WaKEENEY, Kan - Rexford-Golden Plains finished 23-1 with longtime coach Parker Christensen last winter. The Bulldogs, one of the state’s smallest schools, took two key losses. First, standout point guard KayCee Miller graduated after an all-state season that yielded 11 points, five rebounds, four assists and four steals a contest. Miller played for Barton County basketball this winter.
Then, Mabel Lugo, who had seven points and a team-best eight rebounds a contest in ’18-19, was the team’s best player in the summer. Lugo hurt her knee at the end of volleyball and missed all of basketball.
Still, Christensen has led another terrific season. On Friday, Golden Plains avoided the upset and pulled away for a 44-28 victory against league foe Weskan in a Class 1A sub-state semifinals contest at WaKeeney-Trego Community High School.
“It was kind of a shock, but it happened late in volleyball,” Christensen said. “So we had the first two weeks of practice to try to figure out what kind of team we were going to be. Because we don’t press much anymore.”
Golden Plains, ranked eighth in the final 1A coaches’ poll, improved to 24-0. The Bulldogs will face Otis-Bison (22-2) in the sub-state title game Saturday. Start time is 6 p.m. from WaKeeney. Last year, the Bulldogs were undefeated before a sub-state title loss to Thunder Ridge. Christensen has won more than 370 games with GP.
“We have found a way to play through that (injury),” Christensen said. “And get to a spot where we have one game to play, one game to try to win.”
GP had defeated Weskan by 30 in the regular season.
“Golden Plains is always good, but losing Mabel, I thought, they are going to lose a few games this year,” Weskan coach Andy Scheopner said. “But they just didn’t skip a beat.”
This time, GP led 25-21 midway through the third quarter before junior Ashley Stoll and sophomore Kassie Miller led a 10-0 run.
“We had time to try to adjust and figure out roles and still try to be a defensive team first,” Christensen said. “Because there’s a lot of nights we just don’t shoot the ball very well. Now, there have been a few nights where we have, and we have looked really good on offense. But we need one of them (Saturday).”
Overall, Stoll finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds. Miller tallied 14 points and a pair of assists. Stoll and Miller have each stepped into bigger roles this season. Stoll averages 12 points and nine rebounds a contest, while Miller is at 13 points and five rebounds.
“They’ve really done a good job leading us,” Christensen said.
Golden Plains has one senior in the rotation, 6-foot senior Zoey Hillis. She finished with nine rebounds. The Bulldogs were plus-19 on the glass and had 17 more field goal attempts than Weskan. However, GP shot just 33 percent from the field, including 2 of 14 from 3-point range.
“Struggling on offense a little bit,” Christensen said. “We’re getting good shots, and just not knocking them down.”
Overall, Golden Plains has produced similar per-possession statistics to last year. The Bulldogs, though, have improved its offensive rebounding rate. GP collected 36.8 percent of available misses last winter.
“They are just so fast and so strong,” Scheopner said. “And they just outphysicaled us in that second half.”
This season, the Bulldogs were at 40.3 percent, an excellent rate, through the first 22 wins. Everyday, Golden Plains works on crashing four players to the offensive glass. As a team, the Bulldogs shoot just 32 percent from the field.
“I would sure like to make a lot more than we do,” Christensen said.
Golden Plains has turnovers on just 20.6 percent of possessions, a strong rate that’s also slightly improved from last season. Against Weskan, GP had just nine turnovers, two fewer than the Coyotes. Christensen has continually stressed “valuing the basketball” and no live-ball turnovers.
“At least, we can defend if it’s a ball out of bounds or a travel,” Christensen said. “We don’t like it, but we can defend.”
Weskan, with no seniors, finished 12-12. The Coyotes went 7-3 in their last 10 games.
“Nobody expected much out of us this year,” Scheopner said. “And I kept telling, ‘We will struggle early, but we will be a tough out at the end of the season.’
Golden Plains led 17-7 after the first quarter, and built a 23-10 advantage before the Coyotes scored seven straight, including a trey just before the halftime buzzer. Junior Jacelyn Allen led Weskan with 11.
“Losing KayCee off of last year’s team, and the Lugo girl, I just think a lot of teams didn’t think that we might be able to be in this position that we are in right now,” Christensen said. “It took awhile early in the season for us to figure out how we were going to play.”