After missing the football playoffs last year for the first time in 15 years, Garden Plain's 30 playoff appearances rank second-time behind Silver Lake's 31 trips.
Garden Plain is a perennial playoff qualifier with a Class 3A state championship in 2007 along with four state runner-up finishes. The Owls have lost to the eventual state champion an incredible 17 times in school history.
Last year, injuries caught up with the Class 3A Owls, who played with as many eight starters during a nightmarish 4-5 season. Garden Plain had recorded 14 straight playoff trips.
"Things out of our control cost us last season," said Garden Plain coach Brad McCormick. "We want to get back to where we were. We want redemption this season."
The Owls finished the season 1-5 and lost to District foes Kingman and Hutchinson Trinity to be eliminated from the playoffs.
"We were not able to do what we wanted. We had six to eight starters out most of last season, so staying healthy is a key for us," said McCormick. "We must have consistency in our players."
McCormick said the Owls were unable to execute a consistent game plan because the personnel kept changing. Players who were targeted for back-up duty were starters.
“We didn’t have the personnel to run our power run game and the next week we didn’t have the personnel to run our speed run game," McCormick said.
Seven starters return on offense, including quarterback Alex Becker, who had three games of 220 total yards total offense. Three starters on the offensive line are also back.
Wide receivers Troy Puetz, Jordan Joplin and Luke McGregor return along with linemen Jonah Nowak (5-10, 240), Zach Drum (6-1,230), Gunnar Cornett (6-0, 205) and tight end Ryan Gudenkaul.
"We will have a good group of leader in the junior and senior class who have worked hard and want to prove themselves," McCormick said. "We need to focus on the execution of our offense and defense and make sure we do that on a consistent basis. We’re looking forward to who we have back this season.”
The rugged Central Plains League starts with Cheney and features returning playoff qualifiers Conway Springs, Wichita Independent and Chaparral in the middle. The District foes, Kingman, Hutchinson Trinity and Halstead, all made the state playoffs last year.
"We have a great schedule that will test us and better prepare us for the playoffs," he said.