By SPORTS IN KANSAS
For the second straight year, Sports In Kansas staff as Favorite, Runner-Up and Darkhorse for each girls’ basketball classification. Games start Wednesday.
Favorite: Shawnee Mission South. Wow, this 6A girls tournament is LOADED. Shawnee Mission South – considered by many to be the best team in the state – has no easy game in the first round, taking on Blue Valley, led by last year’s Top 5 All-Classes Player/6A POY and Oklahoma state commit Jadyn Wooten. Wooten and the Tigers showcased a valiant effort in last year’s state semifinal, falling to eventual runner-up Derby in 2 OT. SMS is the favorite.
Runner-up: Derby. I think #2 seed Derby’s experience at state narrowly carries them past a very good, but very young #3 seed Blue Valley North team in the semifinal, so the Panthers finish runner-up.
Darkhorse: Blue Valley. Blue Valley is my dark horse – a team that good at an 8 seed has to be, but defending state champion Washburn Rural has to be considered too and wouldn’t surprise anyone to make a run at it!
Favorite: SM South. South has had an incredible year coming out of nowhere to be the most impressive team on paper entering the state tournament. They were not ranked to enter the year and had just 13 wins last season. Having a victories over Aquinas and Washburn Rural, last years champ in 5A and 6A earlier this season, stood out to show they are the real deal, plus going through the SFL unbeaten.
Runner-up: Derby. Derby has a tough path to the championship but feature a Top-5 all-class player in Addy Brown who leads the Panthers in every category.
Darkhorse: BV North. Featuring Aubrey Shaw, Jaliya Davis and Logan Parks this is one of the more underrated teams in the state. Do not be surprised if this team makes a run for it all at the state tournament. I also have to give a mention to Washburn Rural who is always in the conversation with Kevin Bordewick.
Favorite: SM South. South has great players with Camryn Smith and Joycelyn Moore and Zai Funchess has had a huge year after she transferred from Lone Jack (Mo.). This team has all the pieces and is probably the state’s best team. Class 6A is loaded with at least five potential player of the year candidates, but SMS has the most depth.
Runner-up: Blue Valley North – Derby’s McDonald’s All-American Addy Brown is honestly having a year for the ages. She leads her team in points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks and field goal percentage. But Blue Valley North has faced a harder schedule and has three elite players.
Darkhorse: Blue Valley – Jadyn Wooten led her team to a surprising third-place finish last winter. If BV can beat SMS, it will have a real chance to win state. Wooten has committed to Oklahoma State.
Favorite: Topeka-Seaman. Another very loaded class is 5A girls. Very hard to pick against a team like St. Thomas Aquinas in 5A girls, but can’t discredit what Topeka-Seaman has done. The Vikes have certainly earned the #1 seed with big wins over 6A Derby and Shawnee Mission West.
Runner-up: Bishop Carroll. Bishop Carroll is a team that will be hard to beat led by lone senior Landon Forbes, and I have the Golden Eagles in the title game.
Darkhorse: Emporia High. My dark horse has to be none other than the Emporia Spartans, my former team. A little bias, maybe, but the Spartans have backed it up this season, losing only to #1 seed Topeka Seaman on a buzzer beater, defending 6A state champion/ 6A state qualifier Washburn Rural in OT, and 6A Manhattan in OT.
Favorite: Aquinas. It is hard for me to pick against STA as they are always in the conversation of winning a state title. They’ve won every title since 2015 (2020 no champion). The state championship game very well could come in the semis. Two of STA losses came to out of state opponents and their only other loss is to 6A unbeaten SM South. They beat Miege by 17, Blue Valley by 17 and St. James Academy by 16 and 17.
Runner-up: Bishop Carroll. Carroll should be the favorite on their side of the bracket and looking for their first state title in 19 years, they last did so with their head coach Taylor Dugan, formerly Taylor Steven, as an all-state player in 2004.
Darkhorse: Andover may not be a darkhorse as the three seed but they aren’t getting many talks as a potential state finalist or state champion in this years field. Brooke Walker and Alana Shetlar lead the way.
Favorite: St. Thomas Aquinas. The Saints have excellent depth, guard play and an excellent starting five that routinely controls the pace of games. Aquinas had a controlled win against Bishop Miege; the Stags are probably better than anyone in 5A. STA is again the favorite.
Runner-up: Andover has two of the state’s best in Brooke Walker and Alana Shetlar, both high-level recruits. Walker is 47 percent from the field and 37 percent from 3-point range. We’ve seen individual players carry teams at state, and Walker could certainly do that.
Darkhorse: Andover Central. Going a little upset-minded here, but AC coach Stana Jefferson has won a state championship and has changed her team this season. AC was second and final four the last two seasons. The Jags are playing slower tempo, but still averaging around a point per possession. State games are normally more half-court, and Hayden Snodgrass and Maddie Amekporfor are great athletes in multiple sports.
Favorite: Bishop Miege. Bishop Miege’s record, as always, is very deceiving. Their tough regular season schedule has them ready for the postseason and the defending state champions are the favorite until someone in 4A proves otherwise.
Runner-up: McPherson. I saw McPherson play this season and was very impressed both offensively and defensively. When the Bullpups are clicking, they are one of the best in the state, earning them a spot in my title game prediction.
Darkhorse: Andale. Dark horse for me is Andale – posted a 20+ point win over #1 seed Wellington in late February and their three losses came to state qualifiers Wellington earlier in the season, McPherson, and Cheney (3A).
Favorite: Bishop Miege. While this isn’t one of your dominating Bishop Miege teams that is garnering state headlines in years past, this team still has enough to be the favorite in this classification and should be. They have only played two games against 4A teams all year. Five of their nine losses came to out of state opponents.
Runner-up: McPherson. McPherson is always in the conversation to win the whole thing as well. Their losses have came to Derby and St. James Academy this season, qualifiers in 6A and 5A. McPherson hasn’t had a close game in over a month and dominated in their league this season.
Darkhorse: Hugoton. Hugoton has the team to win the whole thing when healthy, however most of the season that hasn’t been the case with Mikyn Hamlin just recently getting back to her old self. Summya Adigun and Gianna Vos are also all-state players. When this team is at full-speed, they are one of the best in Kansas at any level and could win the state tournament. Andale is another team that could really compete to win the whole thing as well.
Favorite: Bishop Miege. It’s many non-positive things on all sides that Miege had to play No. 1-ranked Wamego in the sub-state title game and gets one-loss Wellington in the first round. Miege plays a regional schedule that includes national powers in Oklahoma and Missouri. Sophomore Kirston Verhulst has shot a remarkable 45 percent from beyond the arc. Miege has three players at least 12 points a game.
Runner-up: McPherson. The Bullpups are a sizable favorite in the bottom half with their defense, depth and efficiency. Coach Chris Strathman has another complete team. Jordan Sears had 28 points in the sub-state title game. McPherson beat everyone on its schedule except Derby.
Darkhorse: Wellington. It’s strange to call the No. 1 seed a darkhorse, but last year I picked Wellington to win. Unfortunately, Miege rolled through everybody. Wellington is a truly great team and had significant shooting woes at state last season. Sophomore Britt Zeka made a school record seven treys in the sub-state title game. I think Wellington definitely shoots better at state and has a chance for history against Miege.
Favorite: Goodland. The Cowgirls are undefeated and playing their best basketball it seems at the end of the season. With a loaded group, it will be hard to scout/take anyone away from this team. Goodland has all the tools to repeat in 3A.
Runner-up: Phillipsburg. Phillipsburg, led of course by Kansas State commit Taryn Sides and now healthy Heather Schemper, should make it a great game in the title with Goodland.
Darkhorse: Cheney. Cheney is the dark horse pick and will look to use their consistency to make a run in the state tournament Sarah McCormick, a coach who’s taken multiple programs to state.
Favorite: Goodland. It is hard to pick against the Cowgirls to repeat and they are one of the best teams in Kansas regardless of classification, along with Phillipsburg. Last year P’burg and Goodland met in the sub-state championship, this year we feel like they’ll meet in the state final. Goodland has a lineup of multiple 6-footers that include all-state senior Talexa Weeter. Lindsey Cure, Olivia Lehman, and Jordin Owens also possess great size. Jaxi Mitchek and Haley Biermann are also two standout juniors.
Runner-up: Phillipsburg. Phillipsburg likely has the state’s best player in any class in Taryn Sides. But P’burg isn’t just Sides. With Heather Schemper being back from injury and the height that they possess they should have exactly what it takes to be right there with Goodland. We think this championship game, if it happens, could be one of the all-time great games.
Darkhorse: Silver Lake. While all the talk has been on Goodland and Phillipsburg as it should be, SL has quietly flown under the radar in the class with a 22-1 record. Makenzie McDaniel is one of the best juniors in the state and is already a multiple time all state pick in class 3A.
Favorite: The Goodland/Phillipsburg potential is one we’ve had our eyes on for weeks. I was at the Goodland’s 40-33 sub-state championship against Phillipsburg last season. Phillipsburg is a slight favorite. Certainly Heather Schemper’s return immensely helps after she missed all last winter with injury. As well, Phillipsburg doesn’t have to play Silver Lake in likely a semifinal. Taryn Sides and Talexa Weeter both average at least 22 points a game. In the sub-state finale last season, Sides held Weeter to four points. An underrated part of the potential state title game: Will Sides guard Weeter?
Runner-up: Goodland. The Cowgirls have the state’s longest winning streak and are the defending 3A girls’ champion. Can Silver Lake – which pressures the point guard extremely well with Mariah Farmer – disrupt the Cowgirls? Goodland has a slight edge with its height and physicality, but Silver Lake is a top-10 all-classes team, too.
Darkhorse: Silver Lake returned everyone and has one loss, a triple-overtime defeat. Coach Kyle Porter emphasizes paint touches and splits the game into eight four-minute wars. Not many coaches can develop and game plan like Porter. Class 3A is historically great, and Cheney is another darkhorse, but it’s hard to imagine the finalists not coming from the 1-2-3 teams that are a combined 68-1.
Favorite: St. Mary’s Colgan. St. Mary’s Colgan at 22-0 has to be the favorite. The Panthers play a schedule full of 3A schools and did so unscathed. Lily Brown and Lauren Torrance both surpassed 1,000 points this season and have height you don’t see too often in this class.
Runner-up: Hillsboro. Hillsboro gets to the state title game in my picks due to their tough regular season schedule. Juniors Zaylee Werth and Savannah Shahan both came into the year as double digit scorers from last season and have delivered again for the Trojans.
Darkhorse: Riverside. Riverside is the dark horse pick. Junior Taylor Weishaar has been an impact player for the Cyclones since her freshman season. She and a nice supporting cast are clicking under first year head coach Craig Burnes.
Favorite: St. Mary’s Colgan. Abby Farabi picked up win 200 last Saturday as the Panthers punched their ticket to the state tournament. The Panthers are the best team in Southeast Kansas, regardless of classification, and have went 22-0 this season. Lily Brown is one of the best players in the state this season and Lauren Torrance is a multiple time 2A all-state selection that give them one of the best 1-2 punches in the state. They are both also above 6-feet, which should create a matchup nightmare for most of this classification.
Runner-up: Berean Academy. Berean has impressive victories this season over Eureka (3A qualifier), Central Plains (46-29, 1A qualifier) plus dominated every KSHSAA team they played outside of it.
Darkhorse: Hillsboro. Hillsboro plays in a league with 3A schools and finished the season 20-3 entering state. They lost to a very good 3A SE Saline team, a very good 3A Eureka team and also had a three point loss to 3A Holcomb.
Favorite: Wide open, but winner of Berean Academy/Hoxie is my pick to win state. BA has a slight edge with its defense that is ranked No. 1 for all classes by the statistical Massey Ratings. Hoxie has the No. 37 offense. BA has allowed just 25.1 points per game with wins against Garden Plain, Central Plains and Eureka. Hoxie and BA have played basically the same schedule. Hoxie is extremely experienced, and Josey Kennedy is a great scorer.
Runner-up: Pittsburg Colgan was undefeated last season and lost in the first round. However, Lily Brown and Lauren Torrance have a 1-2 punch that’s the best in 2A.
Darkhorse: Hillsboro. Zaylee Werth is an all-around great player and many of the principals were key for Hillsboro’s state volleyball title.
Favorite: Central Plains. Central Plains got out of a tough sub-state including Little River and Pretty Prairie. Brynna Hammeke is back after earning last season’s SIK 1A DI POY. Their schedule featured some quality 2A and 3A teams which will have prepared them for a state title run.
Runner-up: Frankfort. Frankfort earns the runner-up pick for me after getting to state with an impressive sub-state win over Osborne and has picked up steam near the end of the season.
Darkhorse: Olpe. Olpe overcame a double digit deficit in the sub-state championship to defeat Madison. Dark Horse is Olpe. After watching the Eagles earlier in the year, they are much improved now for post-season play and a team to keep an eye on this tournament.
Favorite: Central Plains. The Oilers are led by senior Brynna Hammeke, last seasons 1A-I POY, and got out of a loaded sub-state that saw some upsets. The sub-state featured Little River, the state volleyball champion that had only one loss, and Pretty Prairie, last seasons 1A-II champion plus St. John. CP has played likely the best schedule in the class with its losses to 2A contender Berean Academy, 3A contender Phillipsburg and to previous favorite Little River, as well as non-KSHSAA member, Sunrise Christian Academy.
Runner-up: Frankfort. Frankfort plays in a solid league with Hanover and has losses to Centralia and Washington County as well as Hanover. They’ve been very impressive recently dominated most of their competition including a 50-31 victory over sub-state favorite Osborne in the sub-state championship.
Darkhorse: Quinter. Quinter has had an impressive season but will have a tough round one matchup against Olpe who is much better than their record shows. What has been most impressive is that Quinter has had a huge turnaround this season despite having just eight wins last season. Anna Briggs is a 6’2” senior that has scored over 1,000 career points, averaging 17 points per game and 10 rebounds per game along with four blocks.
Favorite: Central Plains. Brynna Hammeke was co-1A-II Player of the Year last season and is the leading 1A-I candidate. CP has won a state title in every available year from ’14-22. CP is extremely tested and has won games in a variety of ways. Big area to look at: CP has just 13.5 turnovers per game (23 percent of possessions) and forces 22 a contest. CP has scored .89 points per possession and has its normal elite defense with .56 points allowed a contest.
Runner-up: Quinter. The Bulldogs love to push the ball with their athletes and 6-foot-2 Anna Briggs, who came back to QHS after a year in Nebraska. Briggs is 17 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks a game. Quinter is a much improved 3-point shooting team from last season. The Bulldogs score .79 points a possession and have turnovers on 28 percent of possessions, but their defense is elite: .55 points per possession and Briggs in the middle to block and alter shots. If Briggs stays out of foul trouble, Quinter has a real shot to win it all.
Darkhorse: South Gray. No one is talking about the Rebels, which is playing at really high level and has an experienced corps. SG is not as strong defensively as Central Plains or Quinter, but leads those three teams in offensive efficiency at .91 points per possession. Junior Vi Helm has 15.1 points and 5.9 rebounds a game.
Favorite: Lebo. Lebo and Hanover is a coin flip for me and could be one of the best games of the state tournament in the championship. Both have won 1A DII volleyball titles in the last two seasons and are full of athletes. Lebo gets the slight edge for their trip of Brooklyn Jones, Audrey Peek, and Saige Hadley who have each gone off for 25+ this season.
Runner-up: Hanover. Hanover’s extremely balanced, making them a tough team to guard.
Darkhorse: South Haven. Darkhorse pick is South Haven under HC Mike Heater. Making their second straight state appearance, South Haven will be ready to showcase some state experience.
Favorite: Hanover is a very complete team with four players that average at least 8.5 points per game and very difficult to key on just one player. Massey Holley and Ceegan Atkins have had big senior years while Tessa Lohse and Anna Jueneman have had big junior and sophomore years.
Runner-up: Lebo. Brooklyn Jones, a senior, is one of the best multiple sport athletes in Kansas, signing to throw the javelin at Kansas State. Audrey Peek is a junior that also averaging around 18 ppg like Jones. Saige Hadley has also had a huge year. We feel like Hanover and Lebo is a coin flip type of matchup if it happens of two great undefeated teams where either one could win it.
Darkhorse: Bucklin. Sydnie Jones, Emerson Kirk, and Halie Feikert lead the Red Aces in scoring this season and have hung around and played with solid competition all year including their tough SPIAA schedule.
Favorite: Hanover. It’s hard to see Hanover/Lebo not being in the finals. There’s limited separation between the two. Both teams have great coaching staffs and have plenty of depth. Lebo won in volleyball, but Hanover – which nearly had Central Plains beat in the semifinals last season – gets over the hump here.
Runner-up: Lebo. The Wolves have enjoyed a remarkable season, and two undefeated teams in the title game would be a fitting conclusion.
Darkhorse: Bucklin. The Red Aces have played a highly challenging schedule, won the SPIAA midseason tournament and have all the pieces. Bucklin is a solid offensive rebounding team and plays at a quick tempo.