By CONOR NICHOLL
WaKEENEY – On Dec. 10, WaKeeney-Trego boys’ basketball coach Sean Dreiling was in the locker room putting his scouting report up on the board. Later that Friday, host Trego was set to play Ness City in a marquee Purple and Gold tournament semifinal game. Somebody asked Dreiling, “You see Charlie?”
Dreiling said no. Normally, boys’ basketball teams have a quick warmup during the halftime of girls’ games. Trego star senior forward Charlie Russell stepped on someone’s foot and rolled his ankle during the warmup. The 6-foot-4 Russell and Ness City 6-foot-4 senior Taylor Cable are acclaimed posts and would match up throughout the contest.
Last season, Cable was a first team all-state selection and led NC to a Class 1A, Division I final four showing. Russell was an honorable mention (top-30 pick) in Class 2A. Russell was one of just 11 non-seniors named to the 2A list. Cable and Russell have a combined seven years of starting experience. Cable currently has 968 career points. Russell has 800-plus and carries a Pratt Community College offer.
“Those two, they have kind of got a mini-rivalry,” Trego senior point guard Cole Feldt said.
Then, Russell, known for his reserved, quiet demeanor and aggressive style, picked up an early foul. Dreiling briefly subbed him out of the game.
Russell, though, stayed focused and fought through the pain in a 46-43 victory. Dreiling labeled Russell’s performance “phenomenal.” NC missed a game-tying trey at the buzzer. Russell delivered 28 points and 15 rebounds, while Cable finished with 24 points and nine rebounds.
“He didn’t even act like it bothered him,” Feldt said. “I love playing with him. So glad he is my big, and 1-2 punch forever.”
NC coach Brandt Rogers listed Cable at probably 75 percent as he continues to recover from labrum surgery. Cable rolled his ankle two to three days before NC’s first game.
“Two talented teams early in the season, it was kind of like a little heavyweight match,” Dreiling said.
The next day, Trego, paced by Russell and Feldt, defeated Hoxie, 47-35, and won the Purple and Gold championship. Russell finished with 18 points, 12 rebounds and three assists, per Hudl.
The Golden Eagles bumped to 5-0 after Friday’s home victory versus winless Oberlin. Trego, ranked No. 9 in Class 2A, has delivered an impressive December resume in a high-expectation year.
“It was good to test us early this year,” Feldt said. “I mean, we know we are going to be pretty good, but we still got to work and have games like this early on, and it will help us later in the season.”
After the Purple and Gold, Russell was at 19.8 points, 11.5 points and 4.3 assists per game for one of Kansas’ best statistical lines after three weeks. Feldt, Russell’s cousin, delivered 9.5 points and 5.3 assists.
Known for his leadership, Feldt has a penchant for clutch plays and has the team’s best plus-minus ratio at plus-13.5 points per game. Last season, Feldt picked up key steals to secure close wins versus Quinter and Ellis. Against NC, Feldt missed his first free throw all season late. Only Ness City players were in the free throw slots. Feldt realized the shot was going long and beat all of Ness players to the rebound.
“He has got heart,” Dreiling said. “He has got intangibles. … He’s been fun to coach. I know we have got a lot of season left, but I am going to miss him for sure.”
Gunner Wilson, Tyler Malsam, Owen Day, Miles Moden, Caden Brown and Chad Malinowsky have been key players. Many of the basketball players helped the football team to a seven-win improvement to 8-2, the school’s best season since ’02. Feldt, Russell, Malsam, Brown, Moden and Brungardt are the seniors. This season, Trego returned 81 percent of its scoring.
“Our team chemistry keeps getting better, and it will continue to get better throughout the year,” Feldt said.
Dreiling, a former Fort Hays player and highly respected for his turnaround with Trego, is among the state’s top young coaches. Dreiling has built his program around EAT – Enthusiasm, Aggression and Toughness. He had done several unique team building activities, including recognizing moms during Thanksgiving week.
Last season, the Golden Eagles won 16 games, its most since 2009 – the program’s last state appearance, per Kansas historian Carol Swenson. Trego has two all-time final four showings, a state title in ’06 and fourth in ’08.
Entering this season, the Golden Eagles were a collective 5-19 versus Ness City and Hoxie since ’05.
“It’s always fun playing against Sean’s teams,” Ness City coach Brandt Rogers said. “He has got them ready to go, but especially this year, they execute well.
“They will be a tough team to beat down the stretch if they can stay out of foul trouble,” Rogers added. “But his seniors do a really good job, and they do what he asks them to do, and that’s the hard part about being a coach is getting them to do what they ask you do to and buy in 100 percent.”
This is expected to be one of the best seasons in school annals. Dreiling has highly stressed the process and day by day.
“We have addressed it,” Dreiling said. “Everybody in the community knows it. Our players know it, I know it. We have the opportunity to do something special, but we have just been preaching process, process.”
Trego girls have continued its success with coach Shelby Crawford. On Friday, the Golden Eagles beat Oberlin, 55-40, and finished the pre-Christmas schedule 5-1. Trego has only a 41-37 loss to Hodgeman County, a 1A-I final four team last winter, in the Purple and Gold final.
HC is highly experienced and athletic with its pressure man-to-man defense. The Longhorns are ranked sixth in 1A-I, and Trego is eighth in 2A girls. Trego has reached state the last three years.
On Friday, Trego hit 10 treys, including five from standout senior point guard Madison Walt, who is among 2A’s top players. Walt made five 3s. Tori Hober scored 10 points, while Caroline Brungardt and Annabelle Malsam tallied eight. Kaylee Walt scored seven. Entering Friday, Madison was at 12.5 points, 7.6 rebounds, 3.8 steals and 2.6 steals.
In the Purple and Gold semifinals, Trego beat Ness City, 53-45, in overtime with a fourth quarter comeback.
“Our team knows how to play together as a family, and we really showed how tough we were,” Kaylee said.
NC senior Zoe Seib made a buzzer-beater 3 from the volleyball spike line to send the game to overtime. Both Walts made key plays down the stretch. Kaylee Walt has moved into a bigger role this season.
“She is developing an offensive mindset, she is going to help us the rest of the year if she can play like that,” Crawford said.
The Golden Eagle boys lost three times to Hoxie last winter, including in the Purple and Gold finals and the Mid-Continent League tournament championship game.
Hoxie graduated several key pieces, notably 7-foot senior Harlan Obioha, the 2A player of the year. Feldt said Trego gained a “little revenge” for the win against Hoxie this season and a “big statement” with the Purple and Gold championship, the team’s first in 13 years.
As well, Trego beat Dighton (61-39) in the season opener and earned a 61-47 victory versus Almena-Northern Valley, ranked second in Class 1A, Division II, in the Purple and Gold quarterfinals. NV was 4-0 in its non-Trego games entering Friday and had averaged 67 points per game. The Huskies average 20 treys attempted a game.
Russell had 16 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists versus Northern Valley, one assist away from a rare triple-double. Dreiling said Trego has not had a triple-double in 10-plus years.
“Being challenged like we were (against Ness) is always good, and it obviously feels good to come out on top as well, but anytime you can be challenged, it just makes you better,” Dreiling said. “And Northern Valley did that, too, on (Dec. 7), they threw a good punch, they play a specific style and we had to answer the bell, even being up by 20 points in that game, it didn’t feel like it. This was two talented teams early in the season.”
After the Ness game, Dreiling sat down on the bleachers inside Trego’s gymnasium. He looked at the game statistics and Hudl video. Dreiling talked about the benchmarks in the season, starting the following night’s championship and game versus Hoxie.
Dreiling named the Mid-Continent League title as another goal. Trego was fourth in the regular season in a tough league last year. Dreiling mentioned facing Mid-Continent League power Thomas More Prep-Marian, generally a top-two MCL squad. TMP is ranked ninth in 3A. Trego is 0-9 against TMP since ’08, the only current MCL team the Golden Eagles haven’t beaten under Dreiling.
After the school’s best December in 14 years, potentially more school history awaits once the season resumes in January.
“You can’t do all that at once,” Dreiling said. “We can’t win a sub-state to go to state, we can’t win a sub-state championship tomorrow. We’ve just got to inch forward, take steps forward, continue to get better every single day, as good as we can get in that day.”