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Big 7 Hoops Preview

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*Kansas Pregame will release its second annual Winter Preview late this week. This year we're trying something new by releasing some of our preview coverage of basketball and wrestling online prior to the release of our complete digital edition of the magazine, followed the second week of December by distribution of hard copies. Follow along here and on social media for complete distribution details. COACHES, don't see your team listed or have updates to your lineup? Email us details at pregamequestionnaires@gmail.com.

A Field is Never Just a Field. Visit the Kansas Turf/Mammoth Sports Construction website and check out the field surface your team could be playing on!

Royal Valley’s girls took the Class 3A state tournament by storm in 2017-18, making a surprising run to the state championship with upsets of No. 2 seed Nemaha Central and No. 3 seed TMP-Marian before falling 49-39 to top-seeded Garden Plain in the title game.

When the Panthers returned to Hutchinson last year, there was no flying under the radar. Turns out, there was no stopping them either.

This time around, Royal Valley picked off the tourney’s top three seeds, capturing the program’s first state championship with a classic 55-52 overtime victory over No. 1 Cheney. Mahpiya Irving’s 3-pointer with 27 seconds left in overtime gave the Panthers the lead and they survived Cheney’s last-second desperation 3-pointer to claim the first state championship in any girls sport at Royal Valley, finishing the season with a 21-5 record.

The Big Seven represented well at the tourney with Nemaha Central’s girls falling just short of making it an all-league championship game with a 60-48 loss to Cheney in the semifinals. The Thunder wound up taking fourth, finishing the season with a 21-5 mark and as the regular season league champion. The league was so deep on the girls side that state champion Royal Valley finished just fourth in the league standings behind Nemaha Central, Jefferson West and Sabetha.

Perry-Lecompton was the lone boys’ team form the league to make the state tournament, taking third in Class 3A. The Kaws saw their bid for a state title end with a 62-53 loss to Beloit in the semifinals, but bounced back to beat TMP-Marian 57-49 for third. Perry finished the season 22-3 and won the league title as well by a half game over Sabetha.

BOYS

HIAWATHA made an eight-win improvement in Garry Smith’s debut season as Red Hawks coach, going from 3-18 to 11-11. With four starters back, expectations are even higher this season. The Red Hawks return their top four scorers from a year ago, led by all-leaguer Tyler Brockhoff, who led the Big Seven in scoring at 14.4 points per game. Sage Meyer wasn’t far behind at 12.3 points per game. Brockhoff also was one of the top rebounders in the league at 8.1 per game, while Michael Moreno was second in league in steals with 60. With a senior-heavy squad and Smith’s winning pedigree, Hiawatha has its sights set on ending a lengthy state-tournament drought with the program not having qualified for state since 1974.

Connor Bechard’s first season as head coach at HOLTON resulted in a 3-18 record as the Wildcats never really found their footing. Bechard hopes to take a step forward in Year 2, but will do it with a team that lacks great size and lost leading scorer and rebounder and all-leaguer Zane Moylan. No returner averaged double-figure scoring and the Wildcats will have to rely on defense and quickness. Senior Eli Prine was one of the top 3-point shooters in the league last year, hitting 40 percent from beyond the arc. Post player Noah Woltje missed the football season to injury and is one of only two Wildcats in the rotation who is 6-foot-2 or taller.

JEFFERSON WEST has a new coach as Matt Simmons takes over for Ryan West. He inherits a team that has plenty of experience and plenty of momentum with most of the key contributors helping the Tiger football team to one of its most successful seasons in school history. West, which went just 10-11 last year, will be without leading returning scorer and all-leaguer Josh Broxterman for at least the early part of the season as he recovers from a lingering injury. The junior averaged 12 points and 4.1 rebounds per game last year. But there’s still plenty of firepower at Simmons’ disposal. Senior Quinn Neuenswander averaged 10.6 poins and 3 assists per game last year, while fellow senior Bryce Clements added 10.8 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. The return of Joe Anderson, who missed last year with an injury, could help ease Broxterman’s loss and a total of nine Tigers who saw good minutes a year ago are back.

A loss to unbeaten Maur Hill in the 3A sub-state finals kept NEMAHA CENTRAL from making it back to the state tournament, but the Thunder still finished last year with a 16-7 overall mark. Graduation hit hard, claiming the Thunder’s top-three leading scorers from a year ago — Cole Kramer, Dalton Schmelzle and Matt Baumgartner. Veteran coach Jon Thomas always finds a way to put together a winner and will lean heavily on seniors Andrew Leonard and Bryce Uphaus early in the season while the newcomers find their roles. Leonard averaged 5 points per game and Uphaus added 3.3 points per game. The bulk of the roster got a late start while leading the Thunder football team to a 2A State Championship and Thomas said there could be plenty of early lineup experiments.

After ending a lengthy state-tournament drought in 2017-18, PERRY-LECOMPTON backed it up a year ago by putting together a 22-3 season with a league title and third-place finish at state. Perry rode last year’s strong senior class to both state-tournament berths and will have a tough time replacing the group with four starters graduating, including all-leaguers Colton Mallonee and Conner Anderson. The lone returning starter is 6-foot-7 senior Blake Farmer, who was a first-team all-league pick last year after averaging 12.1 points and 5 rebounds per game. He’ll be a force in the middle surrounded by a slew of guards who saw considerable time last year in reserve roles as sophomores.

RIVERSIDE has a new coach as Tyler Herbster takes over the program. He inherits a team that went just 4-16 last year and won just one league game, though the Cyclones got more competitive as the season went on. Three starters return with Isaac Webb averaging 10 points per game last year while also leading the league in 3-point shooting, hitting 46 percent. Bradley Libel and Braden Chalfant have been contributors since their freshmen seasons and the backcourt gets a nice addition in Bray Davies, who transferred from Troy.

Many are picking ROYAL VALLEY to contend for the league title this season even though the Panthers were just 8-13 last year and return just two starters. But the young talent on hand for second-year coach Trent Oliva is the source of the optimism. Sophomore Nachs Wahwassuck was second on the team in scoring last year as a freshman with 11.8 points per game and was an all-league selection. He’s part of a strong sophomore class that will take on much bigger roles this year after being the supporting cast last year. Sophomore Mason Thomas averaged 7.4 points and 4 rebounds off the bench, while fellow soph. Brady Klotz added 5.3 points and 5 rebounds per game.

SABETHA finished just a half-game behind Perry-Lecompton for the league title last year, going 12-2 in league play and 16-6 overall. The Bluejays graduated four starters and eight seniors off that team leaving senior Gabe Garber as the lone returning starter. He was a first-team all-leaguer who ranked second on the team in scoring at 12 points per game while also leading the Bluejays in assists with 4 a game. Only three others return with varsity experience but veteran coach Scott Burger sees plenty of promise in his newcomers and is confident senior Braden Argabright can complement Garber in the backcourt after leading the JV in scoring last year. The Bluejays only have four seniors, but a strong junior class should fill the holes and continue the Bluejays’ recent success.

GIRLS

After taking some lumps last year in a 6-14 season with a team of mostly sophomores and freshmen, HIAWATHA might be able to dish some out this season and a few more. The Red Hawks return all five starters with only one senior, Jaye Hrencher, in that group. Sophomore Clara Lindstrom had a big freshman season, leading the Red Hawks in scoring at 10.6 points per game on her way to first-team all-league. No other Red Hawk was over 7 points per game, so finding a consistent complement to Lindstrom will be a key for sixth-year coach Brady Jasper.

It will be a much different look for HOLTON this season after long-time coach Jon Holliday retired following last season. Holliday led the Wildcats to Class 4A state titles in 1994 and 2011 and recorded 487 victories during his career. The task of filling his shoes falls to Kurt Haussler, who served as Holliday’s assistant for 16 years. Holton returns just two starters from last year’s 10-11 team, losing all-league pick and leading rebounder Lauryn Moore among others. Junior Saydee Tanking led the Wildcats in scoring as a soph. with 11.6 points per game. The Wildcats are experienced around her with seven seniors in the rotation, including returning starter Faith Haussler.

If not for league rival Royal Valley, JEFFERSON WEST might have been the Big Seven team making a run at the Class 3A state title. The Tigers finished 19-4 last season, taking second in the league, but a 44-29 loss to Royal Valley in the sub-state finals kept the Tigers home during state-tourney week. The Tigers have some big holes to fill in order to stay in a challenger position as graduation claimed three starters, including Aaliyah Negonsott, who led the league in scoring at 19.2 points per game. Senior Heather Kahler averaged 6.9 points per game, which was second on the team, and she is a three-year starter. She’ll team with fellow senior Kiley Biltoft to give the Tigers a strong frontcourt presence, but developing guard play will key West’s success.

NEMAHA CENTRAL captured its second straight league title and qualified for the 3A state tournament for the third straight year, taking fourth. The Thunder finished with a 21-5 overall record and have placed fourth at state two out of the last three years. Despite losing all-leaguer Jacy Dalinghaus and two other starters, expectations remain high for the Thunder. Senior point guard Alleigh Kramer is one of the top players in 3A and averaged 13.1 points, 5 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 3 steals per game last year. She’ll look to push the ball for early offense, but if it gets to a half-court game, the Thunder have nice size in senior Kirsten Lortscher (6-0) and junior Riley Rottinghaus (6-2). Lortscher and fellow senior Emma Elder each averaged 5.5 points per game.

PERRY-LECOMPTON has a new coach as Jami Hodge takes over the program. The Kaws were 7-13 a year ago and though only three starters return, they do have their top-two scorers back. Jenna Keller averaged 9.6 points per game, just ahead of Katy Hurd, who added 9.1 points per game as a freshman. The duo give Perry a strong presence inside with Hurd a 6-2 force. Keller is one of only two seniors in the rotation and several sophomores will play big roles. The Kaws have good size overall with six players 5-foot-8 or taller.

It was a rough season for RIVERSIDE in 2018-19 as the Cyclones won just two games and went winless in league play. Graduation claimed four letterwinners, including leading scorer Kallie Hawkins, but fourth-year coach Tim Stillman likes the improvement he saw from his players in the summer. Senior guard Brailee Miller is the leading returning scorer, averaging 6.1 points per game last year while junior guard Jasimon Murphy added 4.4 points per game. The Cyclones don’t have a true point guard and suffered their biggest hits to graduation in the post. Stillman will have a guard-heavy team that will have to rely on pressure and an up-tempo style of play.

After capturing the 3A state title last year, ROYAL VALLEY will have almost a completely new look this season. All-Class 3A pick Mary Broxterman, the league’s second-leading scorer and leading rebounder, has graduated along with fellow all-league Kiikto Thomas. Head coach Kyle Porter left for Hays. And the trio of Irvings (Mahpiya, Menon and Wakiyan) moved away. That leaves first-year coach David Boucher, an assistant last year, with an entirely new starting lineup consisting of only two players that saw much time at all last year, senior Maddie Saia and sophomore Shanokwe Price. Boucher is excited about his roster, however,and hopes the winning tradition has set into the culture.

With veteran coach Alex McAfee resigning after last season, SABETHA is now under Nathan Bauman’s watch. He’s a familiar face, having served as McAfee’s assistant for years. That will make for an easy transition for a veteran team that posted an 18-4 mark last year, which included late-season wins over 3A state placers Royal Valley and Nemaha Central. The Bluejays graduated seven seniors, but return five players with starting experience. The Bluejays were the top 3-point shooting team in the league and also led the league in scoring defense, allowing just 31 points per game. Melinna Schumann was an all-leaguer as a sophomore, averaing 8.7 points per game. Backcourt mate Maggi Hughes added 6.3 points per game and led the league in 3-point percentage. The return of the Schuette twins, Morgan and Kinley, will add to the backcourt depth.

*Kansas Pregame will release its second annual Winter Preview late this week. This year we're trying something new by releasing some of our preview coverage of basketball and wrestling online prior to the release of our complete digital edition of the magazine, followed the second week of December by distribution of hard copies. Follow along here and on social media for complete distribution details. COACHES, don't see your team listed or have updates to your lineup? Email us details at pregamequestionnaires@gmail.com.

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