By CONOR NICHOLL
DODGE CITY – In 2021, Highland-Doniphan West entered the Class 1A, Division I final four with multiple sophomores in key roles. DW qualified for the state tournament for the first time in program history. The Mustangs fell in a tough loss to Norwich, a team that plays at a slower tempo.
“I will be honest,” DW coach Perry Smith said. “I thought we were the best team two years ago, I really did, and we just didn’t play that way in that game.”
On Friday, Doniphan West received a rematch in the Class 1A, Division I state semifinals. Norwich hit multiple shots early, baskets that DW didn’t see on film. Norwich led by seven after the first quarter, four at halftime and seven midway in the third quarter. Norwich’s biggest lead was 12.
The girls stayed confident, including the experienced seniors of Kyra Johnson, Avery Weathersbee and Claire Cole. Johnson and Weathersbee have committed to play Highland Community College volleyball. Cole is a four-time all-state cross country runner.
“I knew we were good,” Weathersbee said. “I wasn’t nervous. I don’t think anyone else was nervous. We just got a rough start, but I knew we would come back. All it takes is working on the things that we work on in practice everyday.”
Doniphan West went to the press. The Mustangs made a change and put Brennah Edie in the middle, because Norwich always went to the middle. DW forced turnovers on five straight possessions.
“It took us awhile to get our composure, and get where we needed to get,” Smith said. “And we finally did that and did a lot better there.”
Doniphan West eventually won 52-38. DW outscored Norwich, 22-9, in the fourth quarter.
All four 1A-I teams that won Friday: Doniphan West girls, Wichita Classical boys, Quinter girls and Macksville boys, trailed after the first quarter. None led at halftime. DW and Quinter girls both came back by double figures. It’s the first state title game in program annals for DW and Classical.
“We needed to be strong, we needed to be mentally tough, we needed to control the pace, which we did for three quarters,” Norwich coach Mike Klaver said.
Weathersbee finished with 12 points and nine rebounds. Malaina Whetstine delivered 17.
“Feels amazing, we’ve been stuck in third place for awhile, and we just want to get that past that, and get to the championship and take state, and win it all,” Weathersbee said. “Honestly, it’s been amazing. We all have each other’s backs. We connect so well. We know what each other is going to do. We know when someone is going to shoot, drive, just connect really well.”
In the final seconds, Smith walked several feet past the end of the bench and surveyed the scene in front of him. Smith, among the state’s most well-respected coaches, had taken Wetmore and DW to the final four. This marked his 20th year of coaching and first championship game appearance.
“I was just proud of our girls,” Smith said.
Smith paused, choked up, emotional.
“They fought so hard,” Smith said. “And we have great kids. … We were hungry. They were hungry for that, and Kyra Johnson is a competitor. Avery Weathersbee is a competitor. Claire Cole is a competitor. Those girls are just winners.”
Doniphan West’s comeback set the foundation for four comebacks from the winning teams on Friday’s semifinals at United Wireless Arena. No. 5 seed DW (20-5) will face No. 2 seed Quinter (22-3) in the 4 p.m. championship game Saturday.
Quinter required a double-digit comeback to beat Frankfort, 42-38. Senior Anna Briggs delivered a huge game with 21 points, 12 rebounds and eight blocks per game.
“They won 31 minutes of the game,” Quinter coach Matt Havlas said of Frankfort. “We pulled it out.”
For the boys, Wichita Classical (23-2) will face Macksville (23-2) at 6:15 p.m. Classical trailed 10-2 early, was down two after the first quarter and tied at halftime. The Saints beat two-time defending champion Olpe, 45-44. It marks Classical’s first-ever KSHSAA state wins.
“I knew it was going to be a defensive battle today,” Classical coach Tim Dolloff said. “And it was going to be who could get the last stop and who could get the last rebound.”
All four teams enjoyed a comeback – and have a special group. DW has the most accomplished senior girl class in school annals.
Dolloff and Macksville coach Jeff Kuckelman have a veteran group that also includes a senior son – Jordy Dolloff and Ryan Kuckelman.
“We are all a big family,” Macksville senior Lance Lickiss said.
Classical held Olpe to 28 percent. Dolloff finished with 19 points, including 10 of 11 from the foul line.
“Great to work as a team,” Jordy Dolloff said. “Get a team win and see a ton of hard work pay off.”
Two years ago, Olpe easily defeated Classical in the first round of state. Classical focused on working up to the Olpe level. Classical returned 88 percent of scoring from last season.
“They just kind of controlled the tempo,” Olpe coach Chris Schmidt said. “The Dolloff kid just does a nice job of controlling things. They hit some 3s in the first half.”
Quinter has the likely 1A player of the year in Briggs. Plus, this is the last year for veteran assistant Scott Crist before he moves to Texas with his fiancé.
Macksville defeated tradition-laden South Gray, 78-65. Just 36 seconds into the game, sophomore point guard Diego Esparza, the team’s second-leading scorer and tops in assists, picked up a technical foul for an exuberant moment, Longtime Macksville coach Jeff Kuckelman has a rule that if anyone gets a technical, they can’t play the rest of the contest. Esparza sat the rest of the first half. South Gray immediately went on a 9-0 run and led by three after the first quarter and three at halftime.
Since Esparza’s technical was not considered negative or an affront to an official, Kuckelman had the seniors vote at halftime. They voted unanimously to allow Esparza to return. He made all three of his shots and had three assists.
“It would be a different situation if he got a T yelling at an official or something,” Kuckelman said. “…He’s does a lot for us. He gets a T for showing emotion. We want kids to show emotion, enjoy themselves. But you have got to handle things the right way.”
Lickiss delivered a career 23 points on 10 of 15 shooting with 13 rebounds for the depth-laden Mustangs.
“I definitely got a lot of looks my teammates,” Lickiss said. “They were always feeding me the ball. And I didn’t do it by myself. I always had somebody moving, and shifting the ball around.”
Macksville shot 62 percent from the field and forced 19 tunovers. Rogelio Ibarra delivered 24 points.
“It’s a testament to our team,” coach Kuckelman said. “Because it could be somebody different every night, and we have to have somebody else step up.”
At 9:22 p.m., Macksville celebrated the victory when the fan base and players sang Happy Birthday to coach Kuckelman. Like coach Smith around five hours earlier, Kuckelman showed emotion. He hugged his son and thanked the crowd. Kuckelman has coached the group of seniors since third grade.
“It was more about the game actually and this kids truthfully,” Kuckelman said. “But I appreciate that. I have been at this a long time. I guess I never used to be this way, but I guess I am getting sentimental in my old age. But it also might have something to do with the last go around with my son Ryan.”
Neither Doniphan West nor Quinter was ranked in the Kansas Basketball Coaches Association top-10 to start the year. Quinter, a SIK Potential Breakout Team in December, won eight games last winter, though was expected to be much improved since the 6-foot-2 Briggs moved back.
Quinter trailed by seven after the first quarter and was down 11 at one point. Frankfort led 30-21 at halftime.
“We were sluggish the first quarter,” Havlas said. “They were hot. We tried a little zone, and they hit some 3s on us. At halftime, we told them that we needed to be like we were all year and that aggressive man. We played great defense.”
Havlas told his Bulldogs to simply “play harder.” Havlas, who has more than 100 wins and a state title at Quinter, reminded his squad that no team had “ever quit on me.” Havlas knew QHS wasn’t out of the game and could get a run.
“He really like emphasized that we all need to stay positive as a team,” Briggs said. “Don’t give up, and he even said that if you kind of give up, put your head down, then we were going to be sitting by him, and he was going to play someone that thought we could win.”
Even with the two fouls, Briggs re-entered 24 seconds into the second quarter, and the Bulldogs down seven.
“Just be smart and don’t get dumb fouls,” Briggs said. “Don’t try and tie up a ball and get another foul, so you sit out, and just kind of play, do your thing.”
Briggs dominated in the last three quarters and finished with 21 points, 12 rebounds and eight blocks. She made one trey last season. Briggs has 24 this year, on 38 percent shooting.
“Anna Briggs got hot,” Havlas said. “And we know she could.”
On Friday, one of the 6A and 3A girls’ semifinals were heavily influenced by fouls and free throws.
The officials let Quinter and Frankfort play. Frankfort was 13 of 16 from the foul line, Quinter 9 of 13.
“I feel like later in the game, we attacked and maybe felt like we could have got a call or two,” Frankfort coach Brian Ebert said. “But that’s how it goes. Still, we had our opportunities. We had a good driving layup. Had a bank shot, and we just missed it, and that could have put us right where we needed to be.”
Frankfort was up 36-35 with 5 minutes, 8 seconds left and had the ball until 2:57 remained. The possession included two Quinter fouls, three Frankfort free throws, a Frankfort field goal and two offensive rebounds. Bryn Gillespie fouled out on the possession.
“That was our plan was slow it down and try and get them to foul us,” Ebert said.
Briggs sank three treys Friday, all from the top of the key. The treys come off a play called “Power.” The last tied the game at 38 with 1 minute, 37 seconds left.
“Hit shots, simple as that,” Ebert said. “When they hit shots, we had our opportunities to hit a few, and we didn’t. Made a couple mistakes down the stretch, a few turnovers that shouldn’t have happened, and she was able to get out and hit a 3, and that just kind of catapulted them, and carried them.”
Nineteen seconds later, Briggs sank two free throws for Quinter’s first lead since 5-4. Kelsey Selensky, who averages four points per game, sealed the win with two foul shots. She finished with 10 points and nine rebounds. Havlas said Selensky “kept us in it” during the first half.
“Whether we were up 30 or down 30, we were going to go out there, and bust your butt,” Havlas said. “And they did. They played like they have all year.”