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2020 State Basketball Preview: Girls

 #1 Central Plains girls defeat #5 Thunder Ridge 78-36 in the semifinals of the 2019 1A State Basketball Championship at United Wireless Arena in Dodge City on Friday, March 8, 2019.  (Photo: Everett Royer, www.ksportsimages.com)
#1 Central Plains girls defeat #5 Thunder Ridge 78-36 in the semifinals of the 2019 1A State Basketball Championship at United Wireless Arena in Dodge City on Friday, March 8, 2019. (Photo: Everett Royer, www.ksportsimages.com) (KWCHCIK)
Published: Mar. 9, 2020 at 7:41 PM CDT
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The 2019-20 high school basketball season wraps up this week with state champions crowned across Kansas!
Class 6A

Favorite: No. 2 Topeka (22-0)

Top Contenders: No. 1 Liberal (22-0); No. 3 Wichita Heights (21-1); No. 4 Derby (20-2)

Key Players: Topeka’s Nijaree Canady and Kiki Smith; Liberal’s Katie Horyna and Machia Mullens; Derby’s Maryn Archer, Addy Brown and Sydney Nilles; Wichita Heights’ Laniah Randle; Olathe South’s Dani Winslow

Breakdown: For much of the year, Topeka, Liberal and Wichita Heights, all in 6A West, had undefeated records, a rarity for any class. Among the three, Heights had the largest average margin of victory and the lowest scoring defense, though standout sophomore Zyanna Walker suffered a knee injury late in the regular season. Heights took a loss to Carroll in the regular season finale.

Topeka is the defending state runner-up to Washburn Rural and receives virtually all of its production from non-seniors, notably freshman Kiki Smith and sophomore post Nijaree Canady. The Trojans play at an extremely high pace and average 72 points and 14 steals a contest.

Derby has only lost to McPherson and Lawrence Free State and is back to state after second, first and third the last three years. The Panthers have excellent depth, notably with its freshmen duo of Archer and Brown, and Nilles, a Newman signing. Liberal is at state for a third straight season behind its Division I trio of Mullens and Horyna. Last year, the Redskins lost to Olathe Northwest, a Sunflower League team, in the first round. This season, Liberal won at Olathe West in December. OW beat Olathe South in late February on a last-second 3 to win the Sunflower League. OS features Dani Winslow, a Missouri State commit.

Class 5A

Favorite: No. 4 St. Thomas Aquinas (18-4)

Top Contenders: No. 1 McPherson (21-1), No. 2 Andover Central (21-1)

Key Players: Aquinas’ Madison Skelton, McPherson’s Grace Pyle, Kassidy Beam, and Emma Ruddle, Andover Central’s, Maize South’s Katie Wagner, Maize’s Sydney Holmes and Cassie Onwugbufor

Breakdown: For the entire year, McPherson and St. Thomas Aquinas have been ranked first and second in some form. However, both teams are on the same side of the bracket. Aquinas gets Maize South in the first round. Last year, Aquinas beat Maize South in the first round. The Saints have won three straight state titles. McPherson overcame significant early-season injury/health concerns and owns wins versus Andover Central, KC Piper and Derby, teams that have just five total losses. Pyle leads McPherson at 15.9 points per contest, and Beam is second at 14.6.

Maize opened 1-3 and is 15-3 since, including a big 53-33 win versus Maize South on Feb. 7. However, Maize faces Topeka Seaman, who the Eagles lost, 65-59, on the road Feb. 1. Andover Central’s top-seven scorers are all non-seniors, led by 17 points a contest from sophomore Brittany Harshaw and 14.7 points a game from junior Bailey Wilborn.

AC is an excellent shooting team with 204 made treys at 37 percent. Wilborn, Harshaw and sophomore Ellie Stearns have all hit at least 40 treys. Among teams that report statistics to MaxPreps, Andover Central easily leads in 3-pointers made. Andover Central went 2-0 against Maize South and lost to McPherson in overtime in the second game of the year.

Class 4A

Favorite: No. 4 Bishop Miege (20-2)

Top Contenders: No. 1 Nickerson (20-2), No. 3 KC Piper (20-2)

Key Players: Bishop Miege’s Ashton and Payton Verhulst, Nickerson’s Morgan Stout, Ava Jones and Josie McLean

Breakdown: Miege won 4A last season with four Division I prospects. This year, Miege has not lost to a Kansas team. Ashton Verhulst has signed with Central Florida, and Payton was named Gatorade Player of the Year. Nickerson won the Central Kansas League and has qualified for state for a third straight season. Baldwin, which captured a state crown two winters ago, is one of the state’s best offensive rebounding teams. Nickerson was fourth in ’19. Stout is back after a serious season-ending injury in ’18-19. A possible semifinals matchup between Nickerson and Miege could be the de facto state title.

Class 3A

Favorite: No. 6 Scott City (20-3)

Top Contenders: No. 1 Nemaha Central (23-0), No. 4 Phillipsburg (20-3), No. 5 Cheney (20-3), No. 3 Halstead (20-3)

Key Players: Nemaha Central’s Alleigh Kramer, Phillipsburg’s Taryn Sides, Cheney’s Kylie Scheer, Halstead’s Karenna Gerber, Scott City’s Emily Weathers, Brynn McCormick and Lyndi Rumford

Breakdown: This is the state’s deepest class with at least six teams with a strong chance to win the state title. Last year, Royal Valley beat Cheney in overtime for the championship. Scheer is the reigning 3A Player of the Year. She, Gerber and Weathers have all cleared 1,000 career points. Sides, perhaps the state’s most impactful freshman, and Gerber have led their teams to the first state berth in school annals. Kramer has signed with Benedictine, and Frontenac has not lost to a Kansas squad. Nemaha Central fell to Cheney in the semifinals last year and lost in the first round in ’18. NC was also fourth in ’17.

Scheer averages 24 points, five rebounds and four steals a contest for a team that gets all but 14 of its points from non-seniors. As well, Cheney’s Lexi Cline is one of Kansas’ leaders with 4.1 assists a contest. Scott City is at state for the fourth straight year. While many consider NC the favorite because of its record, Scott City could break through in a loaded field. All three of SC’s losses came against teams it defeated. Scott City is also approaching historical success in free throw percentage and has three players in double figures, more depth than most of the teams.

Class 2A

Favorite: No. 1 Spearville (23-0)

Top Contenders: No. 2 WaKeeney-Trego (22-1); No. 3 Sterling (21-2); No. 4 Valley Heights (21-2); No. 5 Wabaunsee (20-3); No. 6 Garden Plain (18-5)

Key Players: Spearville’s Ehlaina Hartman and Alissa Heskamp, WaKeeney-Trego’s Lili Shubert and Libby Frost, Sterling’s Kali Briar, Wabaunsee’s Madelyn Hutley, Garden Plain’s Kennedy Horacek and Alli Puetz

Breakdown: Spearville coach Andrew Kempke’s top goal for every game is to run. Class 2A is also very deep and likely a key difference will come in pace. Spearville and Sterling push the tempo, while Garden Plain and WaKeeney control the game with its more moderate pace. GP is known for its efficiency, while WaKeeney has its stifling defense. Trego set a school record for scoring defense in ’18-19 and is on pace to easily break the mark this winter.

Last year, Garden Plain was first, Sterling second, Wabaunsee third and WaKeeney fourth. Hartman has signed with Emporia State, and Hutley, out for part of the year, has inked with Washburn. Garden Plain, which captured 3A two seasons ago, is back to state after it lost its top-three scorers. In the first round, GP faces Sterling in a rematch of the ’19 finals.

Notably, Spearville, Sterling and WaKeeney returned virtually all of its scoring from ’18-19. Spearville bumped up from 1A after it dealt with key injuries. The semifinals could feature Wabaunsee against Spearville. In 2A volleyball, Wabaunsee beat Spearville for the title.

Class 1A

Favorite: No. 1 Central Plains (25-0)

Top Contenders: No. 4 Hanover (23-1), No. 5 Otis-Bison (23-2), No. 3 Olpe (25-0), No. 2 Cunningham (25-0)

Key Players: Central Plains’ Emily Ryan, Addison Crites, Delaney Rugan and Rachel Lamatsch; Hanover’s Tianna Lohse, Otis-Bison’s Maddie Wiltse and Cora Anderson, Cunningham’s Morgan Meyers, Olpe’s Neleh Davis

Breakdown: Central Plains, on the state’s all-time winning streak at 135 wins, is again the heavy favorite. Ryan, an Iowa State signee, is expected to clear 3,000 career points in the first round. She would be the fourth player all-time to reach the plateau. Lohse, Wiltse, Anderson and Davis have all been key four-year players for their teams. Hanover lost to Central Plains in the finals last winter.

This year, O-B has lost to Central Plains twice, including trailing just 21-20 at halftime in a regular season game. While CP is expected to win, several teams, notably Otis-Bison and Cunningham, could at least tie the best finish in school history at the state tournament. Cunningham has made one final ever (1988) and Otis-Bison’s all-time best finish is third in 2017. A key first-round matchup has Hanover against Otis-Bison: the Wildcats’ running, 3-point style against O-B’s patient offense and inside play.

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