GREAT BEND, Kan. - Claflin-Central Plains girls’ basketball coach Pat Stiles perpetually exudes a calm, soft-spoken personality. He tried to deflect any pressure away from the girls regarding Central Plains’ run to the state record for consecutive wins. However, Stiles felt some internal stress.
On Saturday, the Oilers broke the mark with a 69-13 victory against Atwood-Rawlins County in the final of the Class 1A Russell sub-state at Barton County Community College. It marked CP’s 108th straight victory, which surpassed the mark of 107 set by Hoxie from 2012-16. When the final buzzer sounded, Stiles retained his calm demeanor and clapped once.
Junior point guard Emily Ryan clapped two times and high-fived her teammates. Within seconds, the Oilers went into the handshake line and received the customary postgame awards for winning sub-state. The public address announcer commemorated the 108 straight wins.
Then, Central Plains lined up for a team photo against the wall, and, to Stiles’ surprise, multiple former players came out of the stands and joined the current Oilers for a picture.
“The last seven years, had some awesome, awesome girls,” Stiles said. “Tremendous run. Very fortunate, very fortunate.”
Next, Central Plains went into the locker room. Stiles told the girls, “take the monkey off my back.”
“The media kept building that streak up,” Stiles said. “I felt the pressure, I just hoped my girls weren’t feeling the pressure, but when I have got great kids like that, I shouldn’t really feel any pressure.”
Central Plains improved to 24-0, 25-0, counting the KSHSAA postseason bye.
“As much as we didn’t want to admit it, I think we all felt a little bit of pressure,” Ryan said. “But we worked hard to keep it behind us and not notice it. It’s just a relief to get that game behind us.”
The Oilers have won five straight state titles and will try for a Kansas record sixth next week at the 1A state tournament starting Wednesday at Dodge City’s United Wireless Arena. CP is already the only team to state history to win five in a row and have four undefeated seasons.
“Just a lot of pride in what all our program stands for, and what we have worked really hard for, and we are really happy in this moment, but we need to move on and work on next week now,” Ryan said.
Since the start of the 2013-14 season, CP has lost just one time, a 66-58 defeat against Ellinwood on Feb. 24, 2015.
“Now, it’s the pressure of state,” Stiles said. “Where you have got to win. You have got to keep winning, but … it’s just totally fun to be around those kids, and just want to keep playing for them for sure.”
Rawlins County ended the season 17-8. On Friday, Rawlins County tried to mimic Central Plains' defense in practice. RC led 3-2 four minutes into the game before the Oilers went on a 28-2 run.
The Oilers led 13-5 after the first quarter, 42-7 at halftime and 62-12 after three quarters. Stiles removed his starters inside the final minute of the third quarter. The game had a running clock in the fourth.
“Their team speed, the relentless pressure they put on you on defense,” Atwood coach Brad Pfortmiller said. “We had nine girls on the court yesterday trying to simulate what we were going to see, and it’s impossible until you absolutely get out there. You pick up your dribble, they are going to trap you. They get the ball out, they run, but boy, everything is off of that pressure. They get so many layups off of it. You can’t simulate that speed.”
The Oiler streak has included multiple players who have gone onto collegiate careers, most notably Reagan Phelan at Washburn and Taylor Rolfs at Fort Hays.
Stiles has spent more than 30 years at Claflin. Phelan, a former Kansas Gatorade Player of the Year, labeled Stiles “someone you love to be around and love to learn from.”
“He is a pretty quiet guy,” Phelan said Wednesday afternoon. “He usually lets the girls take care of it, and they have done a great job of it so far. He will get fired up when he needs to, but most of the time, he is pretty laid back.”
He mainly served as Claflin boys’ head coach but stepped aside when his daughter, Jackie, was in high school. Jackie Stiles had a legendary four years at Claflin, set the Kansas all-time record for career points, enjoyed a remarkable career at Missouri State and is currently an assistant women’s basketball coach at her alma mater.
Jackie has seen her father display his “calm confidence” but also have a “lot of pressure” for the streak. Jackie, who played at Claflin from 1994-97, set her scoring record March 1, while Central Plains broke the record on March 2.
“He has such an amazing work ethic,” she said on Thursday afternoon. “And I think that’s one of the biggest keys to his success. He taught me the game from a very young age, and he is so knowledgeable, and he is able to relate to his players so well, and he gets them to play so hard, and that’s a really hard thing to do, to get your team to play hard and play together, and be unselfish.”
“And his teams always have such great chemistry, but I think it starts with his work ethic,” she added. “I think a lot of times teams take on the personality of their coach, and his teams always work so hard and play so hard.”
Stiles coached the junior high girls and then took over in 2012-13 when Central Plains needed a high school girls’ coach. CP had just begun the consolidation between Claflin and its longtime rival Quivira Heights. After a 20-3 season, the Oilers, led by Phelan and Rolfs, won the title in ’13-14.
While Central Plains and Hoxie never faced each other, Stiles talked with Shelly Hoyt, who led the Indians to 107 wins, in the summers at the KBCA all-star game. Stiles asked Hoyt (now at Eureka), “How do you handle the stress of that streak?”
“She said, ‘We just didn’t pay much attention to it,’” Stiles recalled Hoyt saying. “That’s kind of what we did, just didn’t pay much attention to it.”
Ryan, one of the state’s all-time top scorers with more than 2,000 career points, entered the game averaging 30 points, six assists, six steals and five rebounds a contest.
She tallied 33 points with five steals, three assists and two rebounds. Central Plains has perennially enjoyed great supporting talent, including Emily’s older sister, Janae, on former teams.
“We have got some good kids,” Stiles said. “I know Emily gets a lot of attention, deservedly so, but those other girls are good players. They are really good. They defend well, they can score. They just play together so well, Emily and the other four, kind of mesh together so well.”
This year, Avery Hurley and reserve Rylee Cunningham are the lone seniors. Hurley tallied 13 points. Junior Rachel Lamatsch scored five. CP forced 27 turnovers, many that led to fast break layups.
“I have such great kids,” Stiles said. “I just have a lot of confidence in them, and know they are going to get the job done. They kind of carry me. It’s easy to be calm when you have such great players like that.”
In pre-game scouting video, Pfortmiller had trouble seeing what offense Central Plains runs and the varying strengths of each player because of the high frequency of turnovers the Oilers forced. CP has an average score of 75-23 and has captured every game by at least 26 points.
“It’s all layups all the time,” Pfortmiller said. “It was nice to knock down that first shot and get the lead, and then seriously I looked up at one point, and I think at that time, I think they had pushed it to what 25-5 or something. It’s that quick. I had no clue that they were at 25.”
Junior post Addison Crites, the team’s tallest player at 5-foot-11, couldn’t participate in last year’s postseason because of a knee injury. She delivered four points, four steals and five rebounds.
“She has made our defense so, so good,” Stiles said. “Our presses are so good, she is so mobile as a 5, and she was really playing well last year until she got hurt, and I knew she would just step in.”