High School Spodcasters
Winter sports take center stage
The weather outside has cooled off but inside Lawrence's high school gymnasiums the action is just heating up. Lawrence High and Free State High's boys and girls basketball teams are in full swing, with season-openers and tournament action already behind them. In this week's High School Spodcasters segment join Matt Tait, Benton Smith and Jesse Temple for an early look at all four teams.
Sunflower league boys capsules
Leavenworth Pioneers Head coach: Larry Hogan (24th year)2006-07 Record: 18-7Playoff finish: Lost 56-42 to Blue Valley West in state championship
SM West VikingsHead coach: Mike Brinsko (7th year)2006-07 Record: 18-5Playoff finish: Lost 53-35 in first round at state tournament to Free State
SM East LancersHead coach: Shawn Hair (12th year)2006-07 Record: 20-2Playoff finish: Won Sunflower League before losing in sub-state to eventual champion Blue Valley West
Olathe South FalconsHead coach: Jim Carr (1st year)2006-07 Record: 15-7Playoff finish: Lost 49-34 in sub-state final to Free State
Olathe Northwest RavensHead coach: Michael Grove (12th year)2006-07 Record: 7-14Playoff finish: Lost 52-43 to Lawrence High at regionals
SM Northwest CougarsHead coach: Ben Meseke (11th year)2006-07 Record: 13-8Playoff finish: Lost 60-51 to Free State in first round at sub-state
SM South RaidersHead coach: Patrick Cormack (11th year)2006-07 Record: 6-16Playoff finish: Lost at sub-state
SM North IndiansHead coach: BJ Hair (1st year)2006-07 Record: 2-19Playoff finish: Lost to SM East in first round of sub-state
Lawrence LionsHead coach: Chris Davis (8th year)2006-07 Record: 15-7Playoff finish: Lost 69-48 to Leavenworth in second round at sub-state
Free State FirebirdsHead coach: Chuck Law (2nd year)2006-07 Record: 13-12Playoff finish: Beat Washburn Rural 64-51 to take third place at state tournament
Olathe East Hawks Head coach: Jim Super (16th year)2006-07 Record: 9-12Playoff finish: Lost 71-52 to Leavenworth in first round of sub-state.
Olathe North Eagles Head coach: Jeff Walton (4th year)2006-07 Record: 8-13Playoff finish: Lost to Olathe South in first round of sub-state
A high school basketball conference's success often is judged by how many teams qualify for the state tournament at season's end. Based on that logic, boys basketball in the Sunflower League thrived last year as three teams - Leavenworth, Free State High and Shawnee Mission West - made the final eight in Class 6A. Even more telling for the league, however, was the quality of teams that did not make it to state.
A year ago, Shawnee Mission East and Lawrence High won 19 of 22 league games combined to finish first and second, respectively. Neither advanced out of sub-state. Credit parody, which many believe will be the name of the game again this year.
"I honestly think it should be a pretty wide-open race," Lions coach Chris Davis said. "There's going to be a whole bunch of teams fighting for the top. I know it's cliche, but it's the truth."
Leavenworth, which finished 7-4 in conference play last year and advanced to the state championship, figures to be near the top of the Sunflower League. The Pioneers return five seniors who played extensively, including the team's leading rebounder in 6-foot-5 forward Zack Riggins.
Free State High coach Chuck Law, who said the league is the strongest it has been in quite some time, predicts a battle at the top between Leavenworth and Olathe South. The Falcons return four of their five starters, including leading scorers Denver Holmes and Eric Avant. But Law said several teams will threaten for Sunflower League supremacy.
"It's going to be a difficult league," Law said. "To be above .500, you've had a successful season if you can go 6-5 or better in this league. Typically our top three or four teams are in the top 10 in the state every year, and I think that's been consistent since I've been here."
Both Lawrence and Free State expect to be among those league challengers. The Lions are led by point guard Dorian Green and 6-foot-7 big man John Schneider, who was an honorable mention all-conference pick last year. Free State returns Weston Wiebe and Kris Wilson to its third-place team from state. Both averaged in double figures during 2006-07 and should carry much of the load as question marks surround other positions in the early going.
There are plenty of subplots on the boys side of things, as teams knocked out by one another in sub-state will have revenge on their minds. And with 12 of the top 16 players in the Sunflower League gone to graduation, there will be plenty of room for new players to make a name for themselves.
On the girls' side, the Sunflower League was even more dominant at the state tournament, as three of the top four teams in the state hailed from the Sunflower League, finishing a combined 37 games above .500.
Olathe South, which has lost one league game in two years, lost in the state championship game to Wichita Heights, ranked ninth nationally by USA Today. League foes Free State High and Shawnee Mission West played in the third-place game, with the Firebirds winning, 44-38.
SM West returns all of its core players and gains Lauren Brown, a 6-foot-5 transfer from state-champion Wichita Heights.
"They've proven they're very capable of being very successful," Free State coach Bryan Duncan said of SM West. "Considering that, it'd be awfully hard to not pick them."
Still, Duncan's Firebirds are no slouches, either.
Led by senior guard Sarah Craft, 6-foot-1 forward Taylor Manning and 6-5 sophomore Ashli Hill, Free State will have a decided height advantage against opponents this season. Based on last year's success, the team has some fairly high standards to measure up to - namely, a return trip to state and breaking through to the Class 6A title game. Free State loses three seniors who made first- or second-team all-conference, but Duncan said he was confident his newcomers would emerge.
Unfortunately for Lawrence High, the road to state last year went through Free State. Three times the Lions battled the Firebirds, and three times they lost, including in the sub-state final. This year, LHS coach Kristin Mallory returns two of the best players in the league in sisters Danielle and Taylor Bird. Taylor received first-team all-conference honors as a sophomore last year while Danielle garnered second-team honors for a second consecutive year. The two should play an integral role in improving on the Lions' 14-8 record last year. Both Duncan and SM West coach Ryan Darst said Lawrence likely will be among the top teams in the conference.
Mallory said she expected nothing less.
"The top half of the Sunflower League schools are some of the best teams in the state usually," Mallory said. "It's a great league and it's going to be real competitive this year. Olathe South kind of walked though it last year, but Lawrence High and Shawnee Mission West and Free State are going to make a run at it. I think you'll find the top four teams will make a running for state."
Sunflower league girls capsules
Leavenworth Pioneers Head coach: Joe Manthe (1st year)2006-07 Record: 3-17Playoff finish: Lost 63-33 to Free State at sub-state
SM West VikingsHead coach: Ryan Darst (6th year)2006-07 Record: 17-8Playoff finish: Lost to Free State, 44-38, in third-place game at state
SM East Lancers Head coach: Rich Rhoades (4th year)2006-07 Record: 16-6Playoff finish: Lost in sub-state championship
Olathe South FalconsHead coach: Steve Ingram (19th year)2006-07 Record: 21-4Playoff finish: Lost 54-34 to Wichita Heights in state championship
Olathe Northwest RavensHead coach: Joel Branstrom (5th year)2006-07 Record: 13-9Playoff finish: Lost to Olathe South by six points in sub-state finals
SM Northwest CougarsHead coach: John Reiff (15th year)2006-07 Record: 9-12Playoff finish: Lost to Lawrence High at sub-state
SM South Raiders Head coach: Ron Millard (33rd year)2006-07 Record: 15-7Playoff finish: Lost to Blue Valley North in sub-state final
SM North IndiansHead coach: Kelly Dennis (2nd year)2006-07 Record: 5-16Playoff finish: Lost to SM East in first round of sub-state
Lawrence LionsHead coach: Kristin Mallory (7th year)2006-07 Record: 14-8Playoff finish: Lost in sub-state finals to Free State
Free State FirebirdsHead coach: Bryan Duncan (6th year)2006-07 Record: 18-7Playoff finish: Beat SM West 44-38 to claim third place at state tournament
Olathe East HawksHead coach: Jeff Hulse (12th year)2006-07 Record: 12-9Playoff finish: Lost to Olathe Northwest in first round of sub-state
Olathe North Eagles Head coach: Amanda Faunce (7th year)2006-07 Record: 1-20Playoff finish: Lost 73-22 to Olathe South in first round of sub-state
League features big names and big games in 2007-08
Games to watch
Lawrence vs. Leavenworth The Lions were bounced from the playoffs by the Pioneers a year ago in a 21-point rout.
Leavenworth vs. Olathe South a match-up of the top two preseason teams in the league
Free State vs. Olathe South The Firebirds beat the Falcons 49-34 to advance to the state tournament a year ago. O-South hopes to exact some revenge in the regular season.
Ryan Arel SM Northwest moved into starting lineup at mid-season last year as a sophomore and never looked back. Should pose biggest outside scoring threat in the conference with backcourt mate Fruehling.
Scott Fruehling SM Northwest Can do a little bit of everything. Scored 14 points with four rebounds, three assists and two steals against Free State in first round loss at sub-state.
Justin Caresia Olathe East Shot 38 percent from three-point range last year, averaging just over eight points a game. Hawks head coach Jim Super said, "He's a very talented three-point shooter and he can shoot from a long distance. He works on his game with incredible diligence."
Jeff Harris Olathe North named honorable mention all-conference last year.
Zack Riggins Leavenworth 6-foot-5 forward is team's leading returning rebounder;
John Schneider Lawrence 6-foot-7 big man named honorable mention all-conference
Dorian Green Lawrence silky smooth point guard returns to lead Lions in quest for state birth;
Isaac Johnston Leavenworth 5-foot-10 guard was selected MVP this past summer at the Blue Chip Camp in Kentucky;
Will Spradling SM South freshman of the year, averaged 11 points and three assists.
Preseason player of the year candidates
Denver Holmes Olathe South 6-foot-4 shooting guard was team's leading scorer. Already committed to play basketball at Evansville.
Michael McRoberts SM East only returning player in the conference to be named first-team all-conference last year.
Will Spradling SM South only freshman to be named to all-conference team, making third-team. Also voted freshman of the year by the league's coaches.
Ryan Arel SM Northwest sharp-shooting guard was named conference's sophomore of the year last year.
Games to watch
O-South vs. Shawnee Mission West a match-up of teams that finished second and fourth in the state a year ago.
Free State vs. Shawnee Mission West Free State beat the Vikings 44-38 in last year's third place game at the state tourney.
Olathe Northwest vs. Anybody The Ravens' Boeh twins should be worth the price of admission this season. The two combined to average 16 points, 11 rebounds and nearly three blocks per game last year.
This season, the Ravens should see increased productivity out of both.
Danielle Bird Lawrence High LHS head coach Kristin Mallory says, "She shoots a three-pointer like it's a 12-footer. There's no change in her shot."
Jadken Kerr Olathe South The senior received first-team all-conference honors a year ago and likely will be a candidate for player of the year.
Jessika Downing SM West shot 42 percent from the three-point line in 2006-07.
Candace and Alexis Boeh Olathe Northwest 6-foot twins will be a force for Ravens this year. Candace averaged 8.9 ppg; 5.8 rebounds per game; 1.4 blocks per game. Alexis averaged 6.8 ppg; 5.5 rebounds per game; 1.2 blocks per game
Ashli Hill Free State 6-foot-5 sophomore already is receiving letters of interest from college basketball programs. Hill is primed to have a big year.
Tania Jackson Lawrence High Olathe South's Steve Ingram, last year's coach of the year, says Jackson combines an intimidating presence with sheer athleticism.
Taylon Johnson SM East SM West coach Ryan Darst says, "She's just relentless. She's lightning quick and she pushes it as good or better than anyone in the league."
Jessika Downing SM West 5-7 guard combines shooting touch with ball handling skills.
Taylor Bird Lawrence High At 5-9, she might not play guard much this year for the Lions, but that doesn't mean she can't handle the rock.
Preseason player of the year candidates
Taylor Bird Lawrence High was second leading scorer in the conference a year ago. She was in the top 10 in all major offensive categories, receiving first-team all conference honors.
Jocelyn Cummings SM South 5-9 post player was one of two sophs named to first-team all-conference last year.
Jadhken Kerr Olathe South With her older sister gone to play for Wichita State, Jadhkhen can step into the role of team leader. The 5-11 senior got the second most votes for player of the year behind her sister last year.
Taylon Johnson SM East Johnson stands just 5-4, but that didn't stop her from earning first-team all-conference honors as a junior last year. Should be the catalyst for the Lancers to make a state run.