By CONOR NICHOLL
For the second consecutive year, Sports In Kansas presents its Potential Breakout Teams in basketball. With only a few exceptions, none of these squads are currently ranked.
Last year, SIK had 16 Potential Breakout Teams. Those squads combined for a 135-185 record (42 percent) in 2020-21. Last year, they collectively improved to 219-130 (63 percent).
Fourteen of the 16 teams improved. That included Sabetha boys (plus-14), Silver Lake girls (plus-10), Wellington girls (plus-10), Goddard girls (plus-8), St. James boys (plus-7) and Hays High girls (plus-7).
Every class and region is represented below. Special thanks to Prep Girls Hoops’ Robert Kelly and Sunflower Smack for their input in south central Kansas and KC area, respectively. All rankings from the Kansas coaches. Records entering Thursday, Dec. 8.
Who will improve the most this year?
Last year’s story:
The 2022-23 Potential Breakout Team list:
Maize South (11-10 – record last year) – Six-foot-3 post Avery Lowe is back after she has committed to University of Nebraska-Kearney. As well, Maize South returns senior Ava Howie and junior Bella Peters for veteran coach Ben Hamilton. Maize South is currently eighth in 5A. The Mavericks opened with a quality 46-40 win against Andover Central. Maize South was 1-3 in its last four matchups with Andover Central. Maize South averaged 40 points a game last winter, a number that should increase this year.
Great Bend (7-14) – Coach Cindy Beck, an acclaimed GBHS athlete and All-American at Washburn, has continued to raise the Panthers. GB returns three starters: juniors Emilee Hall, Sadie Spray and Makenzie Premer. Hall and Spray each delivered 11 points a contest. Great Bend is not ranked in 5A. GB opened with a 47-28 win against Junction City. This will likely be the Panthers’ best season in five-plus years.
Inman (6-15) – Coach Megan Heckel paced the Teutons to a final four finish in 2A volleyball and has many of the same players back in basketball. Freshman Suttyn Harris, the state leader in volleyball kills in the fall, has delivered two big early performances. Inman is not ranked in 2A. The Teutons opened with a 45-35 loss to Minneapolis and a 64-49 loss to Hillsboro, a traditional power. Inman stayed with Hillsboro for three quarters. Harris had 27 points and 12 rebounds versus Hillsboro. Kenna Woods, Maci Neufeld and Kambrey Woods combined for 22 points Against Minneapolis, Harris recorded 16 points and seven rebounds. Woods, another freshman, had four points, five rebounds and two steals. Inman lost to Lyons on Thursday to move to 0-3, but should improve as the year progresses. Inman opened 0-7 last winter before a 6-8 finish.
South Gray (12-10) – SIK saw South Gray play last winter in the midseason tournament and noted a lot of young talent. SG won over 30 matches in volleyball. The Rebels are more experienced this season and should challenge for a SPIAA title. South Gray is not currently ranked in 1A-1. South Gray brings back 80 percent of its scoring. Three starters return: senior Halli Meairs, junior Vi Helm and sophomore Allie Reed. The trio combined for 29 points and 15 rebounds a contest. In a season-opening contest of ranked teams, South Gray defeated Ashland, 54-32.
Hoxie (13-10) – Phillipsburg is certainly the class of the Mid-Continent League with Smith Center likely second. However, opposing coaches believe Hoxie will also take a big jump. Coach Easton Slipke, a former all-state Hoxie player, has done solid work with the Indians. Hoxie is currently ninth in 2A. Four key players are back: Tori Bainter, Josey Kennedy, Kinley Rogers and Emily Bainter. Hoxie has a strong chance to win the WaKeeney tournament this weekend.
Quinter (8-12) – The easiest team to have on this list, Quinter should be far better than last season. The Bulldog girls return 6-foot-2 Anna Briggs, who grew up in Quinter and moved back after a year in York (Neb.). Among other accolades, Briggs broke the single season blocks record at York. Quinter was significantly hurt by injuries last winter. The Bulldogs are a true Class 1A, Division I state contender under veteran coaches Matt Havlas and Scott Crist. Quinter is not ranked. The Bulldogs have rolled to two wins against Victoria and Natoma. Briggs has opened with 21 points and 9.5 rebounds a game. Junior Kennedy Werth had 11.5 points as a sophomore but missed four games. Quinter graduated one key player from last season.
Fairfield (10-11) – Paisley Smyth has a Hesston College offer after 12.8 points, 8.6 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 2.1 steals per game. She has played for Western Kansas Elite the last two summers. The lanky Smyth has displayed good speed. Fairfield is not ranked. The Falcons have opened with a 53-21 win against Oxford and 59-24 versus Chase. Fairfield returned more than 97 percent of its scoring from last season. In addition to Smyth, junior Mikayla Pugh, sophomore Marissa Pugh, freshman Centhiyan Bankston, senior Karly Combs and junior Erin Schwertfeger are key players. Fairfield will be in the Class 1A, Division I Little River sub-state.
Macksville (12-11) – Maycee Russell is among 1A’s top returning players, and Kambre Adams is a solid second option. Macksville is not ranked after its first winning season in 15-plus years last winter. Russell delivered 12 points, five rebounds, five steals and three assists a game. Adams delivered eight points and seven rebounds a contest. Macksville opened with two losses, 51-43 to Ness City and 42-28 against Bucklin, though should be one of the stronger Central Prairie League teams.
Wichita Independent (4-16) – Independent has young posts and 6-foot power forward Stephie Salumu, who is new to the school. Transfer Samiyah Ellis should run the point. Wichita Independent is not ranked. Indy opened with a 57-30 victory against Kiowa County.
Stanton County (7-14) – Joel Hannagan takes over the Stanton County girls’ basketball program. Hannagan is well-known for running the Gameball basketball program out of the Garden City area. The Scott sisters, senior Adyson and freshman Avery, should be impact players. Stanton County is not ranked. SC opened with a 52-36 win against Greeley County and 43-24 versus Cheyenne Wells (Colo.).
Lawrence (9-12) – Lawrence has continued to improve from 2-19 two years ago to 9-12 last season. The Lions are not ranked. Lawrence has a bevy of experience back: Amaya Marshall, Serenity Keo, Lucy Hardy, Daphne Brackersturm and Brynnae Johnson. Marshall has committed to Johnson County CC.
Blue Valley West (7-14) – Lily Ba has committed to Tulane for an unranked BVW squad. West has started 2-1.
St. James Academy (11-10) – A definite state contender, St. James returns Riley Bruggemann and Reese Messer. SJA is currently fourth in 5A. Bruggeman delivered 20.6 points and 5.5 rebounds a contest. Sophomore Reese Meeser, a Division I-talent in volleyball and basketball, averaged 16 points and 5.1 rebounds a game.
Gardner-Edgerton (4-17) – Gardner-Edgerton is expected to make a sizable jump after four wins last season. G-E is not currently ranked. The Trailblazers return three starters: senior Abri Leiker and Brenley Cunningham and junior Aailyah Moss. GE has opened 1-1.
Boys (none of these teams are ranked)
Oakley (7-14) – Veteran coach Aaron Dardis had success at various places, including a state runner-up with Hoxie. Seniors Will Schmidt and Brayden Cunningham combined for nearly 26 points a game last season. Oakley opened its season with a 55-51 win against Phillipsburg. Oakley is in the 2A Syracuse sub-state.
Russell (10-11) – Russell enjoyed its best football season since 1979. The Broncos return multiple key football players, including Jackson Cross, Jordan Buhrle, Wyatt Middleton and Cameron Farmer. Buhrle is 6-foot-9. Veteran coach Blaine Maier has built Russell for this season. Russell has started 3-0 and outscored its opponents, 196-71. Russell will host its 3A sub-state.
Arma-Northeast (10-11) – Arma could enjoy its best basketball season in many years this winter. Senior Brendan Alters averaged 15 points a game, while junior Dawson Troth delivered 14 points and eight rebounds a contest. Arma is in the 2A Erie sub-state.
Axtell (12-11) – Axtell has captured back-to-back undefeated Eight-Man, Division II football titles. Many of the highlighted names – Isaac Detweiler, Brandon Schmelzle, Eli Broxterman and Owen Strathman – from football are expected to be key in basketball again. Strathman did suffer a knee injury at the end of football. Detweiler, Schmelzle and Broxterman all averaged at least 10 points per game. Axtell will host its own 1A-II sub-state.
Wellington (6-15) – Wellington has opened 2-1, including a buzzer-beater against Cheney in a 56-53 victory. Jack Wright hit the game-winning shot. Per Sumner Newscow, Wellington has qualified for the Cheney Tournament championship. Wright has enjoyed a nice start with 19 points against Mulvane and 11 versus Cheney.
Riverton (12-8) – Riverton took third in the CNC last season. Senior Jamey Richardson and junior Loch North combined for 27 points a game last season. Riverton has opened 1-1 with a 34-point win against Cherryvale and a loss to Frontenac. Riverton has significant height: 6-8 sophomore Terryk Richardson, 6-5 Jamey Richardson, 6-3 Loch North and 6-3 Ryder Phillips. Riverton will be in the 3A Girard sub-state.
Quinter (12-10) – Quinter took a huge loss last winter when Jaden Boone suffered a season-ending knee injury. However, the Bulldogs returned three of its top-five scorers, all seniors: Preston Havlas, Braden Polifka and Zayne Becker. Havlas delivered 12.4 points and 5.5 rebounds a game. Polifka had 6.2 points and 4.5 rebounds. Quinter opened 2-0 with big wins against Victoria and Natoma. Quinter will host its 1A-1 sub-state.