MANHATTAN, Kans.—Sterling moved down from Class 3A to Class 2A this year, and perhaps the new environment was all they needed.
One night after knocking off two-time defending state champion Berean Academy in the semifinals, Sterling took down undefeated, No. 1 seed Meade 71-49 in the boys class 2A state title game at Bramlage Coliseum.
Despite entering the tournament as a No. 6 seed, the Black Bears never considered themselves underdogs.
“The guys, I don’t think, ever thought we were the underdog,” said Sterling coach Derek Schneider. “It didn’t ever feel that way. We felt comfortable, but they were nervous just like a higher seed would be.”
Nerves certainly didn’t seem to bother Sterling’s 6-4 junior forward Austin Maxwell.
Maxwell blanketed Meade’s 6-8 Randall Friesen down low and was able hold him to just seven points on the night.
Maxwell’s physical play inside and tenacity on the boards – he had 17 rebounds – ultimately gave Sterling the edge.
“Austin’s awesome,” Schneider said. “He’s been huge for us all year. The matchup tonight was just a matter of getting Friesen off the block. I thought Austin did a great job.”
Maxwell led all scorers with 20 points and had 17 rebounds. He went 7-16 from the floor and connected on 6-8 free throws.
Sterling led 30-29 at halftime, but turned it up a notch in the second half. They pushed out to a 48-40 lead just before the final quarter, before exploding on offense and eventually running away with it down the stretch.
Maxwell got into foul trouble late in the third quarter when he picked up his fourth foul. But even when he had to sit down for an important stretch of the game, the Black Bears never let up.
“Austin’s been in foul trouble before,” Schneider. “So it’s not like it’s something we’ve never gone through. But these guys are resilient. I think our team is programmed to think that the five guys on the floor are the guys who are going to win the game for us.”
Three other players netted double figures for Sterling. Seth Humphreys had 15 points and 10 rebounds.
Matthew DeWerff and Chad Bennett each had 10.
Meade’s Friesen may have been slowed down on offense but was special on defense. He had nine blocks and always seemed to be in the way of Sterling’s guards when they tried to penetrate the lane. He also snagged nine boards.
Meade was led in scoring by Gunner Cordes, who had 17. Jett Little added 11.
The first loss of the season couldn’t have come at a worse time for Meade (25-1), but coach Dale Deighton said he’s still proud of the way his team played this year.
“They accomplished a great deal this year,” Deighton said. “They’re hurting right now, but it was a lot of fun and these are great young men.”
The win gives Sterling a final record of 22-4 on the season.
“We put forth the effort,” Schneider said. “All season, we worked very hard, and when you work hard during the season, you deserve the wins that come at the end. I felt like, at this tournament, we deserved the wins because we went after it.”
Jeff North girls win 2A title, end Olpe’s streak
After suffering tough state tournament losses in back-to-back years, Jefferson County North was ready to make this year count – even if it was in a different venue.
Jefferson North outlasted Olpe in the girls 2A state title game, 51-40, snapping the Eagles’ 77-game winning streak.
It was Jefferson North’s first year playing in the Class 2A state tournament in Bramlage Coliseum in Manhattan, having previously played in Class 3A.
“It’s amazing,” said Jefferson North coach Steve Noll of the championship experience.
“The girls have put in a lot of hard work over the years. It just felt like everything finally paid off for them, and they deserved it.”
Jefferson North got it going early, jumping out to a quick 7-0 lead, and never let up.
They carried a 26-15 lead into the break and didn’t look back. Olpe never led in the game, and Jefferson North was ahead by as much as 18 in the second half.
Jefferson North slowed their offense down for much of the fourth quarter, content with milking the clock to maintain their big lead.
Olpe managed to cut the deficit to 10 with a little less than four minutes to go, but it was too little, too late.
“We knew it wasn’t going to come easy,” Noll said.
“We just wanted to keep maintaining every time they made a run on us, and that worked out for us that way.”
Olpe could not contain Jacee and Jordan Kramer, as the sisters posed problems all night for the Eagles.
Sophomore, Jacee, led all scorers with 20 points on 7-12 shooting. She connected on three 3-pointers. Senior Jordan, added 13 points and seven boards and hit her free throws down the stretch.
The Chargers shot their way to victory, going 16-31 from the floor and 9-17 from beyond the arc. They also connected on 10-15 free throws.
Olpe went 13-35 from the floor but just 1-9 from 3-point range. The Eagles could never consistently get going on offense and struggled to gain any momentum throughout the game.
They were led in scoring by Elena Flott, who had 11 points, and Janae Haag, who had 10.
For Olpe, the loss ended a spectacular 77-game winning streak. The Eagles’ 105-game home winning streak remains intact.
For a program not used to losing, the loss stings because it came in the title game, but Olpe coach Jesse Nelson said he was still proud of his players.
“Our kids played hard, and I’m real happy for their effort. All those streaks have to end somewhere, but that’s when you start new ones.”
Jefferson North’s win put them at 25-1 on the season, with its lone loss coming to Atchison County by a score of 43-42.