By CONOR NICHOLL
SALINA – The Kansas Basketball Coaches Association had 10 girls in Class 4A named either first or second team all-state last winter. State champion Bishop Miege featured two. Senior Payton Verhulst was the consensus player of the year, a high school All-American, No. 8 national recruit and Louisville commit. Verhulst averaged 20 points, 7.5 rebounds, four assists, four steals and four blocks a game.
Guard Emajin McCallop picked up second team honors and was among Kansas’ top players entering this winter. Additionally, Miege had the highly publicized coaching flip. Legendary Terry English, a Miege graduate, retired after a 910-168 career record and 22 state titles.
His son, Jeff, the longtime assistant, took over as head coach. Terry moved to assistant. Overall, the entire staff, which includes varsity assistant Kevin Mulvany, has been intact for nearly 14 years. Jeff called the change “such a fluid switch.”
Then, three weeks before the season started, McCallop, a Division I Alabama A&M commit, suffered injury in what Jeff English labeled a “non-contact kind of freak thing” during a school activity. The Stags didn’t think it was anything serious, just kind of a sprain. McCallop had an MRI, which showed a torn ACL. She has missed the entire year and served in a player-coach type role.
However, Miege, statistically the best girls’ basketball program in Kansas history, has again reloaded. Miege has six seniors: McCallop, Gabi Henderson-Artis, Allie Burns, Mary Olson, and Annika and Adrianna Smith. Henderson-Artis, a Washburn commit, was honorable mention all-state as a junior. She and freshman Kirston Verhulst, Payton’s sister and among the state’s five-best statistical 3-point shooters, are Miege’s well-known names.
Burns and Adrianna Smith have served as under-the-radar leaders and critical pieces for the 21-2 Stags. Miege players generally grow up on separate teams but Burns and Smith played together through elementary and middle school. The duo and team has excellent chemistry.
This weekend will conclude the senior’s basketball careers. Burns has elected to go to college as a student. Smith will play softball at Kansas City-Kansas Community College.
“I felt like we were a little worried at the beginning, but I felt like the senior leadership has come out of us,” Adrianna said. “And we had to show the freshmen the ropes and stuff and play as a team. … There wasn’t going to be a star all the time. There was going to be different stars each and every game, so you just have to play as a team.”
Miege has won 13 straight games, is the only Kansas team to beat 5A St. Thomas Aquinas, defeated 20-3 Topeka High, and ranks No. 1 for all classes in MaxPreps statistical rankings that includes strength of schedule. Miege has won eight straight state tournament games, all by at least 15 points. Burns, the captain of the volleyball team, has delivered around 11 points a game.
“Allie Burns, she has been one of our most consistent players all year,” Jeff English said. “She gets the rebounds. She gets the steals. She gets the loose balls. She guards the best player on the other team. She is not as flashy as some of the other kids, but we can’t win a basketball game without Allie Burns on the floor, and that’s what makes her so special, is she does the things that don’t show up on the stat sheets. She does everything well. She is a leader for us. Adrianna is the same way.”
Miege beat Andale, 74-35, in the Class 4A quarterfinals Wednesday at Tony’s Pizza Events Center in Salina. The Stags dominated Andale with their press in the first quarter.
“That length was a shocker,” Andale coach Clint Robinson said.
Both Smiths, Burns and Henderson-Artis are 5-10. Miege led 37-6 after the first quarter, eight minutes where Jeff English said “everybody was on the same page.” Miege made its 37th all-time semifinal. Robinson took over in midseason after the sudden passing of Andale coach Ted Anderson.
“Even though we have been working on pressure situations, we have been working on the press stuff for a couple weeks, we can’t simulate that length and that is really difficult to do, and the passes – they look like they are there, but man, that length is hard,” Robinson said. “When they are all pretty tall and long arms across the board, it’s tough to break the press. And then once you are across, it’s ‘we have got to settle down and run something now, and try not to just go down and throw up a quick shot,’ because that’s what they want with that pressure.”
On Friday, No. 4 seeded Miege faces top-seeded Wellington (23-0) in the state semifinals at 2 p.m. Of the 28 semifinals left (14 boys, 14 girls), this one is arguably the most compelling. Wellington, which is having a dream season and looking for its first final ever, has been ranked first several weeks, Miege second. Similar to Miege, Wellington is known for its frenetic press, has two freshmen in the starting lineup with Valerie Norwood and Britt Zeka, and its senior anchors with Ali Zeka and Airalyn Frame.
The other semifinal is a rematch between Eudora and Wamego. Eudora beat Wamego to win the Tonganoxie tournament championship.
Freshman Grace McCallop has moved into the starting lineup and played well, including 11 points versus Andale.
“Those girls that are behind Emajin, they just stepped up,” English said. “And they have done a great job this year of filling that spot. Grace, her sister, has come out and played really well. Struggled a little bit the first couple of games, but really her confidence right now is sky high, and we love seeing that.”
The 5-foot-9 Verhulst has averaged around 14 points a game and made more than 40 percent of her treys. Her mother played at Duke, older sister Ashton is at Central Florida, and Payton is at Louisville.
Per MaxPreps, just four other Kansans have shot above 40 percent on 3: Salina Central senior Aubrie Kierscht (Navy commit), Liberal senior Bree Horyna (Hutchinson Community College commit), St. James freshman Reese Messer, and Santa Fe Trail sophomore Braegan Buessing. Against Andale, Verhulst tallied 23 points, including 9 of 11 from the field, and 4 of 5 on treys.
“The thing I love about Kirston is when she is off, she is still going 100 miles an hour,” Jeff English said. “She is still focused on defense. She is still focused on how to execute the press. She doesn’t take any possessions off. She doesn’t let a couple missed shots get her down, and that’s a sign of a really composed basketball player, and I think that she just kind of watched her older sisters. She has competed at the highest level in the summer, and that has made her such a good player.”
Smith prides herself in taking care of the “gritty stuff.” She didn’t score against Andale, though led Miege with five rebounds and tallied three assists. She continued to challenge shots and play well in the post. Smith was overlooked in her own conference. English said no one voted for her in the all-league ballot.
“But she is one of the best post players in our league, and I will say that to anybody around the state,” English said. “Just because she doesn’t score a lot of points, doesn’t mean that she doesn’t guard some pretty good post players in our league, and at times, has really done a good job against them.”
“So those players, they come into practice every single day, they work hard, they are there for each other,” he added. “They are a great group of friends. We have no issues on the floor, off the floor. I just can’t say enough about all those players, and with Emajin getting hurt before the season.”
Defending champions/undefeated teams rolling through quarterfinals
Bishop Miege headlined a key trend after Day 2 of the four-day state basketball tournament. While Day 1 was filled with buzzer-beaters and overtime games, Day 2 had limited drama outside of two results. In 4A boys, No. 8 Topeka Hayden continued a banner state tournament for the Centennial League with a win against No. 1 Eudora. On Wednesday, No. 8 Topeka Seaman, also in the Centennial, beat No. 1 5A Kapaun Mt. Carmel.
In 3A girls, Goodland made an epic comeback and beat Southeast of Saline, 38-37. The Cowgirls (22-2) are at state for the first time since 2006 and into its final four since 2001. Goodland will take on top-seeded Silver Lake.
In 1A-I girls, Burlingame, at state for the first time in school history, defeated Little River, 45-39, and flipped the result from the regular season. Burlingame (21-2) took both of its losses when Daelyn Winters was hurt. Winters has since returned and is the school’s all-time leader in multiple 3-point categories. A magical time continued for coach Jeff Slater, whose wife gave birth earlier this week.
Overall, the classifications returned 10 defending state champions, four girls and six boys. Those teams are a combined 10-0 at state with limited resistance. The four defending girls’ squads: 5A Aquinas, 4A Miege, 2A Sterling and 1A-II Central Plains, all won by at least 21 points.
The six boys’ teams: 5A Maize, 4A Miege, 3A Hesston, 2A Hillsboro, 1A-I Olpe and 1A-II Hanover, had a collective score of 63-39. Only Maize’s six-point win against Highland Park was within 12 points.
Sterling girls has the longest current winning streak in Kansas at 38 games. The Black Bears are the lone undefeated among the defending champions after they won its first-ever title last winter.
Overall, undefeated teams finished 7-1 on the girls’ side, and 1-0 on the boys when 2A Valley Falls eked past Pittsburg Colgan, 64-61. Colgan was considered a strong upset contender.
The remaining undefeated girls’ squads are 6A Olathe North, 5A Salina Central, 4A Wellington, 1A-I’s Hodgeman County and Centralia and 1A-II Golden Plains. Only Centralia has won a state title from this group.
Andale lost twice to Wellington, a league foe, during the regular season before the defeat against Miege. Robinson considered the question from several angles when asked about the Wellington and Miege matchup. Robinson believes Wellington has the guards and “offensive firepower” to keep up with the Stags.
“If Wellington can take their shots, and not be forced into stuff – because they have got really great shooters – if they can take their shots and not freak out, they have got some height on their guards, so that will help,” Robinson said. “I think Miege probably has the edge a little bit. …It should be a good game.”
Final Four: Several 2021 rematches, including Aquinas/AC girls; Hesston/TMP boys
In addition to Wellington/Miege, the intersection of the defending state titlists and undefeated teams set up some highly compelling Final Four matchups.
Class 6A girls: Undefeated Olathe North girls, with all five starters signed for Division II or higher, meets Washburn Rural. In ’19, Rural girls beat top-ranked Derby in the state semifinals en route to the title.
Class 5A girls: St. Thomas Aquinas meets Andover Central in a rematch of last year’s state title game. Aquinas has Oklahoma commit Beatrice Culliton. AC features Brittany Harshaw and Ellie Stearns, headed to Creighton and Fort Hays.
Class 3A girls: The class will feature a new champion and runner-up. Nickerson (23-1) takes on Hugoton (22-2). Hugoton was 3A Final Four. The teams have its elite juniors with Nickerson’s Ava Jones, and Hugoton’s Mikyn Hamlin, Summya Adigun and Gianna Vos. Jones, Hamlin and Phillipsburg’s Taryn Sides lead the pack for 3A Player of the Year.
Class 2A girls: Sterling faces Berean Academy (23-1) in a matchup with Heart of America rivals. Sterling gave BA its only loss this season. Garden Plain (18-6) takes on Smith Center (20-4). The pair has matched up in state volleyball in recent years. SC won state volleyball in the fall.
Class 1A-II girls: Hodgeman County (24-0) takes on Pretty Prairie (23-1). Centralia (24-0) faces Burlingame (21-2). HC won by six in the quarterfinals, which continued its close game trend. The Longhorns have wins by eight, four, four, six, four, five and six points. PP is at state for the first time since 2000.
Both teams are excellent on defense and rebounding. Pretty Prairie has collected 44 percent of available offensive rebounds – which is extremely high – along with 1.06 points scored a possession and .44 points allowed. Senior point McKenna Vogl has 13 points and eight rebounds a game. In the 52-33 quarterfinal win against Osborne, Vogl had 12 points and eight rebounds. Bailey Young had 12 points. Jorah Harbaugh finished with 15.
HC has its balance with Kaylee James, Morgan and Jessie Ruff, Malynn Beil, and Grace Shiew. The Longhorns have allowed teams to shoot 31 percent and 26 percent from 3-point range, per SIK and Digital Scout statistics. Plus, HC has a plus-9.1 rebounding margin. The Longhorns have outrebounded 20 of 23 opponents. James is considered the team’s best defender.
1A-II Girls: Golden Plains (23-0) looks for the third final in school history against Hutchinson Central Christian. Central Plains (23-1) gets another matchup with Hanover (20-4). CP has won every state title since 2014 and had the undefeated Forever Four in 2020. CP and Hanover would have matched up in the 2020 final four if the game had been played. In 2019, CP beat Hanover, 52-34, for the state championship.
5A is very wide-open with the top-two seeds out: No. 8 Topeka Seaman takes on Maize; St. James faces De Soto. SJA and De Soto have matched up seven times since 2009, and St. James holds a 6-1 advantage. In 4A, defending champion Bishop Miege is the strong favorite.
3A: The Hesston (23-1) against Thomas More Prep-Marian (20-4) matchup is highly intriguing. TMP beat Galena, 68-67, in double overtime. Last season, Hesston edged TMP in the semifinals en route to the championship. Both teams are senior laden. Hesston has Ty Schroeder, Max Werner, Brayden Schilling, Matthew Waltner, Cason Richardson, Nathan Adams, and Nick Arnold. Richardson is on the high list for 3A player of the year
TMP is 3-0 in overtime games and has zero losses against 3A teams this winter. The Monarchs have enjoyed great depth with juniors Kade Harris and 6-foot-6 Dylan Werth and senior quintet of Andrew Schwartz, Jace Wentling, Gavin Unrein, Bryce Seib, and Kenton Ginther. TMP has enjoyed several breakout senior seasons this winter.
2A: St. Marys (21-3) rolled over WaKeeney-Trego, 69-43, and will be a slight favorite against Valley Falls (24-0). Defending titlist Hillsboro (23-1) faces Lyndon.
1A-I: Olpe beat South Gray for the final in 2021. Both teams remain alive. Olpe, whose only loss came against St. Marys in the season opener, has won 23 straight games. The Eagles face Macksville, and Solomon takes on South Gray. Solomon won its first state game in school history. SG coach Mark Applegate has won four state titles.
1A-II: Defending titlist Hanover (23-1) takes on Bucklin (20-5), which won the first state game in school history.