Olpe rolls to 1A D1 title behind historically great defense
DODGE CITY, Kan. (Catch it Kansas) - Olpe coach Jesse Nelson has led the Eagles for 44 years. He stands as Kansas’ all-time winningest coach with a 949-111 career record. Entering this March, Nelson had captured three state titles in 1981, 2010 and ’11. Last year, Olpe finished 26-0 in a season halted in the state semifinals because of coronavirus.
On Saturday, Olpe’s six seniors delivered a 42-25 victory against Norwich in the Class 1A, Division I state championship game at United Wireless Arena. The Eagles received all their points from the seniors. The 2020-21 Olpe squad can make a strong statistical case as the best Eagle scoring defense under Nelson.
Nelson said his good teams have typically permitted around 28 points per game. All of his championship squads collected perfect seasons.
Olpe delivered a 25-0 mark and had an average margin of 62.6 points scored a game to 23.8 points allowed. The Eagles captured their three tournament games 91-27, 38-21 and 42-25. Olpe permitted 73 total points at the state tournament. Olpe currently has the longest winning streak, boys or girls, in Kansas.
“It’s really special,” Nelson said. “First of all, they are a really special group. That’s just a sweetheart group of kids right there, and they win the only way that they can win. We can’t line up toe to toe with very many teams, because we are not as big and strong. But they do what you ask them to do.”
Senior Macy Smith, considered the best point guard of Nelson’s tenure and an Emporia State signing, enjoyed another excellent performance. She finished with 13 points, six steals, five assists and three rebounds. Olpe never trailed, led 10-6 after the first quarter and 24-14 at halftime. The Eagles, known for their pace and fast break, went on a 10-0 run to start the second half and effectively put the game out of reach.
“We have been playing together since we could remember - elementary school,” Smith said. “And it’s just awesome to be able to win a state championship with the girls you have been playing with for 10, 15 years now. It’s just amazing being able to share this experience with our team and community and coaches and everyone.”
Norwich enjoyed a surprising postseason run with a 20-4 record. Norwich lost to Olpe, 59-43, in the 1A quarterfinals last winter, the second-to-last game before KSHSAA cancelled state because of the coronavirus.
“It really gave us a good push and a lot of motivation to really go out this year, and do the best we can, and brought us to a state championship,” Smith said.
Junior Kira Kelly paced Norwich with 12 points. Mike Klaver, who has coached Norwich at various levels for 38 years, was highly pleased with the team both on and off the court. Klaver mentioned several players had gone through challenging times.
“It was some really tough situations for some of them,” Klaver said. “For high school kids to have to experience some of those things is really tough. In that regard, it was awesome that they persevered and had the opportunity to do the things that they did.”
Last winter, Olpe had one senior, Neleh Davis, daughter of longtime Olpe assistant Carolyn Davis. Carolyn played on Olpe’s first title team. Neleh was a key four-year player and surpassed 1,000 career points, though didn’t receive closure on her career because of COVID-19. At the hotel Saturday, Nelson asked Neleh to come sit on the team bench.
“It’s really special having her here,” Nelson said.
Nelson pulled the starters in the final seconds. Seniors Smith, Camille Steffes, Marley Heins, Maya Bishop, Hattie Fischer, and Lauryn Broyles first went to Nelson. He mentioned Neleh needed a hug. The seniors walked over to Neleh and delivered an emotional embrace.
“We were really also playing for her,” Bishop said. “Because she was a big part of our family, and she will always be part of our family, so we wanted to share this victory with her, too.”
Olpe’s pressure defense forced 18 Norwich turnovers. The consistent Bishop guarded Norwich standout senior forward Brittany Gosch in the post and held her to four points on 2 of 7 shooting.
“Defensively, they are strong to begin with and have fairly good size,” Klaver said. “And the speed. And then they force you out starting your offense too deep. So that creates poor passing angles, and then they can get into those passing angles better when they do that. They were doing that to us consistently. We weren’t scraping off picks as disciplined as we need to be or setting picks as well as we need to be.”
Last year, Olpe had an average margin of 63.8-30.2, per CIK research and MaxPreps archives. In 2009-10, Olpe delivered a 65-31 margin. The following year, Olpe posted a 64-27 margin. While 1981 game-by-game regular season logs are not available, Olpe beat Norwich, 40-36, in the state quarterfinals, won 39-36 in the semifinals and 60-38 in the championship game.
In 2010, Olpe permitted 44.3 points a contest at state. In ’11, the Eagles allowed 38 a game at state. Norwich had scored 47 points a contest entering the state tournament. Saturday marked a season-low for Norwich.
“They play extremely hard all the time, and I am so proud of them,” Nelson said.
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