Basketball in Kansas: The 2021-22 Under The Radar Girls’ Basketball team – players from every class and region – grinders, defensive stoppers, rebounders, breakout players

Wellington freshmen Britt Zeka and Valerie Norwood have been among Kansas’ top Under the Radar players (Photo credits:


This is the first annual Sports In Kansas Under-The-Radar Girls Basketball team. SIK has had an Under-The-Radar list for football the last three years. It is annually one of the most read stories for Sports In Kansas and was No. 1 in the regular season most of this fall.

Several notes:

Under-The-Radar is defined as meeting as one of three criteria (a high volume of players listed below meet all three):

1.Never been all league. 2. Don’t average double figures. 3. Overshadowed by another player(s) on her team.

Every class and geographic region represented. SIK talked with more than 20-plus coaches and players. Plus, credit to Prep Girls Hoops’ Robert Kelly and Sunflower Smack for their insights and selections, mainly in the Wichita and Kansas City areas. All interviews and per-possession numbers from SIK. The boys’ list will be out later this month.

4A: Wellington’s freshman duo with big performances for No. 1-ranked, undefeated Crusaders; Wamego, Labette County and Louisburg all with under radar players

Wellington girls finished 13-7 last winter. The Crusaders defeated Clearwater during the regular season and took a 13-point loss at sub-state when Airalyn Frame suffered an ankle injury. Wellington had three non-seniors earn all-conference honors. Ali Zeka collected first team, Frame second and Ashlyn Gerten honorable mention.

This winter, veteran coach Eric Adams returned the experienced trio and added a pair of talented freshmen: Valerie Norwood and Britt Zeka. Each impressed at the middle school level. Adams had picked up a press at some clinics, though didn’t believe he had the players to run the scheme last winter.

Adams put in the press during the summer. Wellington went to a jamboree at Newman University and played bigger schools like Salina Central, Eudora and Topeka Hayden. Wellington won every game. That included a close up-and-down victory versus SC, which is currently unbeaten and ranked first in 5A with a pair of Division I players. Eudora is a top-5 4A school.

While Adams puts less emphasis on final scores in the summer than the school season, the results crystallized the coaching staff’s opinion.

“This team could be pretty special this year,” Adams said.

Adams said the freshmen pair went through the jamboree with a “business-like” approach, were unruffled by the opposing talent and “opened some eyes” from other coaches. Plus, Adams noted the high character of the freshmen, qualities that permeate the Crusaders.

“Val can break you down off the dribble, and Britt just has a quick release,” Adams said.

Adams said the press “really took off” once practice started in November. Wellington has no girl taller than 5-foot-11. The Crusaders opened eighth ranked in 4A girls, behind Andale and Clearwater. After a 2-0 start, Wellington picked up its first signature victory with a 55-49 win versus Cheney on Dec. 7. That ended the Cardinals’ 37-game winning streak, the state’s longest current run.

Since then, Wellington beat Andale, 62-54, on Dec. 14, and defeated Clearwater, 50-46, a month later. Wellington has vaulted up the rankings and currently stands 13-0, the lone undefeated 4A squad. The Crusaders won the Mulvane tournament last week and are No. 1 for the second straight week by the Kansas Basketball Coaches Association.

“The philosophy on one of our made buckets, you guard ‘a man, not your man’ philosophy, so you just scramble around and start guarding somebody,” Adams said. “Preferably we do put somebody on the ball that has a little bit of length, we can take away from vision on the inbound.”

After the season’s first 12 contests, Frame had 16 points and 6.5 rebounds per game, and Ali Zeka, Mulvane tournament MVP, delivered 9.5 points and 4.5 assists. The freshmen have delivered huge years. Brit is at 13 points, 4.5 rebounds, while Norwood has 10.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game. Adams has been most pleased with his team’s tenacity.

Wellington freshman Valerie Norwood

“These girls show up every day in practice and every game and bring the same energy, no matter who the opponent is, and that’s been the most impressive thing to me with this group, because we do play 94 feet of basketball,” Adams said.

Norwood has already broken the school’s single game assist record. Ali Zeka and Frame are pushing for top-10 all-time in Wellington history in scoring. Gerten set a school mark with 10 steals in a game versus Wichita Collegiate in the first round of the Mulvane tournament. Gerten, a junior point guard, has started since her freshman year.

“Without question, and all of our girls will agree, she is our best on-the-ball defender,” Adams said. “She’s about 5-5, but she might guard somebody that’s 5-7, 5-8. She is going to do her darndest to make it miserable for you. I just jokingly call her my little bulldog, because she does not back down. She is going to fight you, and she can also, if need be, she can hit an open shot. But she understands that we have a lot of scoring options when she is on the floor. But left open, Ash can knock it down.”

Additionally, the Crusader have 5-11 freshman Ella Goodrum, 5-11 junior Maddie Nance, and junior Kami Reichenberger, the team’s sixth player. Nance (shins) and Ali Zeka (ankle) have battled injuries, though both are healthier. Goodrum can run the floor and guard the post. Adams called Reichenberger the team’s quickest player.

Adams, a 1988 Wellington graduate, is in his eighth season leading the Crusader girls. He had a long stint at the junior high level in Wellington and led the nearby South Haven girls for one year. Wellington has four all-time state appearances: ’12, ’16, ’17 and ’18. The senior class has never been to state – a major goal for this year.

“Two outstanding seniors,” Adams said. “First, they are just great kids off the court. They are very respected in the school. And then you put them on the basketball court, they are just tremendous leaders. Our younger girls just know to follow them.”

Adams said Cheney (11-3), Andale and Clearwater are “very similar.” All three teams are still ranked. Wellington will see Andale (8-3) and Clearwater (10-3) in February in games that will decide the conference championship.

“The girls bought into it, because it can be tiresome,” Adams said of the press. “And sometimes you are guarding somebody that maybe has an advantage on you. But we do help each other really well, and the girls can just run with it, and are enjoying it.”

Wamego girls opened the year ranked No. 10 in Class 5A. The Red Raiders moved all the way to No. 1 and is currently fourth in 4A at 12-1.

More importantly, Wamego has the No. 1 seed in 4A East. Wamego has a sizable offensive improvement with fifth-year coach Brian McIntosh. The Red Raiders have averaged 59.8 points a game, just behind Bishop Miege’s 60.4 for the top offense in 4A East.

Wamego did have five players earn some form of all-conference recognition in ’20-21, four whom returned: Ashten Pierson, Trista Hoobler, Paige Donnelly and Ryann Alderson.

Wamego was a 14-8 squad last winter that averaged 44 points a contest. McIntosh, a former Emporia State assistant coach, and Wamego head football coach Weston Moody have helped the Red Raiders enjoy across the board historic success in several sports. Pierson and Maya Gallagher are elite softball talents and were first team all-state picks on Wamego’s state softball title last spring.

McIntosh and Moody instituted zero hour weights several years ago. Since many girls take AP classes and can’t take weights during the school day, zero hour has helped with strength gains. Many of the top weight room girls are best in sports. As well, McIntosh emphasized defense earlier in his tenure, and said the offense has improved through thousands of repetitions.

“That’s where you get stronger, more athletic, tougher,” McIntosh said. “And for girls, I think that’s extremely important where they have to get through a hard workout. Not many people do that.”

Wamego has dealt several injuries and multiple players have stepped up. Gallagher, who has squatted 275 and cleaned 170, has emerged in the post.

Sophomore Rylie Meinhardt has transferred from Marysville and been a terrific shooter. She connected on 21 of her first 38 attempts (55 percent), including 20 of 35 from inside the arc. She averages around 5.5 points and 5.5 rebounds. Gallagher has been among the leaders in plus-minus ratio.

“Fits real well with our team,” McIntosh said of Meinhardt.

Labette County stands fifth with a 10-2 mark and has enjoyed another fine season. LC sophomore Nevaeh Jones is an emerging player.

Defending champion Bishop Miege is 10-2 with an out of state loss. Miege graduated Payton Verhulst, who is playing at Louisville and 4A Player of the Year in volleyball and basketball. The Stags have two well-known players in Emajin McCallop and Gabi Artis. They committed to Alabama A&M and Washburn, respectively.

Freshman Kirston Verhulst, Payton’s sister, has continued in a long line of highly successful siblings in her family. She has 15.2 points, 3.6 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.4 steals per game, per KC High School Hoops statistics. She has shot 47 percent from the field and 41 percent from 3-point range.

Louisburg is 5-7, though Jillian Ross has enjoyed a nice season, per Sunflower Smack. Of the 16 4A East squads, Louisburg ranks in the upper half in scoring defense with 37.8 points allowed a game.

1A-I: Hodgeman County’s Grace Shiew with another consistent season for No. 1-ranked Longhorns; Spearville’s Taegen Pedigo again among Kansas’ assist leaders

Hodgeman County senior post Grace Shiew and Spearville junior point guard Taegen Pedigo have never made the Southern Plains Iroquois all-league team. This season, Shiew, a four-year varsity player, is a key cog in HC’s elite defense.

Hodgeman County was among Kansas’ top turnarounds last winter when it posted a final four showing in Class 1A, Division I. This winter, HC went from unranked to No. 1 in the classification, a SPIAA league tournament title last Saturday and 15-0 record.

Hodgeman County has allowed 32.3 points per game. Plus, HC has a plus-11.9 rebounding margin per game and outrebounded 13 of 15 opponents. Teams have shot 31 percent versus the Longhorns, 23.5 percent from 3-point range, per SIK research and game logs. These are all elite marks.

“She knows what we expect, and she knows what to do, and she is a strong player,” Hodgeman County coach Trent Bright said of Shiew. “She may not score all the time, but she does…a lot of the little things, the rebounding, the steals, guarding their best post player every night. So yeah, she is a tough player.”

Shiew has been very consistent in 58 games since the start of her sophomore season. In that span, she has averaged seven points and 5.8 rebounds. This year has been career highs in multiple categories. Shiew has delivered 7.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.6 steals and 1.9 assists a contest. She earned second team all-league volleyball in the fall.

Hodgeman County’s Grace Shiew is part of the No. 1 Longhorns’ elite rebounding and defense (Photo credit: Jennifer Shiew)

Additionally, junior Jessie Ruff averaged 3.6 points a game last winter, and sophomore Morgan Ruff played six total varsity minutes.

This year, Jessie has five points and 7.5 rebounds a contest. Morgan has 9.7 points and 4.4 rebounds. HC has become an excellent rebounding team and pulled down 39.9 percent of available offensive rebounds, up from 31.9 last year. HC has allowed just .57 points a possession.

Pedigo has ranked top-5 in Kansas in assists per game both last year and this season. Spearville is 9-5 with three losses to ranked 1A-I teams and an overtime defeat to Hoisington, an 8-5 3A school. No Lancer averages more than 8.7 points per game.

Pedigo, who rolled her ankle against Kiowa County on Jan. 24, has 8.1 points, 6.1 assists, 3.9 rebounds and 3.1 steals a contest.

“She is a dream to coach,” Spearville coach Todd Cossman said. “She plays hard on defense. She just has got a really high basketball IQ.”

Last year, she has 5.2 points, 5.8 assists and three steals. She was a key role player on Spearville’s undefeated Forever Four team her freshman season. Pedigo has 238 assists and 155 steals in her career. She has improved on finishing in traffic and getting to the foul line.

“She’s just always kind of got a knack for seeing the open person out of the corner of her eye,” Cossman said. “She just does a really good job of seeing everything.”

1A-I: Burlingame enjoying historic success; three Under-The-Radar players stepping up

Burlingame girls won 19 games last winter and returned two of its three all-league players with senior Daelyn Winters and sophomore Kaylin Noonan. Winters, a four-sport standout, was a first team basketball selection, Noonan second. They combine for around 33 points a game.

Burlingame has been as high as No. 1 in 1A-I this winter and suffered both of its losses when Winters was out with injury. Last weekend, Burlingame advanced to its first title game and won the Lyon County League midseason tournament. Plus, Burlingame volleyball went to state for the first time since 1983. Bearcat softball was state runner-up last spring.

Burlingame (14-2) has never made the state basketball tournament, per Kansas historian Carol Swenson. The Bearcats have enjoyed a sizable turnaround and have a strong chance for the best season in school history.

In addition to Winters and Noonan, the Bearcats have had several other girls emerge: Gracie Simmons, Bella Tyson and senior Kenna Masters.

Tyson is a great rebounding guard. A defensive specialist, Tyson is known for her steals and typically has the best guard on the other team. Simmons is the team’s third scorer and coach Jeff Slater calls her a “great threat from outside.” Simmons normally guards the opponents’ top post. A junior, Simmons is a three-year starter and has averaged around eight points and five rebounds a contest.

Simmons and Masters were key softball players. Masters was the libero for the volleyball team.

“Has really shot the ball well for us this year,” Slater said of Masters. “Isn’t flashy, just solid. She’s a leader and a grinder, does what team needs.”

3A: Phillipsburg senior Abby Babcock able to play multiple positions; Cheney’s Olivia Albers has big year, part of deep Cardinal squad with better scoring D than last year’s perfect team; Scott City’s Erika Felker with breakout sophomore year; Hesston’s Katie Kueker with several big games

Phillipsburg has enjoyed the first two state appearances in school history in ’20 and ’21. This winter, the Panthers were Mid-Continent League runner-up to Thomas More Prep-Marian. Phillipsburg is 10-4 this winter. The Panthers have junior Taryn Sides, one of Kansas’ most well-known players, a Kansas State commit and first team all-state player.

However, 6-foot senior Abby Babcock, who has never made the Mid-Continent League team, has enjoyed a nice season and solid career. Phillipsburg has missed standout junior Heather Schemper all year because of a knee injury. The Panthers’ four losses have come by a combined 12 points, three to ranked teams.

Babcock has even played point guard, rare for someone her size, and allowed Sides to play off the ball. In her career, Babcock has 6.6 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.1 assists a game. She has played in 61 career contests.

This year, Babcock is at seven points, five rebounds and 1.5 assists a contest. Sides has 25.7 points and 10.6 rebounds per game. Babcock is second to Sides in multiple categories, including rebounds, made 3s, points, assists and blocks.

Phillipsburg’s Abby Babcock has played multiple positions for the Panthers. (Photo credit: Jacque Bretton)

“The thing I most appreciate about Abby is her ability to play multiple positions on the floor,” Phillipsburg coach Rachel Miller said. “Abby’s length is an asset wherever she plays. She is second on the team in rebounding and has started to be more aggressive to the basket and finishing as of late. Her ability to shoot from the outside has greatly improved over her career. She is very coachable and has done the best she can at any position throughout her career.”

Cheney (11-3) is up to third in 3A this week. The Cardinals won the Haven tournament last weekend with back-to-back wins against ranked teams, Andale and Nickerson – the former No. 1 in 3A. Cheney senior Brynn McCormick, one of the state’s more well-known players, has 12.9 points per game.

The Cardinals have had several players step up, especially defensively, after Cheney graduated Lexi Cline and Kylee Scheer, the Miss Kansas Basketball recipient.

Six-foot-2 junior Campbell Hague has 9.8 points a contest. Senior Korri Lies, the reigning 3A softball Player of the Year, has 6.1 points a game. Senior 5-foot-10 Olivia Albers, a first team all-state volleyball selection, has 4.1 points per game.

Albers’ top scoring game came with a team-high 18 points and eight rebounds in a loss to Sterling, which currently has Kansas’ longest winning streak. Cheney’s defense has been superb.

The Cardinals has allowed 31.1 points per game, which is lower than last season’s perfect year that yielded 35.6 points a contest. Robert Kelly wrote in a scouting report earlier this season that Albers “closed out on potential perimeter shooters consistently well.”

A pair of seniors, guard Elina Bartlett and 6-foot post Leah Durr have both emerged for a deep squad that is a strong 3A contender in a very deep classification. Cheney is state runner-up, Forever Four and state champion the last three seasons. Coach Sarah McCormick led Scott City to its best seasons in school annals and served as Cheney’s assistant last winter. McCormick took over this winter after Rod Scheer retired.

Cheney has allowed 30.4 percent shooting and 25 percent from long range, according to SIK research and Digital Scout game-by-game logs. In its 53-35 win last week against Nickerson (then No. 1 3A), the Cardinals limited the Panthers to 9 of 48 shooting, including 1 of 14 from beyond the arc.

In southwest Kansas, coach Amy Felker is in her second season with Scott City after she switched over from nearby Dighton. Felker had significant success with the Hornets, including a state champion. Her daughter, Erika, had served as her mom’s manager since she could walk.

“It’s fun to watch her grow and be able to be right there to help her in her basketball career,” coach Felker said. “But she just works hard for me and does what I ask her to do. … I am really happy to be her mom and her coach.”

SC returned all five starters, two that were some form of all-league last season: Amber Latta and Brooke Strine. The Beavers are 6-8, though have four losses to ranked teams and own a win against Smoky Valley, ranked No. 10 in 3A.

“We are working hard,” Felker said. “These girls are fighters. They do a great job. They work well together. Some nights, it’s just off just a little bit on rotations, but I am proud of the girls, they never quit.”

Erika has enjoyed a breakout season and pace SC in points (12.5) and assists (2.6). She has 4.2 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game. The 5-foot-6 Felker is a solid 3-point shooter with 22 makes and 33 percent from the field.

“She knows the game and she works well,” coach Felker said. “She is just a great teammate. It’s all about team to her. She doesn’t care what she scores or anything like that. She cares about the team success and helping the team make ourselves better.”

Another under-the-radar player is Hesston 5-foot-11 senior Katie Kueker (7-6). She averaged 8.1 points and 6.3 rebounds last winter. This year, she delivered a game-high 16 in a quality win versus Smoky Valley. In the last week, she delivered a team-best 14 in a victory versus Buhler. She posted 11 in a two-point loss to Eureka, a top-5 3A program, in the Hillsboro tournament. Kueker is also Hesston student council vice president.

6A: Olathe North’s Ashlyn Alloway and Olathe West’s Keely Barnard pace Sunflower League breakout players; Adisyn Carl with nice season for Topeka High

Olathe North has a senior-laden team where all five starters have signed for Division II or higher. ON has multiple high-profile athletes, including Sania Copeland, who recently cleared 1,000 career points and has signed with Missouri State. Copeland is in the running for 6A Player of the Year. SIK featured ON in December, a team that is now No. 1 in 6A and remains undefeated at 13-0. The Eagles and Topeka High (13-0) are the lone perfect squads in the classification.

ON senior Ashlyn Alloway is closing in on 500 points, 500 rebounds and 250 assists. A Division II Lincoln (Mo.) University signing, she has averaged 8.8 points, 6.9 rebounds, 2.2 steals and 2.1 assists a contest in a solid year.

Alloway recently helped ON win the Basehor-Linwood tournament. On Jan. 22, Williams noted: “This kid doesn’t get a lot of recognition, but she flat out is the BEST defensive player in the State. This kid can flat out guard and does everything her coach ask(s) of her and we are (undefeated) without her!”

Olathe North’s Ashlyn Alloway is an excellent defensive player. (Photo credit: Sunflower Smack).

Olathe West, a 6A Final Four squad last winter, opened this season with one returning player. Keely Barnard had never started before. She earned all-tournament recognition at the Hays City Shoot-Out and has posted a nice season for the Owls (6-8, two non-Kansas losses). Olathe West defeated Hugoton and Thomas More Prep-Marian by double digits. They are ranked 3A squads that are a combined 21-4 with one loss since Christmas, per KSHSAA.

“They were physical,” TMP coach Rose McFarland told SIK. “They were a well-balanced team. They shot the ball well. They rebounded. They played really good defense against us.”

Sunflower Smack, which regularly covers the K.C. area had several other under-the-radar girls: Gardner-Edgerton’s Abri Leiker, Shawnee Mission Northwest’s Erica Ojeda, Lawrence Free State’s Reese Hulcher, Lawrence’s Lucy Hardy, Olathe Northwest’s Emily Fischer, Olathe East’s Jillian Reese, Shawnee Mission East’s Tess Roman, SM North’s Baylee Doolin and Olathe South’s Ella Anderson.

In the Eastern Kansas League, Blue Valley (11-2) has Clara Bax, and Blue Valley Northwest (8-4) has Hayley Numrich under the radar.

In the 6A rankings, Olathe North is first, Topeka High second, Shawnee Mission West fourth, Blue Valley fifth, SM Northwest seventh and Blue Valley Northwest tenth.

Topeka High is 14-0 and again rolling under coach Hannah Alexander. The Trojans are ranked second in 6A and own a win against rival Washburn Rural, which is ranked third. Topeka High post NiJaree Canady elected not to play basketball. She was a first team all-state basketball selection after she averaged 21 points and 12 rebounds. The 6A softball player of the Year, Canady has signed with Stanford softball.

Topeka has its well-known guards with Talayah Thomas and Kiki Smith, though the Trojans have continued to rebound well with the emergence of junior Adisyn Carl. As a sophomore last season, Carl averaged 2.9 points and 2.7 rebounds. An Illinois softball commit, Carl has emerged with 6.4 points and 8.7 rebounds a game.

Derby is 12-1 and ranked sixth in 6A. The Panthers have its well-known Division I duo of Addy Brown and Maryn Archer (Arkansas commit), and 6-foot-3 Tatum Boettjer, a Barton County Community College volleyball commit. Sophomore Jadyn Wilson is in the rotation and has averaged around three points and two rebounds a game.

Wichita Heights is 11-3 and has averaged 62 points a game, second-best in 6A West. Heights has losses only to Derby, Bishop Carroll and Topeka High. The Falcons have its high-profile duo with Zyanna Walker (Louisville commit) and Cayanna Stanley. Plus, senior Brookelyn Williams has enjoyed a solid year.

Wichita West has struggled in a one-win season. Sophomore Leela Jones, though, has enjoyed a fine winter with 12.6 points, 6.6 rebounds, 4.6 steals and two assists a game.

Liberal sophomore Elle Hatcher is 5-foot-11 and is considered one of the top prospects in her class. The Redskins are 10-3. Liberal has its three starters with seniors Ashley Carrillo, Bree Horyna, and sophomore Hailey Contreras. She is part of a talented non-senior group with sophomores Keyona Hall, and juniors Rylie Hallman and Hallie West.

2A: Point guards: Lauren Yaghmour leading undefeated Pittsburg-Colgan; Kylee Dieckmann paces Jackson Heights; Gonzalez emerges for Elkhart; Gorman key for Uniontown

Colgan posted the best season in school annals last winter when it earned 2A state runner-up to Sterling. The Panthers have opened 11-0 and been featured on SIK. Colgan is ranked third in 2A. Colgan has wins against Galena (twice), Frontenac and Columbus.

The Panthers are well-known for their two posts: Lauren Torrance and Lily Brown, both over 6-foot tall. Torrance is a returning first team all-state player. Yaghmour is a returning second team all-league selection, though gets overshadowed by the inside threats.

Yaghmour was a key reserve as a freshman and a starter the last three years. She always guards the other team’s best player. Yaghmour has the ball 90 percent of the time and has carried a 5-1.5 assist to turnover ratio. She averages seven points, 3.5 steals and 3.2 deflections a contest.

Yaghmour plays 32 minutes a night, and coach Abby Farabi said she “has really stepped up the last few games for us in crunch time.” Yaghmour tallied 19 points and had five assists when the Panthers scored 39 against Galena. She delivered a big performance in a 44-40 rivalry win versus Frontenac.

“It’s tough when you have the ‘twin towers’ on your team who put up a lot of points – but she is responsible for a lot of that,” Farabi said. “She runs the show for us.”

Also in 2A, Jackson Heights is well-known for its duo of juniors Kanyon Olberding and Kaylee Thompson. However, senior point guard Kylee Dieckmann, who has never been all-league, averaged 2.3 points, 2.2 assists and 2.1 steals a game through the first nine contests. Jackson Heights has long run an uptempo game and pushing the ball up the court in the full court.

Elkhart took its first loss this winter on Saturday with a 56-51 defeat versus Texhoma (Okla). The Wildcats are 13-1 and won the Hi-Plains League tournament. Elkhart graduated standout Chevelle Ralstin, now at Kansas Wesleyan, and returned the bulk of its starters.

Still, sophomore Isabel Gonzalez, a role player last winter, has really emerged. She had 2.2 points, 1.5 rebounds and less than an assist and steal per game. This winter, Gonzalez is at 8.6 points, 4.5 steals, 3.9 assists and 3.4 rebounds a contest.

Uniontown is 11-1 and features Danielle Howard, a Peru State (Neb.) commit and among Kansas’ top players. This season, freshman Reese Gorman has stepped up and allowed Howard to play some off the ball. Uniontown has won two tournaments and set a state record for most 3s made in a game.

5A: Hays High duo of Carly Lang and Molly Martin; plus Wichita/KC breakout players

Hays High coach Len Melvin is in his second year with the Indian basketball program. He was aware of the discussion and recent history surrounding HHS girls. The Indians have been up and down for more than a decade. The program had limited wins the last two seasons and faced 5A’s hardest statistical schedule last winter, per MaxPreps. No Indian made the 10-member Western Athletic Conference all-league squad in 2020-21.

“For a long time, Hays High struggled,” Melvin said. “So they are sick of hearing it, too.”

Hays High picked as a SIK Potential Breakout Team in December has already exceeded last year’s win total at 8-6 and has continued to show gains. One loss came to an Arkansas team. The other five are to ranked Kansas squads, including a four-point loss and another in double overtime.

Two key reasons are veteran junior guard Carly Lang and freshman guard Molly Martin. Lang is an experienced player in volleyball, basketball and soccer. Martin, a touted player in the younger ranks, was expected to have a big year. She is one of Kansas’ best freshmen.

On Jan. 7, she tallied 15 points on 6 of 10 shooting against Liberal, a ranked 6A team. Liberal features senior point guard Ashley Carrillo, a Division I Presbyterian (S.C.) signee. Carrillo was impressed with Martin.

“I didn’t really know her, but I definitely got to know her today,” Carrillo told SIK afterward. “Definitely has potential and excited to see where this game takes her.”

At halftime of Tuesday’s home win against Scott City, assistant coach Brandon Maska brought up the team’s offense to the girls. Since play resumed in January, the Indians have scored at least 45 points in every contest. That included the 49-32 victory versus SC. In December, HHS hit that mark once in five contests.

Overall, Hays High has averaged 45.6 points per game this winter. Last season, the Indians scored 36.2 points a contest in a 6-15 year. Two winters ago, HHS averaged 37.6 points per game.

Lang, long known for her defense and hustle, has upped to 8.4 points and 4.6 rebounds a game.

Martin is easily the team’s best shooter with a team-high 11.5 points per. Hays High is 8-1 when Martin reaches double figures. She is 22 of 55 (40 percent) from 3-point range, one of Kansas’ best marks. Martin paces HHS with 2.1 steals.

Hays High freshman Molly Martin has helped the Indians already exceed last year’s win total. (Photo credit: Jaycee Dale)

“For a freshman, she is a really gifted young lady, and she has been tasked with a lot for a freshman at a 5A school,” Melvin said. “We are having her play the (point guard) a lot, and asking her to do a lot of things. Of course she is going to make some mistakes, freshman mistakes, but she is a wonderful young lady, and I think we are just going to see her get better and better and better.”

Spring Hill is ranked ninth in 5A with a 9-4 record. De Soto has an 8-5 mark. Spring Hill’s Kaylee Oakes and De Soto’s Mackenzie Carson have both put together under-the-radar seasons, per Sunflower Smack. SH was unranked in the preseason.

Emporia was ranked tenth in 5A in the preseason. The Spartans have enjoyed a surprise year with an 11-3 mark and rise to third in 5A. Gracie Gilpin is the standout, though senior Maddyn Stewart has quietly delivered a nice season.

1A-II: More than just Kassie Miller, Golden Plains keeps regular season winning streak going with new players; South Haven with big years outside of Macey Pond

Golden Plains was a 1A-II final four squad last season. The Bulldogs are 11-0 this winter, the lone undefeated squad in the classification. GP has by far the state’s longest current regular season winning streak. The Bulldogs, with 28th-year coach Parker Christensen, is ranked third in the classification. GP has not lost a regular season game since a 49-33 defeat to Hill City on Feb. 15, 2018.

Golden Plains graduated twins Ashley and Brooke Stoll, the team’s top-two scorers. They combined for 48 percent of the Bulldogs’ scoring. GP returned Kassie Miller, who cleared 1,000 career points Tuesday. Miller is a well-known player and earned second team all-state (top-10) last season. Miller and junior Breanna Rath were the only two all-league players back.

In its first 10 games, GP had five different leading scorers.

“It has not been all just Miller,” Christensen said.

Especially in recent years, Golden Plains has enjoyed big disparities in rebounding and turnover margin and fouls. GP has 9.9 turnovers a game (an excellent number) and forces 28 a contest. The Bulldogs have just 10.7 fouls per game. The Bulldogs were plus-10.4 in rebounding margin in its first 10 contests.

Sidney Taylor has broken out with 10.4 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.4 steals a game. Her sister, Rayna, has 9.1 points and 3.2 rebounds. Morgan Wark has improved to 5.7 points and 7.1 rebounds. Rath has 6.9 points with 3.4 assists. Jordyn Fleckenstein has 7.1 points a game off the bench. Christensen called the Taylors a “very pleasant unexpected surprise.” They combined for 4.4 points a game last winter.

“We have gotten really good play from the Taylor sisters,” Christensen said. “Rayna has given us good production from the 3-pt line. Sidney as one of our post players really runs the floor well and gives us production out of our fast break. We have gotten good play from the Fleckenstein girl off the bench and our muscle girl inside, Morgan Wark, has also been solid.”

Rath has worked hard to improve offensively. Last season, she was a 3-point shooter only. This season, Rath has taken more 2s than 3s. Rath is hitting 45 percent on her 2s. GP is scoring almost 10 points more per game, though the Bulldogs still stress defense first. Miller and Rath are really tough defensively.

“We still stress defense first,” Christensen said. “Defense, strong rebounding and valuing the ball, this is what we stress every day in practice and each game. And of course Miller has played well.”

Quietly, South Haven has emerged as a big surprise. The Cardinals won the South Central Border League tournament championship in mid-January, its first title since 2015. SH is up to sixth in 1A, Division II after unranked in the preseason. The Cardinals have made the largest jump of any Division II squad in the rankings. South Haven paces the Caldwell sub-state with an 11-3 record.

SH senior Macey Pond is a returning honorable mention all-state selection. However, the Cardinals have enjoyed nice seasons from a variety of players, including junior Britain Dark, senior Alyssa Bridges, and junior Kami Butler. Sumner Newscow reported that South Haven was plus-70 when Butler was on the court in the three SCBL games.

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