By CONOR NICHOLL
Several 2022-23 teams have a strong argument for best boys’ basketball turnaround, regardless of class. Of the 28 final four teams, four squads had a jump of at least nine wins from 2021-22. Those were Axtell and Coldwater-South Central, both plus-nine in 1A-II, 5A’s Hutchinson and 3A’s Marysville. Hutchinson finished plus-10, and Marysville had a 13-win jump.
Plus, 1A-II’s Stafford reached state for the first time since 1947. La Crosse went to state for the first time since 1991 and enjoyed a plus-10 jump. In 1A-I, Clifton-Clyde won 21 games, and captured its league for the first time in 22 years. Beloit-St. John’s/Tipton, another 1A-II team, had a plus-nine improvement.
However, Colby boys are high on the list – and possibly even No. 1.
Coach Parker McKee, who has coached both Colby boys and girls to the state tournament in his tenure, led a 12-win jump to 20-4. The Eagles qualified for the Class 3A state tournament and lost, 59-46, to Hesston in the state quarterfinals. Hesston is the three-time defending state champion and has won 25 straight games.
In the state loss, senior Hunter Vaughn finished 10 of 24 from the field, 5 of 13 from 3-point range for 26 points. Colby was within five points entering the fourth quarter.
Vaughn earned GWAC Player of the Year. Vaughn collected the honor over Hugoton’s 4A Sports In Kansas co-players of the year, Ryle Riddlesperger and Carson Bennett. Hugoton was undefeated in league and won the 4A state title.
Colby’s only GWAC loss came against Hugoton. Vaughn finished with 18 points, five rebounds and four assists a game. Sophomore Guy Tubbs, senior Ben Busse and senior Shane Puckett all delivered at least nine points a contest. Busse was a first-year transfer after a standout three years at St. Francis.
Senior Brayden Imhof was the fifth starter, and sophomore Brayden Foss and freshman Jordan Jones were key off the bench.
Colby won the Lakin sub-state. The Eagles defeated Southwestern Heights (72-42), Holcomb (60-55), and rival Goodland (50-37). Colby was 8-13 last season and a combined 19-25 in the last two years. Colby had one state appearance from ’09-22.
This winter marked the most wins for the program in at least 15 seasons. Vaughn was a 3A player of the year finalist, and McKee a 3A coach of the year finalist. Hunter and his older sister, Hallie, both cleared 1,000 career points for the Eagles.
Hunter has offers from Pratt Community College, Hesston College and Three Rivers College. Puckett and Tubbs were second team all-league. Puckett has committed to Garden City Community College baseball and is a key pitcher for the Eagle baseball team.
Tubbs is an impressive 6-foot-3 sophomore. Busse was honorable mention. Vaughn averaged 19 points, four assists and four rebounds last season.
Recently, Puckett made the 13.5 hour round trip to Pittsburg for the Sports In Kansas showcase. Puckett posted a 38-inch vertical and an 87 mile an hour exit velocity. Vaughn and Hugoton’s Bennett played on the same summer league team.
Colby delivered an impressive resume and was ranked No. 1 for all classes by MaxPreps early in the season. The Eagles won the Goodland tournament in December. Overall, the Eagles twice beat Norton. The Bluejays finished 14-6 when not facing Colby. The Eagles defeated Russell, an eventual 14-9 team, and earned a win versus McCook (Neb.), a 13-win squad.
Colby was 3-0 against Holcomb; the Longhorns were 12-7 against everyone else. The Eagles also finished 3-0 versus rival and much improved Goodland; the Cowboys were 14-6 against the rest of their schedule. Colby defeated 6A Dodge City, too.
Colby finished No. 7 in 3A (two spots behind Marysville) and No. 26 for all classes in MaxPreps’ final rankings that include strength of schedule.
Earlier this winter, junior Amanda Jaeger became Colby’s first-ever girls’ state champion with a 32-1 record and Class 4-1A title at 130 pounds. Colby boys wrestling finished 12th in 4A with 53 points.
Freshman Ryder Dempewolf finished 38-6 and took third at 106. Junior Kaeden McCarty was 38-8 and took fourth at 126. Junior Tucker Wark earned fourth at 138 with a 38-10 mark. Senior Logan Haggard was a state qualifier at 285 and finished 32-14.