Nex-Tech Wireless Central Kansas Athletes of the Month: Haven girls’ basketball emerge as 3A dark horse behind depth and defense

Haven girls have improved after it graduated a KBCA all-star, a rarity among Kansas teams.


One of the more challenging tasks for any coach is replacing a player who earned a spot in the prestigious Kansas Basketball Coaches Association summer all-star game. Generally, only a couple of seniors from each class are honored. Last season, 23 schools had at least one player selected. That included Haven’s Reese Roper, daughter of longtime Haven coach Dwight Roper.

Reese finished in the top-10 all-time in scoring in her dad’s tenure; Dwight eclipsed 520 career victories earlier this season. Haven went 9-12, a rare under .500 season, last winter. That included a 2-6 mark in games decided by six points or fewer. The year concluded with an overtime loss.

Overall, those 23 schools who had a KBCA all-state representative went a combined 461-84, per SIK research. Entering last Friday, those squads were a collective 288-162 this season.

Thirteen of those 23 teams took a winning percentage drop of more than 15 percent in 2022-23. Five squads will likely finish with six wins or fewer.

Haven was one of seven of the 23 teams who improved its winning percentage off last year. The Wildcats, behind its defense and a true team effort, are 16-5, a plus-seven win improvement from last winter. Haven has quietly put together an excellent year and is a darkhorse state qualifying candidate this week.

On Monday, Haven opened play in the 3A Lyons sub-state with a 55-33 win against Chaparral. The sub-state also includes Cheney (18-2), Hesston (15-5) and improved Halstead (12-8).

Haven has permitted just 35 points per game. Last season, Massey Ratings, a well-known statistical site, factors strength of schedule into its rankings. Haven had the state’s No. 62 offense and No. 114 defense out of more than 330 schools. This year, the Wildcats are at No. 86 offense and No. 65 defense.

“Defense is definitely what has carried us,” Roper said.

Haven is 5-3 in contests within seven points or fewer. The Wildcats own quality wins against Great Bend (40-35), Pratt (51-44 and 38-35) and Hoisington (37-32).

“I am glad that most coaches don’t really consider the losses if they think somebody is good enough to be ranked, depends on who you play,” Roper said. “Some schedules are a whole lot tougher than others.”

Haven’s success without Reese Roper puts Dwight Roper in the conversation for 3A coach of the year. Haven was unranked in the preseason.

At least six of the ranked 3A teams – Goodland, Phillipsburg, Silver Lake, Atchison County, Cheney and Cimarron – have a Division I/MIAA recruit in volleyball or basketball and/or the school’s all-time leading scorer.

Haven doesn’t.

The Wildcats have three seniors: Kinley Jacques, Carlee Bland and Brie Brawner, each a four-year player. Roper is pleased with the seniors’ leadership and work ethic. Brawner has consistently ran the point.

“The seniors have improved a lot,” Roper said.

Five-foot-10 junior Sadie Estill was the lone Wildcat named to the Haven midseason all-tournament team.

“Sadie is a really good passer,” Roper said.

Sophomore Sienna DeFrain has generally led a balanced attack in scoring. Freshman Avery Brawner is a highly talented 6-footer. Avery Brawner plays as many minutes as the starters do.

“She’s good and she is going to be really good,” Roper said.

Defensively, Roper has been around a 95 percent man-to-man team during his tenure.

“We just do different things with our man and how we defend, we play some pack line and we play the pick-and-roll different depending on who we are playing, but I have primarily been a man coach my entire life,” Roper said.

One statistic he looks at is points allowed in the paint. Estill and Brie Brawner are notable excellent defenders, but Haven is known for its team defense, too.

“We close out hard on the shooters, but I think having people in help position probably makes it work well for us,” Roper said.

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