Thomas More Prep-Marian boys had captured four straight victories before holiday break. Once play resumed last Friday, TMP dropped back-to-back road contests on Friday and Saturday versus Ellis and Sacred Heart, respectively.
The Monarchs lost a big first half lead versus Ellis and fell to the Railroaders for the first time the last six tries. TMP lost by 23 to Sacred Heart.
On Tuesday, TMP bounced back and continued its success in Mid-Continent League home contests with a 49-38 victory versus a much-improved WaKeeney-Trego Community team at Al Billinger Fieldhouse.
“It was fantastic,” TMP coach Bill Meagher said. “We needed to get the momentum changed. It was going in the wrong direction.”
The Monarchs led 18-2 after the first quarter, but the Golden Eagles cut the deficit to single figures multiple times.
TMP improved to 5-4, while WaKeeney dropped to 5-3. Monarch senior point guard Ryan Karlin delivered a game-high 19 points.
The Monarchs are 2-0 at home this winter. TMP, which joined the MCL before the 2014 season, has still never lost a home conference game.
On Dec. 14, the Monarchs jumped out to a big lead in the home opener and rolled against Oakley, 61-33. Oakley and WaKeeney have split two games this year by a combined three points.
However, the Golden Eagles fought back behind defense and balanced scoring Tuesday. It marked WaKeeney’s first game since Dec. 18. The loss ended a three-game winning streak.
“Those guys guard and they guard with intensity,” Meagher said. “That never really goes away over Christmas break. I think the offensive timing does, but the defense doesn’t. For us, I don’t think we were tired. I just think we were resolved and upset and wanted a win tonight.”
Third-year coach Sean Dreiling, a former Fort Hays basketball player and assistant coach, and football/track coach Pat Haxton have helped lead a turnaround for the Golden Eagles.
WaKeeney has already matched its win total from last year’s 5-15 mark. WaKeeney has not won double-digit games since a 21-3 mark in 2008-09.
In the fall, the football team finished 4-5, a two-win improvement and the second-best season in the six-year Haxton era. Haxton said the team “had a different feeling” than any other year he’s been in Trego. Dreiling has told the community and team that he has noticed a “culture change” and “not wanting to be the doormat anymore.”
“Coach Haxton as a football coach has a lot to do with that, but a lot of it just goes to the credit to the guys,” Dreiling said. “They hold each other accountable, and it’s not everything about winning, but we are going to fight, scratch, claw, do whatever we have to do, and we are not going to lay down – and you saw that tonight.”
Dreiling said the basketball program especially benefited from KU team camp this summer and bonded with the Jayhawk history, sleeping in the residence halls and eating together.
“We are from WaKeeney, so we all know each other,” Dreiling said. “We are a tight-knit group, but it’s something different about being in Lawrence, and just building that teamwork, and we had a good time there. We played well, we played hard, we got better.”
Trego responded to the 16-point first quarter deficit, and outscored TMP 21-14 in the second quarter and trailed by just nine at halftime.
“We get back in the game,” Dreiling said. “And then it stays there, seven, 10 points, the rest of the game. We didn’t do the little things, and I told them, ‘When you count up all the little things, you realize there are no little things, because little things could have made a difference tonight.’ We are just right there.”
Trego shot 29 percent overall, while TMP was at 44 percent after the Monarchs shot 52 percent before intermission. Sophomore Kobi Shubert paced the Golden Eagles with nine points. Freshman Charlie Russell, who is tied for the Golden Eagles’ tallest player at 6-foot-2, has displayed talent this winter. Russell had six points Tuesday.
Earlier this winter, he had a double-double and earned the team’s player of the week award. Dreiling has told people that he believes Russell could be a college basketball player, especially if he grows several inches.
“He has got to work and get better, and if he does that, I think he has got a chance to be really good,” Dreiling said.
Like against most opponents, TMP has a significant height advantage Tuesday. With 1 minute, 37 seconds left in the third quarter, 6-foot-7 senior forward Jared Mayers drove in for a dunk and 40-27 lead.
However, after that, the Monarchs scored just one more point through the rest of the third and the majority of the fourth quarter. Still, TMP’s late free throws sealed the win.
“We didn’t play great tonight, but we played good enough to get a win,” Meagher said. “Again, a lot of that credit goes to their team and how hard they played, and how they are coached, and what they did, but we were excited to get a win.”