland. The school formed in 2004 and had limited girls’ success. However, Cole and Clevenger helped DW win state cross country titles in ’19 and ’20. Weathersbee and Johnson delivered a complete turnaround in volleyball for a program that consistently was well under .500.

In 2021, the then-sophomores held Doniphan West reach the state basketball tournament for the first time. DW believed it was the best team in the field but suffered a tough loss to Norwich in the state semifinals and took third. Clevenger then moved to McPherson. A third-place state finish came in volleyball this fall.

“When I was younger, I was really short, so I was more of a guard,” Johnson said. “But Avery has been our post, Claire has been our wing, and I just kind of do both. We work really well together.”

On Saturday, the Doniphan West seniors won the first state girls’ basketball title with a 55-49 victory against Quinter in the 1A-I state game in Dodge. Johnson delivered 22 points, 13 rebounds and five assists. After missing two front end of 1-and-1 free throws, she made four crucial free throws down the stretch after Quinter cut a 16-point deficit to four.

“She is a competitor that way,” coach Perry Smith said.

Cole recorded eight points and three assists. Weathersbee delivered 12 points, eight rebounds and three steals. The seniors played a combined 94 minutes, 8 seconds of a possible 96 minutes in the final.

“It’s amazing,” Weathersbee said. “It’s something we have always worked for. We really wanted it our sophomore year, and we didn’t get it, so we got back to the gym and worked even harder and came back and got it.”

No. 5 seed Doniphan West and Quinter were both outside of the top-10 in the preseason coaches’ rankings. Known for its athletes and transition game, DW finished 21-5. Two of the losses, including the Mustangs’ final defeat on Feb. 10, came to league rival Hanover. The Wildcats finished 26-0 and rolled to the Division II state title.

At state, Doniphan West defeated Central Plains in the state quarterfinals. The Oilers had won every contested state title from ’14-22. In the semifinals, DW rallied to beat Norwich in a ’21 rematch.

Coach Smith’s brother, Garry, led Midway-Denton girls to the 1990 state championship. Perry went to Jackson Heights and never missed a game. The Smith extended family is full of coaches. Garry was in Dodge City, a moment that meant a lot for Perry.

Perry Smith had taken Wetmore to two final fours and DW to one, though this season marked his first finals showing. He came out of the locker room soaked from a surprise water spraying from the girls. Smith has coached DW for seven years and watched the current seniors grow up. All three seniors are first team all-state in at least two sports, the most accomplished group in DW girls’ history.

“They are decent athletes, but they are not great athletes, but they are competitors, and they want to win,” Smith said. “They strive to win. They do what it takes to win. You see how balanced we are. Nobody cares who’s getting the shots or who scores the points. They are worried about winning the game and competing at the highest level, and we did that.”


Goodland girls finished 26-0 and won its second straight 3A state title. The Cowgirls have the state’s longest current winning streak for all classes and genders at 39 games. Goodland’s remarkable generational group returned all but one player off last season’s team.

The Cowgirls’ senior class has four players, all at least 5-foot-11: Jordin Owens, Olivia Lehman, Lindsey Cure and Talexa Weeter, the unanimous GWAC player of the year and likely a top-5 all classes player. The senior class recorded more than 200 victories in volleyball and basketball combined and completely transformed Goodland girls’ sports. Juniors Haley Biermann, Jaxi Mitchek, Haley Blochlinger and Jacelyn Horinek played a key role, too.

Goodland rolled Cheney, 59-37, in the championship as Weeter finished with 31 points. Goodland’s 1-3-1 defense with height and athleticism held Cheney to 1 of 15 shooting. Goodland navigated an historically great 3A field. Weeter has signed with Fort Hays basketball, Cure with Division II Regis volleyball. Weeter tallied 83 points in three state games. Olivia Lehman came back from injury that cost her nearly all of the semifinal win to deliver 14 points and six rebounds.

“A group of girls who wanted something different,” Goodland coach Bill Biermann said of the turnaround on his postgame radio show. “Who came in and owned it. … They are winners in everything.”

In 6A, led by returning player of the year Grant Stubblefield, Blue Valley Northwest captured the state title with six seniors. Hugoton boys won its first-ever state crown behind its standout senior duo of Ryle Riddlesperger and Carson Bennett.

In 5A, Andover boys won its first-ever title behind five seniors, including Brandon Redic and Eli Shetlar, a Division I Indiana State commit. Redic hit the game-winning foul shot to beat Highland Park with less than a second left in the semifinals. Shetlar’s dad, Martin, is the veteran boys’ coach. Andover finished 23-2 and beat Kapaun, 54-46, in the finals.

In 2A boys, Moundridge concluded its storybook season in the last year under legendary coach Vance Unrau. He announced his retirement during the season. The Wildcats beat TMP on a last-second shot in the semifinals and defeated Wichita Independent, 66-46, in the finals for a 22-3 season.

In 2A girls, Berean Academy lost to league rival Sterling in the regular season and again in the state semifinals last year. Sterling was undefeated 2A champs. This winter, BA was ranked No. 1 in the preseason and had the state’s statistical best defense for all classes entering last week.

BA never lost to a KSHSAA school, finished 25-1 and permitted just 82 points at state, nine off the all-classes record. The Warriors have six seniors, headlined by Lillie Veer, 6-1 Leah Mullins and 6-foot Tayton Smith.

“This group just has bought in,” BA coach Kristin Wiebe said. “And it’s not necessarily just one player shutting another player down. It’s even just our help. Everybody’s in help and understanding.”

In 1A-II, Greeley County boys repeated behind six seniors: 2,000-point career scorer Jaxson Brandl, Titus Sherer, Isaac Schneider, Valentin Villalobos, Jariath Yanez and Carson Luebbers. GC finished 25-1 and beat Lebo, 49-43, in the final. The seniors, like Macksville and Greeley County, started playing in third grade.

“This senior class has always been thought of being good growing up,” GC coach Josh Gooch told SIK earlier this year.


Doniphan West works on its transition game each day. The pace affected Central Plains in the quarterfinals and wore down Norwich. DW started the title game on a 7-2 run. Quinter had to use two quick timeouts and committed 10 turnovers in the first quarter. DW had a goal to try to beat QHS and the Bulldogs’ 6-foot-2 Anna Briggs, the likely 1A-I player of the year, down the court.

“The main part of our game is transition, transition, transition,” Weathersbee said.

Quinter cut the deficit to 29-26 at halftime. Coach Matt Havlas thought about subbing out a visibly tired Briggs inside the final minute, but kept her in. She picked up her third foul with 8.7 seconds left in the first half. Still, QHS, which won eight games last season and 22 this year, remained positive.

“I went in and told the girls, I said, ‘Man, first day of practice this summer, if I would told you we are in the state championship finals, down three points at halftime, would you have took it?,” Havlas said. “They were like, ‘Yeah, we would have took that.’ And I said well, let’s go out there and get a win. And we tried.”

DW led 45-29 late third quarter before Quinter cut the deficit all the way back to 51-47 inside the final minute.

“We don’t have a ton of size on our team, like Anna Briggs, she was really tall, so our goal was to get it down the court before she was able to block our shots and make defensive plays,” Johnson said.

Briggs averages 17 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks per game. She finished with 11 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks. Weathersbee credited the coaching staff for the scouting. Entering the game, coach Smith told her to “take away” Briggs’ right shoulder.

“She turns over her right shoulder every time,” Weathersbee said. “She’s very left-hand dominant, and we knew that if we took that away from her, we had a chance to win the game. We also had a good big block out on her, and that was successful for us.”

QHS’ supporting cast of Cashlyn Kvasnicka, Kennedy Werth, Kelsey Selensky, Saige Betz and Bryn Gillespie helped pull the Bulldogs back. Smith wasn’t happy that his team didn’t extend the lead when Briggs was out with foul trouble.

Briggs missed an open 3 with 33.7 seconds left that would have cut the lead to one.

“The girls were tired,” Havlas said. “I play my starters a lot, have all year, but I needed them out there, and they know that. And I think that were just gassed, and we lost a few balls off of our hands, but they wanted to be out there. We almost came back.”

After Briggs’ missed 3, Johnson drew another foul. She had just missed two free throws. She heard assistant coach Jim Leatherman to take a deep breath.

“I took the biggest one I could at that time, put them in with confidence, so that’s on him for helping me with that,” Johnson said.

The third one made the margin a three-possession game and effectively sealed history for the DW girls.

“We wanted to get it done for the school and the community,” Johnson said. “We never had before in the school history, so we knew this was the group to do it. We have a special group. We all connect really well, so we knew this was our time.”


On Thursday night, Derek Bevan stood next to the indoor tennis courts at Barton County Community College. Bevan, already the most successful coach in Bucklin boys’ basketball history, reflected on the Macksville seniors. His Bucklin team had just lost in the first round of the 1A-II state tournament.

“He is as close with these guys practically as I am,” coach Kuckelman said of Bevan.

Bevan remembered helping coach the seniors in third and fourth grade with Kuckelman. He led them some in the summer, too.

“Traveling all over Kansas, playing in the summer, so they’ve got a good core,” Bevan said. “Their chemistry is probably the best you will find out here, and they play really well together. They play unselfish. It doesn’t matter if they get two points or 20 points as long as they’re playing well and getting the win, that’s all that matters. They play relentless as well, and they’ve got a lot of speed with some of those younger guards.”

The experience and depth helped Macksville be a superb team on defense and assists. Kuckelman significantly talked to his team about making the extra pass. At halftime, Classical and Macksville were tied at 40. During halftime, Barron said Macksville knew this was their “last moment” and they “always have a good third quarter.”

Macksville outscored Classical, 17-9, in the third. Five players scored in a 12-2 run to open the half that essentially provided the winning margin. Afterward, Lickiss and his mother, Tessa, had a long tearful embrace on the court. Ryan Kuckelman received plenty of hugs. Macksville and its fan base lingered on the court and kept taking photos. Finally at 8:11 p.m., UWA staff flicked the lights, signaling time to leave, and concluding an era that started nearly a decade ago.

“We have worked our way up until this point, and it’s an amazing, amazing moment for us,” Barron said.

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