Basketball in Kansas: Standout teams and resumes, upset wins highlight December; quick previews of key Tuesday contests

Southeast of Saline’s Eli Sawyers reached 1,000 career points. SES is No. 1 in 3A and has a key game with rival Sacred Heart.


1.The best statistical resume in Kansas currently belongs to Colby boys

Colby boys finished 8-13 last season, though has a 5-0 start this winter and currently ranks No. 1 for all classes by MaxPreps, which combines record and strength of schedule. Colby won the Goodland Topside Tipoff and headlines the GWAC along with Hugoton and Holcomb. Four of Colby’s victories have come against teams with winning records. (All records below from MaxPreps unless otherwise noted).

Colby’s 16-8 record in 2019-20 is the only year above 13 wins in the last 12, so this winter could yield one of the program’s best seasons in recent history. Colby remains unranked by the Kansas Basketball Coaches Association.

Hunter Vaughn has been among Kansas’ top players. Wheat State Elite recently recognized him via Twitter for driving three and half hours for WSE workouts. Vaughn has multiple small college offers and delivered 19 points, four rebounds and four assists a game last season. Shane Puckett, Brayden Imhoff, Brayden Foss and junior Ben Busse, a move-in from St. Francis, have been among those who have helped Colby.

Busse started for St. Francis the last two years. As a freshman, he helped SF to the state tournament. Last season, Busse was first team all-league. Parker McKee coaches the Colby boys. He has coached basketball for many years in Colby, including a highly successful stint with the Eagle girls. Colby delivered wins against Wray (Col.), McCook (Neb.), and Norton in the Topside tournament. The Eagles defeated Wray, 71-62, beat McCook, 61-58, and bested Norton, 52-39.

Last week, Colby defeated Scott City, 52-41, on Friday and beat Stratton (Colo.), 69-45, on Saturday.

When not playing Colby, Wray is 1-3. However, McCook is 6-0 in non-Colby matchups, including a 56-44 win against Lakin. All of McCook’s wins have come by double figures. Norton is 3-1 in non-Colby contests. Scott City and Stratton are a combined 6-1 when not facing Colby.

Entering this season, Colby was 3-12 in its last 15 contests against McCook, and 8-23 in its past 31 games versus Scott City.

Colby plays host to much improved Russell (4-2) on Tuesday.

The Colby girls are also 4-1 with only a season-opening three-point loss to Wray Since then, Colby has double-digit wins against McCook, Norton, Scott City and Stratton.

2. Alex Hutchins achieving early success with Washburn Rural boys

A Scott City graduate, Alex Hutchins led Hays High to its winningest three-year stretch in school history, including 20 wins last winter. Hutchins took the Washburn Rural boys’ basketball job in spring 2022.

On Saturday, Rural defeated Wichita Heights, 39-38, as part of the WAC/City League/Centennial challenge. Like the City League/AVCTL challenge in recent years and the SEK/AVCTL Division IV challenge this year, these conference versus conference matchup yielded excellent games and measuring sticks.

Rural is unranked, while Heights is ranked No. 1 in 6A.

Heights is the defending 6A state champions and had its 15-game winning streak end. It marked the first time the Falcons lost to a non-City League team in the regular season since a 53-47 loss to Maize on Jan. 22, 2021. Maize went on to win 5A that season.

Hutchins, who has also had shorter stints with Minneapolis, in Colorado and the Hays High girls, has enjoyed success wherever he’s coached at.

Rural led by eight entering the fourth quarter. Heights outscored Rural, 15-8, in the fourth.

Senior Jack Bachelor led with 11 points, and junior JC Heim tallied 10. In a lower possession game, Rural shot 53 percent from the field and was plus-six on the glass. Heights had just three turnovers and received 18 points from junior standout T.J. Williams.

3. McPherson girls with another big win

McPherson lost in the 4A state quarterfinals to Wellington last March. The tradition-laden Bullpups have re-asserted themselves as one of Kansas’ best teams. McPherson already owns wins against 6A Dodge City and 5A No. 2 Andover.

During the weekend, McPherson played in the 810 Varsity challenge, another high-level day that matches up teams from different conferences. McPherson faced 5A No. 4 St. James and earned a 69-61 win. SJA is a significant 5A state title contender. McPherson led the entire way. Per Bullpup coach Chris Strathman, Jordan Sears tallied 36 points, tied for the third-best single game scoring performance in McPherson annals.

McPherson is ranked fourth in 4A.

4. Emporia girls reach Christmas break undefeated

Last Friday, Emporia won at much-improved Great Bend, 45-39, in a WAC/Centennial League contest. The Spartans are 6-0. Emporia’s wins include 52-27 versus Topeka Hayden and 64-62 against Spring Hill. Hayden is 3-0 when not facing EHS.

Emporia’s key players include Rebecca Snyder, Lexsey DeWitt, Arianna Hamilton, AJ Shivley, Zayda Pearson and Addison Gutierrez. Emporia is relatively inexperienced after Gracie Gilpin graduated. Gilpin was a consensus first team all-state selection and signed to play at Cowley.

Emporia is ranked third in 5A.

5. Greeley County boys remain undefeated, run winning streak to 17

The Jackrabbits won the Class 1A, Division II title last year in historic fashion on Lincoln Shafer’s game-winning 3-pointer to defeat Hanover. GC returned its top-five scorers: Shafer and four seniors: Jaxson Brandl, Titus Sherer, Jariath Yanez and Valentin Villalobos. Brandl is the reigning classification player of the year after 22.6 points and 10.6 rebounds a game.

Greeley County, led by coach Josh Gooch, has won all five games by at least 15 points, including 74-42 at home against a solid Quinter team last Friday. GC’s marquee win came Dec. 6 in an 82-67 victory against McClave, then ranked No. 1 in its Colorado classification. McClave is 4-1 when not playing the Jackrabbits.

Greeley County is ranked first in Class 1A, Division II.

6. Olpe boys continue to win; currently at 32 straight

Olpe currently has the longest winning streak for boys or girls at 32 straight. The Eagles opened last winter with a 72-58 loss to St. Marys, the eventual 2A state runner-up. Then, the Eagles dominated with all but one of their 25 wins by at least 13 points.

This season, Olpe has won seven in a row and ran its winning streak to 32. That included a 61-39 win against St. Marys to open the year. Last Thursday, Olpe defeated Lebo, 56-46. Blake Redeker and Blake Skalsky are among Olpe’s top players. Skalsky tallied 20, and Redeker had 11 against Lebo.

Olpe is ranked first in Class 1A, Division I.

7. Ellinwood gets key win against Ellis

Ellinwood has significantly improved with coach Derek Joiner and scorer Britt Dutton, though has not made state since 1984. Ellinwood has struggled some in non-league play, including an annual mid-December matchup against Mid-Continent League’s Ellis.

Ellis was a sub-state finalist two years ago, is 8-19 since and on its third coach in three years. Still, Ellis was 6-2 against Ellinwood since 2014, including a 56-44 win two years ago and a 50-49 Eagle victory last winter.

Ellinwood had rolled against a softer opening schedule – and then dominated Ellis, 65-7. Ellinwood led 33-0 at halftime. Dutton finished with 24 points on 10 of 18 shooting. The Eagles delivered 18 steals, including five from Dutton and four from junior Alek Brack. Ellinwood is now 6-0 and has won every game by at least 14 points.

Dutton has committed to Division II Illinois-Springfield. Dutton is the state’s top scorer at 30 points a contest. Parker Scheck has 12.2 points a game and shooting 75 percent from the field.

Ellinwood is ranked fourth in 2A.

8. Key Tuesday Games; plus long series winning streaks on the line

Tuesday marks the last day of games before the Christmas Break. Multiple big games are scheduled, especially on the boys’ side.

Boys: Axtell (4-0) at Lyndon (4-0) – Axtell is the two-time undefeated Eight-Man, Division II state champions. The Eagles were a SIK Potential Breakout Team in basketball this winter with many of the top football players – Isaac Detweiler, Brandon Schmelzle and Eli Broxterman – key in basketball. Lyndon has won the meetings the last two years with 62-50 and 48-39 victories. The Tigers have wins against MdCV, Mission Valley, Burlingame and Central Heights. Axtell has victories against Doniphan West, Flint Hills Christian, Wetmore and Linn.

Lyndon is fifth in 2A, Axtell ninth in 1A, Division II.

Boys: Bucklin (3-3) at Pawnee Heights (6-1) – Pawnee Heights is a state final four and state qualifier the last two years, the program’s best showings since the ’70s. Bucklin enjoyed its best year in school history last winter with a final four finish. These are two upper-tier SPIAA teams. Pawnee Heights has Alec Carlson, a state triple jump champion and maybe Kansas’ best athlete. Carlson has more than a 40-inch vertical and has delivered 22 points, nine rebounds, three steals and two blocks a game.

Bucklin has won three in row against KSHSAA opponents. The Red Aces have scored at least 60 points in four straight games. Expect plenty of points Tuesday. Bucklin won 77-51 last season. Senior Jaron Lindsay has 15.8 points and 8.6 rebounds per game. Senior Garin Stimpert has 13.8 points and 6.4 rebounds a game. Those are Bucklin’s lone two seniors.

Bucklin is sixth in 1A, Division II, and Pawnee Heights is fourth in 1A, Division II.

Boys: Southeast of Saline (5-0) at Sacred Heart (3-1) – This game is played Monday, but pits the two Saline County rivals. Senior Eli Sawyers paces SES with 17 points a game. Senior Nakari Morrical-Palmer has 13.2 points, 9.6 rebounds and 5.8 assists a game. Overall, SES has eight seniors. The Trojans have won the last two in the series, including 54-51 last year. Before then, Sacred Heart had won 16 straight.

SES is ranked first in 3A boys.

Southeast of Saline girls are 5-0. SES is fifth in 3A girls.

Boys: South Gray (3-2) at Sublette (4-1) – It’s exceedingly rare for Mark Applegate’s South Gray Rebels to have two pre-Christmas losses. Hill City coach Keith Riley and Applegate are the state’s winningest active coaches. SG is a two-time state runner-up, both to Olpe. The Rebels lost to Meade in overtime and took a nine-point loss to Holcomb. Sublette’s only loss is a five-point defeat to Holcomb.

South Gray is 25-1 in the last 26 meetings against Sublette with 16 straight victories.

Boys: Maize South (5-0) at Derby (5-0) – Derby has opened with multiple quality wins, including 74-68 against McPherson, 55-48 versus Andover Central and 64-52 against Bishop Carroll. Maize South has a blowout win against Maize. Kaeson Fisher-Brown has 20.6 points, 2.8 assists and 2.6 steals per game for Derby. Dallas Metzger has 18 points a contest.

Girls: Maize South (3-1) at Derby (3-1) – This will be a major ACTVL Division I matchup. Maize South has Nebraska-Kearney commit Avery Lowe, while Derby has Addy Brown, headed to Iowa State.

Girls: St. Francis (4-0) at Golden Plains (4-1) – St. Francis has quietly enjoyed an impressive start, including a 48-30 win against Leoti-Wichita County last Friday and a 50-38 victory versus SF on Dec. 10. On Dec. 9, Wichita County defeated Golden Plains, 50-43, which ended the longest current regular season winning streak in Kansas.

St. Francis girls have lost 17 in a row to Golden Plains dating back to a 57-49 win on Jan. 4, 2011.

Golden Plains is sixth in 1A, Division II, while St. Francis is not ranked.

Girls: Benton (Mo.) (6-0) at Olathe North (6-0) – Olathe North has not lost in the regular season since a 43-38 loss to Olathe Northwest on Feb. 19, 2021. That streak is among the five longest in Kansas’ girls basketball. Olathe North is currently second in 6A.

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