UPDATE: After this story was written, the KSHSAA voted to allow winter sports to proceed as scheduled in December. No spectators will be allowed until January 28.
The previous girls basketball season might have ended with a victory, but soon after came a heartbreaking loss when the remainder of the state tournament was canceled after the first round. Although this gave the girls less time to celebrate a victory, it allowed more time to pre-pare for next season.
“We were all able to express our emotions about it together and it made us all want to fight harder for a state championship this year,” junior guard Ellie Stearns said. “I’m looking forward to getting back on the court with my teammates and hopefully getting to finish our season this year.”
The girls finished last season with an impressive 22-1 record and clinched the league title finishing 12-0 in league play. The Jags will have the same starting five as last season and only lost three seniors.
“I think we can stay the same as last year if we all do our job and put in the work outside of practice, because going to practice after school isn’t what makes us a good team. It’s the extra hours we spend in the gym and the team building we do outside of school that helps us be able to have such a good team and program.”
If the season concludes normally, the Jags are among the frontrunners for a State title. The boys underwent a major program change in the offseason. Tyler Richardson took over for long-time Jags head coach Jesse Herrmann in April. Richardson was an assistant head coach at Heights for fifteen years where he won four 6A State titles and one 5A State title. Richardson coached big names like Connor Frankamp, Evan Wessel, and Perry Ellis during his time at Heights. With a new coaching staff, the program adopts a new mindset, and the players are highly optimistic.
“I like their [the coaches] approach to coaching and I like how well they communicate with us players. I also like the background experience of the new coaches. They all prove that they know the game and this isn’t their first rodeo,” sophomore guard Tayten Edenfield said.
The Jags lost nine seniors last year, two of which received all-league honors. Although losing that foundation of leadership and experience can be hard for a team to bounce back and adjust to, Richardson’s coaching philosophy and growing optimism amongst players has helped create an enthusiastic morale.
“Contrary to everyone thinking we are going to struggle, I think we are going to be really good this year and be one of the top teams in the area and have a chance to make it to State,” senior power forward Matt Buffington said. “We’ve all been hanging out with each other, too, so we have been able to gain chemistry with our younger guys like Brian [Perry] and Tayten [Edenfield] who are going to be great for us. Coach Richardson and all the coaches are all great as well. They share the same attitude we have about this upcoming season and think we have what it takes.”
If the season proceeds as scheduled, the first game for both teams is against Maize South on December 12th.