Hanover downs Elyria Christian for 1A, Div. II title
(Catch it Kansas) -GREAT BEND, Kan. – Height, length and athleticism. That was the formula for success for Hanover this season. The Wildcats lost just one time all year, finishing off the near-perfect season with a 52-40 win over Elyria Christian in Saturday’s Class 1A, Div. II championship game at Barton Community College.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” said Wildcat coach Cory Jensen after joining the team from Nebraska. “I think last year they were around .500. With Covid we didn’t get the normal summer you usually hope for. We had some open gyms and I kind of got the sense this team was going to be athletic. Once we started playing and getting into competition, you could sense this team could be special.”
Hanover lost a 68-56 game against Centralia before Christmas and ran the table in 2021. The Wildcats just missed a season high with 71 points in their state opener, then reached a season high with 85 points in Friday’s semifinal win over Northern Valley.
“That was early in the year when they were still getting accustomed to me and I was getting accustomed to them,” Jensen said of the Centralia game. “That loss benefitted us more than any sort of game, any sort of practice. That loss really helped us and opened our eyes. We really focused on how we practice and culture things. That loss to Centralia really propelled us to what we did the rest of the year.”
Elyria Christian scored first in Saturday’s championship but Hanover answered with the next 13 points, capped by a 3-pointer from junior Keagan Dinler. Elyria senior Zach Stucky made a pair of free throws in the final minute and scored all the Eagle points in the first quarter as Hanover pulled ahead 16-4.
Elyria struggled against Pawnee Heights’ zone early in Friday’s semifinal. The Wildcats, capitalizing on their length with a zone, held the Eagles to just five shot attempts in the first quarter.
“They tried to slow down the game and that’s fine,” Jensen said. “We’ve won at different paces before but we like to get out and run and get into transition. Give credit to our guys. They didn’t get impatient in that zone with them just throwing it around up top. They stuck in it and stuck with the game plan. We went a little cold at the end, missed some free throws, but I’m proud of their effort. It’s tough to win state.”
The Eagles leveled the score in the second and third quarters. Stucky scored the first six Elyria points, and senior Josef Hobson warmed up with a trey and an offensive board that led to a jumper. The Eagles still trailed 24-11 at the half.
Elyria senior Bret Anderson scored 18 points in Friday’s win against Pawnee Heights. Saturday he scoreless in the first half but put up nine points in the third quarter to help the Eagles stay in the game.
Hanover opened the fourth quarter with four points to extend its lead to 41-24. Hobson hit a pair of threes in the final frame, including one with 2:00 to keep the Eagles in the game at 52-39. The Eagles were never able to cut the deficit into single figures down the stretch.
Hobson led the Eagles with 13 points, and Stucky finished with 10 points. Anderson scored all nine of his points in the busy third quarter and also finished with a team-high seven rebounds. Elyria Christian ends its season at 16-10.
Dinler led all players with 18 points for Hanover. Six-foot-four senior Jacob Jueneman added 11 points and nine rebounds, and 6-4 senior Blake Hynek finished with 10 points and six boards. Junior Emmitt Jueneman scored seven points. Hanover finishes its championship season at 24-1.
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