Sunday, October 31, 2010

Louisburg should be proud of Wildcat Volleyball

     A little over two hours into the most important day of their volleyball lives the Louisburg Wildcat Volleyball team knew their dream season was all but over.
     In a cruel seeding draw, the Wildcats found themselves paired with not one, but two defending state champions, and not just any state champions, no, the Wildcats were up against the St. James Academy Thunder and the Topeka Hayden Wildcats. Those two teams represented the last three state champions, two straight from St. James and the one before that from Hayden, which, not coincidentally featured the Thunder as runner up.
     Heck, all the Thunder did prior to playing in this years Class 4A State tournament was go 39-1. The eventual 5A state champion Bishop Miege Stags were the only team to defeat the Thunder this year, and, in the Thunder's 39 match wins this season, they lost a grand total of FOUR games, four, that's it!
     So, after playing Hayden tough in their first game, eventually falling by a score of 25-20, the Wildcats felt the wrath of Hayden and St. James. Louisburg dropped their second game against Hayden in a game which they really weren't competitive. Then they got steam rolled by the Thunder in the first game of their match, and despite the fact the Wildcats opened a 3-0 lead in the second game of the match against the Thunder, it was little more than a stay of execution, as the Thunder rolled off 10 straight points and went on to a 25-10 victory.
     That's when the Wildcats fortunes in the state tournament changed. Lesser team would have mailed in their third and final match of the pool play, taken a beating and gone home, feeling good about just making it to the state tournament. Especially a team that had not been to such a lofty position in nearly 20 years. But not the Wildcats, not this bunch of kids who found it not good enough to just get to the dance, they wanted to at least make it to the floor.
     "We knew we had to keep our heads in it, we had to focus and come together as a team," said Marisa Mackey, and led by Mackey and the Wildcat seniors, that's exactly what they did. The Wildcats came back even after waiting over three hours to finally hit the court again, and defeated the fourth seeded Labette County Grizzlies in straight sets to take the match victory. The Wildcats jumped to leads in both games, watched as the Grizzlies fought their way back into each game, and then finished off the Grizzlies  each time.
     And that's been a problem for the Wildcats this year. Several times through the course of the season, the Wildcats watched as late game lead evaporated, but not on this day. No, on this day, the Wildcats held on, and won what might have been the most important match in recent memory for the Wildcats.
     From that point on, the Wildcat faithful were all smiles, even Mackey, who was battling a pounding headache, managed to smile through the pain. Everyone realized what an important win it was. For the seniors, it was the opportunity to win the final match of their career. For the underclassmen it was the opportunity to get not only a taste of playing in a state tournament, but they now knew what winning in the state tournament felt like, and for the family, friends, and fans of the Wildcats it was the chance to celebrate a winning end to a magical season.
     Everyone won on Friday at Salina, and the Wildcats did something to make their community proud. The went to Salina, performed with grit and determination, taking on the best teams in the state and handling everything that was dealt them. The Wildcats performed like champions and the entire Louisburg community is better for their efforts.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Wildcats and Panthers set to face each other

The match-up we’ve all been waiting on is finally here. With Paola downing Spring Hill and Louisburg toppling the Trojans of Osawatomie, the battle for supremacy in the Kansas Class 4A District 5 will again take place between the 8-0 Wildcats of Louisburg and the 6-2 Panthers of Paola.

This year, the Panthers will get to host the showdown, it will be senior night in Paola, and will be one of the most anticipated football games in the eastern part of the state.

It’s too bad the Panthers got off to such a slow start, floundering around for their first two games and padding the records of Baldwin and DeSoto in the process, or this match-up could have been really huge, with two undefeated and highly ranked teams meeting at Panther Stadium.

It would have been nice to see both teams come in to Paola next week with unbeaten records, but since those opening two games, the Panthers have been playing as good a football on both sides of the ball as anyone in the state. Just because Paola has a couple of losses, this is going to be one whale of a football game.

But I’m here to tell you that this meeting between these two great programs may not be the last one this year, and if you want to dream just a bit, it’s the game these two will play on Friday, November 19, that will be the game that everyone will be watching.

You see, with the state football playoff system the way it is, this game really means nothing to the overall scheme of things. The only thing this game does is determine whether you play a district champion or a district runner up on Tuesday, November 2nd. Both the Panthers and Wildcats are in, they will advance to the bi-district round, and, I think they’ll go a lot further.

Currently there are just three undefeated teams in the “Eastern” half of the Class 4A Bracket (not counting the Friday games), Sumner Academy in District one at 7-0, Basehor-Linwood in District two and Louisburg in District five. The way the state bracket plays out, the top team in district one is at the top half of the Eastern bracket and the top team in district two is in the bottom half of the bracket. The top team from the Paola/Louisburg District -- District five is in the top half and the second team from district five is in the bottom half. So, it doesn’t make any difference which slot the Wildcats or Panthers get, the potential is there to meet an undefeated opponent in the Sectional Round of the playoffs on Friday, November 12th.

The bi-district and regional rounds don’t throw match-ups at either team that they should not be able to handle and puts each one squarely on a path to meet again in the Sub-State round with a trip to the State Championship on the line.
Just for the sake of argument, and since I’m writing this a week before these two teams match up on the field. I’m going to put Louisburg in the top spot coming out of the district, and Paola in the second spot. Now before you get up in arms, I’m not predicting anything, I have to put one team in one spot and the other in another, since Louisburg is currently undefeated, I’m putting them in the top spot.

Winning the district would put the Wildcats in a bi-district matchup with the second place team in district six which will most likely be Fort Scott. A win in that game would pit the Wildcats against the winner of an Independence and Columbus matchup and if they would get past that game waiting squarely on the horizon would be an unbeaten Sumner Academy squad. Sumner would have to defeat Perry-Lecompton and the winner of a DeSoto and Eudora rematch to get to a game against the Wildcats.

Finishing as the runner-up in the district is not always a bad thing, just ask the Panthers. Last year Paola got one game further in the playoffs than the Wildcats because they didn’t have to face eventual state champion Bishop Miege until the sub-state round, rather than the sectional round.

Anyway, the Panthers, as the district runner up would probably face Anderson County in the bi-district round, and then would take on the winner of a Baxter Springs and Chanute match-up. That would put them in a regional round against an undefeated Basehor-Linwood squad that would have had to play Atchison in the first round and the winner of a Baldwin and St. James Academy or Blue Valley Southwest (if you can believe either of those teams should be playing on). Now, I’m sure Paola would really like a second shot at Baldwin, so the sectional round would be really nice for the Panthers if Baldwin would just go ahead and knock Basehor out in the regional round and set up a rematch with the Bulldogs in the sectionals. Either way, the Panthers would be facing a undefeated Basehor or a once beaten Baldwin team in the sectional finals.

Should the Wildcats and Panthers both win those games -- look who’s waiting in the sub-state championship!

Now, I’m a firm believer in taking things one game at a time, playing the games on the field and not on paper, and there’s a whole lot of football to still be played, and any other cliche you can think of. But let’s be real, the way both of these teams are playing, it’s not a big stretch to see them playing each other again.

And if they do, November 19, 2010 will go down as one of the biggest nights of football in Miami County history.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Seeding gives Panthers shot at sub-state

Since the Kansas Class 4A Sub-State Volleyball Tournament assignments were made weeks ago, I’ve felt the Louisburg sub-state was a three horse race, with the host team, the Louisburg Wildcats, and their Frontier League comrades the Paola Panthers and the Spring Hill Broncos the odds on favorites to take the tournament title and represent the area again at the State Volleyball Tournament in Salina.

With the release of the brackets for the tournament I’m even more convinced that the tournament champion will come from one of those three schools. In a previous blog entry, I outlined why I thought the Wildcats from Louisburg would be the eventual champion, and I’m standing by that opinion.

But, I’m here to tell you that if the Wildcats slip up, the Broncos and Panthers can, and will be right there to pick up the banner.

Really this column is more about what Spring Hill and Paola have to do to punch their ticket to state, rather than what the Wildcats have to do. For them, it’s easy, just play well, get a fast start and beat teams you’ve already beaten and you’re in. The main thing for the Wildcats is to get a fast start, this is a one and done tournament, the Wildcats can’t take a match off, they can’t take a game off, they have to fire on all cylinders, from the beginning, and they have to put teams away.

For the Broncos the task is simple, beat Louisburg. That’s it. The Broncos open with Iola, while the Wildcats open with Osawatomie, neither opponent will strike fear into the hearts of the Broncos and Wildcats, so they will match up again in the semi-finals. For either team, it’s then a matter of winning the final which will most likely be against Fort Scott or Paola. If you’re the Wildcats, you can look at those two teams and see opponents you’ve already beaten. If you’re the Broncos, you know you’ve just beaten a team who has beaten your upcoming opponent. 

That brings us to the Panthers. A month ago I was ready to hand this tournament to the Panthers. They were playing solid volleyball, Paige Getz was developing into a solid middle hitter and Kelli Cullor and Cheyenne Rankin were doing great things on the outside. Melanie Golubski, Courtney Johnson and Elizabeth Edwards were strong along the back line with Mallorie Nelson starting to really get comfortable setting the ball for the hitters at the net. That was a month ago, and the Panthers have gone into a bit of tailspin lately, but all is not lost, and there’s no reason why the fourth seeded Panthers can’t take home the ultimate prize on Saturday at Louisburg.

It all starts with the seeding. In my opinion, the Panthers drew about the best position they could have, sure if they make it through their first round match, they’ll have to face the number one seeded Tigers of Fort Scott in the semi-final (I know, I’m giving the Tigers a win here, but let’s face it, Prairie View, the Tigers opening round opponent hasn’t won all year long, I don’t think they’ll suddenly start Saturday, but hey if they would happen to miraculously knock off the Tigers, that makes my argument for the Panthers even easier.). Any other seeding position, and they would have to face one or both of their biggest rivals just to get to the final. With this seeding Paola won’t face either until the final and by then they could have a tremendous amount of momentum on their side.

Why, you ask would the Panthers want to look to a semi-final match with the Tigers? Well, the Panthers already own match victories over two of the Tigers SEK comrades, the league champion Pittsburg Purple Dragons, and the third place Chanute Blue Comets. The Tigers, well they finished fourth in the SEK with a 6-2 record, so, if the Panthers can rekindle some of the fire they showed earlier in the season, there’s no reason to fear the Tigers. And, as I’ve mentioned before, the Tigers have been beaten by Louisburg (and Anderson County for that matter) and the Panthers know they can play with the Wildcats, so then its just a matter of going out an playing like they know they can.

From there, it’s a simple matter of defeating either Spring Hill or Louisburg in the final. Now for the Panthers, they’ve beaten Louisburg, at Louisburg, but have not had much luck with the Broncos this year, so to me, the Panthers have the best of both worlds here too. In a matchup with the Broncos, the Panthers can draw on the fact that it’s hard to beat a team three or four times during a season, and against the Wildcats, the Panthers can draw on the fact that they have just recently defeated the Wildcats on their home floor, and, it seems like the home team very seldom wins the sub-state tournament they host.

So there it is, it’s all there for the taking, the Panthers have a golden opportunity to pull off another stunner and make a return trip to the state tournament, but it can only happen if the Panthers take a quick trip back in time and find the team that was playing so well through the middle part of the season. If that team shows up, with this short, three game format, anything is possible.

It's tough having three "Home" teams!

Originally Posted, Tuesday, October 19, 2010

    You know, there were a few things I didn’t think through real clearly when I started two and a half years ago. But that’s really nothing new for me.
    Now, in my defense, when this idea first came up in the spring of 2008, there was a promise by certain individuals who will remain nameless of a partnership, and at least some help in coverage for Louisburg and Osawatomie sports.
    Well, when we launched in September 2008, I did have some help. My assistance in Osawatomie lasted about five football games. My Louisburg connection lasted two football seasons, but just football nothing else. So for the most part it’s been just me.
    As the old saying goes “Hindsight’s 20/20”, and if I knew in the summer of 2008 what I know now, the coverage of the site would probably be a lot different, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way, and I’m proud of what we’re providing for the kids at Paola, Osawatomie and Louisbug High Schools.
    My only regret right now is that I can’t extend coverage past the varsity level. There’s a bunch of great kids toiling away in junior varsity and freshman competitions, and for some, that will be as far as they ever get, but I simply cannot make it to that many games. This fall, between the three schools there are 11 varsity level sports, I try to make as much as I can, but impossible does not nearly begin to describe what I face each week when I make out my coverage schedule.
    That leads me to my other great dilemma. I now have three “HOME” teams!
    First, let me say, I’m a Paola Panther through and through. I was born in Paola, I was educated in Paola, and I’ll probably be buried here too. So, the Panthers are my “home” team. Always have been and always will be.
    With that being said. I have been in the newspaper business all my life. My grandfather was a newspaper man, my dad was a newspaper man, and my college degree is in journalism and mass communications. So, doing what I do now is in my blood, and I’m kind of proud of my heritage.
    But, I’m also a Louisburg Wildcat. You see, I spent nearly the first ten years of my newspaper career in Louisburg at the Herald. My two oldest daughters were born while we were in Louisburg, and some of our closest friendships were made while we were living in that community.
    I’ve thought about this several times, when I look out at the Wildcat Volleyball team and see Colleen O’Brien, I think about writing stories about her parents Barry and Barb and their exploits as football, volleyball and basketball players at Louisburg High School. I see Kate Dixon and remember writing about her mom on the volleyball court and all the years I spent visiting with her grandmother Connie at Louisburg Elemenatry  School, and I watch Kody Cook run the Wildcat offense on the football team and remember his dad playing for the Wildcats.
    So, it’s pretty easy for me to be a “Wildcat” also, in fact, if situations hadn’t changed in the mid 1980’s we might still be living in Louisburg to this day, but that’s history, and it can’t be changed.
    Now, when it comes to being a “Trojan” well, that’s a bit more difficult. Being born and raised in Paola in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, let’s just say it wasn’t “cool” to associate with Osawatomie people. In fact, it was about like the United States and the Soviet Union. It was like we were the good guys, and they were not, the two really didn’t mix, and the feelings were mutual. 
    It made for some really heated sports contests, and, quite frankly I couldn’t have cared less back then if the Trojans ever won a game. When was the last time you saw a basketball player, after fouling out on their opponents home court, and of course, taking a ton of harassment for it, turn at half court and flip off the home fans with not one, but two hands? It happened in Paola, my senior year, and I’ll remember it for ever, like it happened yesterday. My, my how things have changed!
    It’s not like that anymore, and for the most part it’s a good thing. I’m sure there’s people out there that long for things to go back to the way they were and have the Panthers and Trojans as bitter rivals, but that’s just not going to happen. Part of me is saddened, because I see, not too many years down the road the day when Paola and Osawatomie don’t play each other in football, and the end of that Tom-Tom game traditions would be a shame.
    But the bitter rivalry days are over, and that’s a good thing, because 30 years ago, I couldn’t do what I’m doing now. I couldn’t say I’m a “Trojan” guy, but I can now, and I’m glad that it’s that way.
    Just a case in point, while I watched the Panthers defeat the Trojans last Friday night by a series record score, part of me reveled in the fact that the Panthers were doing so well, but another part of me felt the disappointment the Trojans players, coaches and fans had to feel. I was on the losing end of a game like that against the Trojans my junior year, I remember how I felt, and I could now look at it through the Trojans eyes also. It hurt for me back then, and I hurt for me now.
    Those feelings of empathy for the Trojans didn’t diminish the feelings of happiness for the Panthers, they just continue to drive home the point that I now have three “home” teams and I fell good when they win and bad when the lose, even when they’re playing each other.
    So, while the point of this blog is the fact that with three “home” teams, it’s hard sometimes to compliment one without the slighting one of the others, it’s always going to be my intention to give the kids that participate in the sports programs at each of the three schools all the support that I can.
    I will, to be best of my ability try and keep messages positive, but sometimes, positive for one is negative for the other, it’s a fact of life, and I’m not always going to be able to avoid it, so forgive me, in advance, if something I write compliments one school, but not another. Please don’t tell me “you’re a Paola guy.” The fact is, I’m a “Paola” guy, a “Louisburg” guy and an “Osawatomie” guy. I do this for the kids, and every school has great kids, doing amazing things and playing their hearts out for their team.
    I hope that each and every one of those players take the field and give 110% for their team, if they don’t they’re not only hurting themselves, but their team mates, their fans and their school, and that would be a shame. But in the end, it’s just a game, and everyone needs to remember that.

Louisburg is favorite for Volleyball Sub-State

Originally Posted, Monday, October 18, 2010

    Now don’t take this as gospel, and don’t go and book rooms in Salina, at least not yet, but a week from now, the Louisburg Wildcat Volleyball team should be practicing for their shot at the big time, the Kansas Class 4A State Volleyball Tournament.
    I don’t have a crystal ball, and I’m sure not very good at predicting the future, because if I was, I’d have won the lottery, and I’d be sipping some cool beverage in some exotic location, but I’m not, an the way my luck runs, I’m not going to any time soon either.
    No, all I have is my own two eyes, and the time it takes to watch quite a bit of volleyball with a bunch of different teams through the course of a season.
    When the sub-state tournament assignments were made by the state, it was pretty obvious that the Louisburg Sub-State was going to be a three team race, with the favorites being the Wildcats, along with their Frontier League comrades, the Spring Hill Broncos and the Paola Panthers.
    The remaining five team are the Fort Scott Tigers, the Anderson County Bulldogs, the Iola Mustangs, the Prairie View Buffalos and the Osawatomie Trojans.
    Let’s face it, there’s just no “Powerhouse” team in this sub-state. It’s about as evenly matched as it can be, so even in fact that the state did just the opposite this year in assignments than what they did to Paola two years ago when it was their turn to host a sub-state.
    In 2008, if you remember, the Panthers had one of the best teams in the eastern half of the state, and one of the top two teams in the Frontier League. And what, in it’s infinite wisdom did the state do that year?
    All the KSHSAA did in 2008 was load up the Paola sub-state with the St. James Thunder and the Ottawa Cyclones. St. James was the NUMBER ONE ranked team in the state in ALL Classes that year, and Ottawa was the number four ranked team in Class 4A.
    All THREE teams deserved to be in the state tournament, but only one could go. The Thunder, of course, wiped out the field in the sub-state and the state tournaments that year, (and last year too!). But the point is, two of those three teams didn’t stand a chance!
    Well, that’s not the case this year, quite the opposite, I think there’s three teams again that have a chance to win this year’s sub-state at Louisburg, and here’s my take on it in ascending order.
    Third, the Paola Panthers. Just about a month ago, I had the Panthers in the favorite spot. And, that’s interesting, because they had just come off a lackluster performance in the Baldwin Tournament, and were not playing very good volleyball. But something happened between the Saturday playing of the Baldwin tournament and the next Tuesday when the Panthers traveled back to Baldwin to take on the Bulldogs in a Frontier League match.
    The Panthers destroyed the Bulldogs on their home court that night and really started to play “Panther Volleyball”, and that continued for the better part of September and October. Although the Panthers stock slipped a bit following the Spring Hill Tournament, that was more a product of the rise of Spring Hill rather than bad play by the Panthers.
    But the Panthers stock slipped badly last weekend at the Frontier League Tournament, when they went 1-5 on the day, and have started to tinker with their line-up which has caused confusion at times, and seriously damaged their changes, at least in my opinion.
    Second, the Spring Hill Broncos. Like Paola, the Broncos fortunes have risen and fallen through the course of the last couple of weeks. As I said above, the Broncos rose to the top of my favorite list after their performance in their own tournament. The took on all comers, falling short of the championship, but playing good, inspired volleyball against some very difficult, bigger class schools. Plus they defeated their two sub-state rivals in head to head matches, and rather easily.
    But again, like Paola, the Broncos were not sharp in the Frontier League event, and were beaten badly by Louisburg, and although they beat Paola, they won the first game 31-29 before losing the second 25-10. If one point would have gone the other way late in that first game, the Panthers would have won, and the outcomes of later matches might have been different. The Broncos struggled to a 2-5 record in the tournament and have to have confidence issues heading into next weekend.
    First, the Louisburg Wildcats. Let me preface these remarks by saying, there’s a whole host of reasons why I think the Wildcats will win this tournament, and one very big reason why they might not.
    We’ll get the bad news out of the way first -- host teams seldom win their own sub state tournaments. I don’t know why, but just look back a couple of years, 2009, at Spring Hill, Paola defeats Ottawa for the championship. 2008, at Paola, well, I already told you about that one.
    So, now that I’ve told you why the Wildcats have a big strike against them, I’ll tell you a few reasons why I think they will succeed. 
    First and foremost, they’re playing pretty good volleyball, at the right time of the season. They have the best front row of the three team’s I’ve mentioned and when they’re on, they can hit with just about anyone. Marisa Mackey, Colleen O’Brien and Emily Lemke are very tough, and they you bring in Anna Bell off the bench and there’s very little drop off in play. Kate Dixon is efficient and accurate in distributing the ball, and every one of those girls know how to get down to the floor to dig and return shots.
    Second, and maybe most importantly, they’ve played, AND BEATEN, every team in the tournament with the exception of Anderson County, and with apologies to the Bulldogs, I don’t think they will be a factor in the event. Every other team the Wildcats might face in the bracket they have played and beaten, some multiple times.
    The Wildcats are not a lock, they haven’t been an unbeatable team this season, far from it. They have a nasty habit of not finishing games, getting ahead and then not putting teams away. But they demonstrated a bit more of a killer instinct on Saturday, and if they can harness that, they can win.
    Anything can happen, witness the Panthers last year. It’s a one and done, three game sprint, but right now, for my money, I’m betting on the Wildcats.

Paola can win with "One Dimensional" Football!

Originally Posted, Monday, October 18, 2010

    How many times do we watch and listen to football coaches preach about being a “balanced” football team?
    Every coach expounds on the merits of having balance between the run and the pass. He will quote statistics of how you must first establish the run and that will open up the passing game. How if you can’t at least present the “threat” of throwing passes down field, teams will “load the box” and stop the running game and then suddenly your “one dimensional” offense will be dead in the water.
    Well fans, I’m here today to tell you this, if the Paola Panthers are going to make a run deep in the playoffs, they will do it as a one dimensional team.
    Now, this next statement is an oversimplification of the facts, because more factors were involved in the Panthers season opening losses to Baldwin and DeSoto than a few forward passes, but for the sake of my arguments right now, I’m here to tell you, one of the big reasons why the Panthers started out 0-2 and stand at 5-2 instead of 7-0 and heading for a REALLY BIG game against Louisburg in 10 day or so is this. 
    The Panthers started out the season THINKING they could throw the football! Now, the Panthers didn’t change their offense and go to a full fledged spread, tossing it around 40 times a game like the Osawatomie Trojans. No, they were more conservative, with Seth Kern tossing 29 passes in the opening two games.
    For a Paola Panther offense, that IS a spread offense! And, there’s more to those stats, first, the Panthers completed just 10 of those 29 attempts, a woeful completion percentage, and they gained just 108 yards, that’s just not very good. 
    But, there’s more to those stats than meets the eye. It wasn’t necessarily bad for the Panthers to throw the ball that many times, but, it was more a product of when the passes were thrown. During the Baldwin game, a couple of times, the offense got down field, deep into Bulldog territory running the ball, and then all of a sudden, boom, three passes in a row, and the drive stalled. It just didn’t make sense.
    Luckily for the Paola faithful, after those first two games, cooler heads prevailed and the Panthers scrapped the passing game and went almost strictly with a running offense. In the last five games, all blow out wins I might add, the Panthers have attempted just 10 passes, with one completion for a whopping 14 yards.
    But the rushing attack, that has flourished! After running for 217 and 315 yard is each of the first two games, not bad for most programs, but anemic by Paola standards, the Panthers have ripped opposing defenses for 471, 386, 305, 541 and 544 yards. The last two represent new school records, and it doesn’t look like there’s any end in sight.
    In fact, I’ll make this argument right now, even though the Panthers are almost exclusively a running football team, I will say right now they are far from “one dimensional.” I say this because the Panthers have more than one person that can torch a defense on the ground.
    Look no further than this set of stats: Skylar Hawkins is getting the lions share of the carries and had 1171 yards so far this year on 138 carries. But, Tyler Henness has 811 yards on 67 carries and Seth Kern has added 406 yards on 67 carries, that’s 1217 yards on 134 carries -- nearly identical stats to Hawkins. When you add in Tanner Staats who’s picked up 266 yards on just 24 carries, it’s pretty easy to see why Paola can line up and beat most teams just running the ball.
    Plus, the Panthers have the ability to take the ball up the middle, hit a crease at the tackle/tight end spot, or get to the edge and go outside. Teams that put 8-9-10 in the “box” better make sure they make the tackle within five yards of the line of scrimmage, because if they don’t these guys are off to the races.
    In the Panthers latest record setting performance against Osawatomie last Friday night, Paola’s longest scoring drive was seven plays -- seven plays and it went for 46 yards and took 2:28 off the clock. Paola had THREE, one play drives, going for 35, 34 and 77 yards, they had FOUR more drives that lasted just three plays, the shortest at 11 yards and the longest at 49 yards. Those are possession numbers that most PASSING teams would envy!
    Now, I’m not here to say the Panthers and win a state championship running the ball 50 times a game and never passing it, but I will say that it’s my opinion that the Panthers can go a long way in the playoffs without needing to throw a single pass.
    Somebody out there might have the horses up front, the linebackers and the speed at corner and safety to contain the Panthers stable of running backs, who knows, it might be Louisburg in 10 days or so, but I know one thing, the Panthers have been fun to watch the last five games, and they’re going to be even more fun to watch in the next five games, and beyond, maybe all the way to a state championship!

Panthers, Wildcats on Collision Course

Originally Posted, Tuesday, October 12, 2010

    With the beginning games of the District Playoffs set to start on Friday Night, there’s one thing that is almost a certainty once again this year.
    When the Louisburg Wildcats come calling to Panther Stadium on Thursday, October 28, 2010, the game will determine the district championship, just as it has so many times before.    
    Now, before my friends in Osawatomie and Spring Hill get all upset with me, I know, both the Panthers and the Wildcats will have to face the Trojans and Broncos in the next two weeks, but the season so far has shown us the Panthers and Wildcats should get past their next two opponents to meet on the last Thursday of the month with the district championship on the line.
    The only thing that could have made this better would have been if the Panthers hadn’t decided to take the first two games of the season off, resulting in surprising losses at home to Baldwin and DeSoto. It would have been nice if the two teams would have come into the game unbeaten, with the Frontier League Championship on the line also.
    But the Wildcats will have that locked up by then, but the district championship will be another matter. Of course, it doesn’t really make a difference who wins or loses the district, with the Kansas High School Football Championship bracketing system, the only thing it means is the winner gets to play a second place district team. In theory, this makes the district champion’s next game easier, but in practice it really doesn’t make a whole lot of difference.
    But the records won’t matter either, as both teams are now playing at a very high level. In fact, they could meet again in the sub-state championship game to determine which will advance to the state championship game later in November.
    Now that would be a great thing!

I'm Baaaaaaaaaack!

Originally Posted, Thursday, September 30, 2010

    It’s going on Midnight on Thursday, and this is going to be brief. I’m just going to say I’m back, and I plan on writing something just about everyday, so check back often. It’s been quite hectic in my life, but I’ve had a great time this fall covering the local sports scene.
    Football has been interesting to say the least, Louisburg has gotten off the start I thought they would and are sitting at 4-0 on the season. The Panthers and Trojans did not get off to great starts, but the Panthers have righted the ship and look to be on the right track. The Trojans on the other hand have problems, but we’ll talk about that later.
    The local volleyball teams are all about where I through they’d be. The Panthers and Wildcats are playing well, and the Trojans are trying to learn how to win. The Panthers will play out and beat you with perseverance, they never let you rest. The Wildcats, well they can just line up and pound you, but they sometimes have problems with focus, and the Trojans, well, they are still learning to finish the game, when the do, they’re going to be tough.
    Soccer is another story, the Wildcats are one of the top teams in the Frontier League. The Panthers, well they can’t seem to figure out how to put the ball in the goal. The Panthers have scored four, count ‘em four, goals on the season. But, they’ve done more with four goals than most teams, as they are 2-1-1 in games they have scored in, not bad, but unfortunately, they’ve been shut out seven times this season.
    Finally the Cross Country teams have been running well. The Panther boys are again strong and solid top to bottom. The Panther girls have gotten surprising performances from some young runners, and are battling a few nagging injuries, but are placing well in their events. The Wildcats and Trojans all have quality runners, and are all improving week to week.
    That’s it, I’m out for tonight, I’ll try and examine the football games tomorrow morning.

Fans need to show more class

Originally Posted, Saturday, January 30, 2010

    I’m going to tell you up front, this blog entry may step on some toes, but I feel strongly that this needs to be said, so if this makes you mad, so be it, but more than likely, if you’re one of the angry ones then you need to take a step back and think about what I’m about to say.
    On the front page of the program for the Spring Hill High School Invitational Basketball tournament is the following statement.
    “As a member of the Kansas State High School Activities Association, Spring Hill High School supports good sportsmanship at all our our school’s activities. We want you to cheer enthusiastically FOR your team, but not AGAINST the other teams, their fans or the officials. We want these games  to be enjoyable for every individual. Remember, all participants are trying to the fullest extent of their ability. Please remember to appreciate their efforts through your courtesy.”
    The most telling part of this statement is the part that says to cheer enthusiastically FOR your team but not AGAINST the other teams, their fans or the officials.
    Unfortunately, in the last three or four games I have attended there have been glaring examples of how NOT to abide by this simple statement and I’m going to cite each now.
    In the seventh place game of the Spring Hill Tournament, between Louisburg and Bishop Ward, there were understandably few fans in the seats for the 11:30 a.m. tipoff. Spring Hill has a large, beautiful main gym, and there were probably less than 100 people there, few cheerleaders and no pep bands, needless to say you could hear just about every conversation in the building, every squeak of a shoe, every coaches instruction, and every officials call. 
    There was one fan in particular who was berating the officials unmercifully, questioning just about every call, for or against his team. The officials heard him, yes they did, in fact, during time outs late in the game, the official visited with me about the loud mouthed fan. He expressed his disdain for the treatment he was receiving and said he wished he could just go up in the stands and hand the fan his shirt and whistle and tell him “if you think you can do better, here you go!”
    The problem was, if the official had done that, the fan would have vehemently refused the offer.
    The second example occurred Wednesday night in the semi-final game of the Louisburg girls tournament between Louisburg and Belton. It was a close game, the Wildcats trailed several times by as much as ten points, but kept coming back and finally won the game by three points.
    Now the Louisburg student body has some of the best support of any school around. This night there was a large contingent of boys cheering on the girls and that’s great!
    The problem I had was this, some of the cheers and cheering tactics used in the college ranks have started to filter their way down to the high school and it goes against everything that the above statement embodies.
    The guys were cheering AGAINST Belton as hard as they were cheering FOR Louisburg. The were yelling during free throws, doing the “Boing, Boing, WOOOO!” cheer as the Pirates brought the ball down court and passed in their offense, and finally, when a Belton player fouled out, they mocked the player by doing the “LEFT, RIGHT, LEFT, RIGHT . . . SIT DOWN!” cheer as the player returned to the bench.
    These are HIGH SCHOOL athletes, some are freshmen and sophomores, 14, 15, and 16 year olds, they should not be berated and yelled at while they are still trying to LEARN to play the game. Good sportsmanship needs to be nurtured at this level, not destroyed.
    Finally, last night at the Paola High School boys game with Eudora, a Eudora fan sat one row behind and just off to the side of the Cardinal bench. He was rude, obnoxious and classless in his treatment of the officials. He questioned every call that went against his team, and every call that went for Paola.
    Don’t think the officials couldn’t hear him, I heard him and I’m about as close to the court as you can get without being inside the lines. I could hear this guy at the other end of the floor during the second half.
    Something needs to be done, and here’s what I think should happen:
    When a fan, a group of fans, or the entire student body gets out of hand, the officials should warn the offending team’s bench that the fans are out of control and are not abiding by the rules of good sportsmanship and common decency. It can be up the the bench, i.e. the Head Coach or Athletic Director, to get the offending parties under control.
    If the behavior continues, the officials should assess a technical foul to the bench of the offending fan or group of fans.
    If that does not stop the behavior, then a second technical should be assessed, which would mean the head coach of the offending team would be kicked out of the game an would be asked to leave the gymnasium. If a few of these jerks saw their behavior get their head coach kicked out, the behavior would stop.
    Kicking the fans out doesn’t do the trick, most of the time they just sneak back in, find a different place to sit and keep quiet for a game, then it’s right back to the same old crap the next game.
    The high school game should be fun, sure there’s pressure, but let’s let the kids be kids while they can, and let’s let everybody play the game, after all, it’s just a game!

My thoughts on the National "Championship" Game

Originally Posted, Thursday, January 7, 2010

    When I set out to write this blog, I was pretty set on keeping my thoughts on a local level. I really didn’t want to stray too far from high school sports, heck, there’s enough national pundits out there spilling word after word about college and professional sports, but as I sit here less than eight hours from the start of the BCS “National Championship” game, snowed in, with all the local sporting events postponed by mother nature, I though I’d put a few things in words on my take on the BCS game. I’m not a big fan of the current system, and if you asked me what the letters BCS stand for, my answer would not include the words “bowl” and “series”!
    The current system is a joke, one has to look no further than the Fiesta Bowl to see what I mean. The Fiesta Bowl matchup between Boise State and Texas Christian University, while intriguing, and pretty fun to watch, made absolutely no sense. What did either school have to gain from that matchup? What did either conference have to gain from that matchup? The short answer is NOTHING!
    For the past few years, the “little guys” the “mid-major” conferences have been screaming that their teams, while rolling up gaudy numbers against arguably inferior competition were worthy of playing the “big boys” in the high dollar bowl games AND were worthy of competing for the so called “National Championship”.
    The pollsters have gone along with that notion, pushing the undefeated teams to the top of the list like it was their right. Since they were unbeaten, the deserved to be highly ranked, and for the most part the computers have agreed, thus we see unbeaten teams like Cincinnati, Boise State and TCU ascend the charts and knock on the door of the holy grail of NCAA Division I football the “BCS National Championship” Game.
    Now, none of those teams have gotten that far, and it’s unlikely, given the current system that any of them will, short of an act of congress or a presidential decree, or some other legal wrangling. But, they have pushed their way into the BCS Bowl games, and have, at least, gained the right to face off with the “Big Boys”.
    That brings me to point number one. Why in the hell did the Fiesta bowl take Boise State AND TCU. Wasn’t the whole point of this exercise to see if the mid-majors could compete with the BCS Conferences? Wouldn’t a Boise State vs. Iowa and a TCU vs. Georgia Tech matchup be more fun? We got to see what Cincinnati was made of in the Sugar Bowl, and they proved to be not quite ready for prime time when they faced the Florida Gators.
    Now, Boise State shocked Oklahoma a couple of years ago in one of the most memorable “David and Goliath” battles ever in the Fiesta Bowl, they proved that a mid-major could take on a storied program, go toe to toe and come out a winner. I would have rather seen if Boise State could have handled Georgia Tech, and seen what TCU could have done against Iowa. Then we might know a little more of what might happen if one of these “Cinderella’s” ever make it to the big dance.
    And that brings me to point number two -- the current system SUCKS!
    Every other sport has a playoff, but not the NCAA FBS division. There’s that “BS” part again, and I guarantee you my version doesn’t end in “bowl subdivision”. I still don’t understand why there can’t be a playoff. All the arguments from “it will take too much time away from the classroom” to “it will kill the bowl system” is a bunch of you know what!
    Here’s my idea -- Take the current 120 FBS teams and add eight more, forming eight conferences with 16 teams each (Notre Dame will HAVE to join a conference). Each team will play a 12 game schedule (7 division games and 5 non-conference games) in the 13 weeks between the first Saturday in September and the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Each team will be trying to ultimately win the DIVISION Championship, because that will get them into the CONFERENCE Championship game which is the first layer of the PLAYOFF system. Non-Conference games will not count against the DIVISION record, so the really great regional and national match-ups we all love can still be played. In effect, each team enters the playoffs the day conference play begins.
    Once the 16 Division winners are determined, the eight conferences will play their championship games on the first two Saturday’s in December, leaving eight Conference Champions who will advance to the final rounds of the playoff.
    Here’s where the current bowl system comes back into play. On New Year’s Day (remember that USED to be THE day to watch College Football), the eight conference champions will be seeded 1 through 8 and will be matched up in four current bowl games (we’ll use a rotation of the current BCS games and add the Gator and Cotton Bowls for example). So in this example seeds 1-8 would play in the Gator Bowl, seeds 2-7 in the Cotton Bowl, seeds 3-6 in the Fiesta Bowl, and seeds 4-5 in the Sugar Bowl. 
    One week later the Orange Bowl and Rose Bowl would host the national semi-final games, and one week after that the true “National Championship” Game could be held at one of the current bowl venues, or put out for bids like the Super Bowl.
    As soon as the Conference championship games are played the other 30 or so bowl games could then fill their slots with any team OTHER than the eight Conference Champions. All other bowl games would need to be played BEFORE New Year’s Day.
    This system would add one extra game for four teams and another for the two teams playing for the national championship, but that’s it. There would be no lost classroom time, because most schools don’t start up again till mid January anyway, and with this system, the National Championship game would be played on January 14th each year.
    Now it would be harder on the fans of the teams that advance. There would have to be some decisions made as to what level of the championship run to attend, but that’s life.
    Is this a perfect system, no. But as long as the bowls exist, there will never be a perfect system. But it’s sure better than what we’ve got, and it sets up a system whereby on the first day of September EVERY team enters play with a chance to win the title.

Wildcats seem to have the upper hand

Originally Posted, Tuesday, December 22, 2009

    We’ve reached the holiday break for area high schools, each team now has about ten days off to rest, be with families and recharge their “batteries” in preparation for the grind of the winter sports schedule during January, February and early March.
    I’ve had the chance to see each of the loca teams play in person at least once, and in most cases multiple times so far this season, and it is evident that the teams to beat, at least in Miami County, are the Louisburg Wildcats. 
    The Wildcat boys basketball team is unbeaten, new Head Coach Chad Harvey has his team playing at a high level, and buying into the new system. Add to that, Harvey has a talented roster of players, and the Wildcats are clearly the cream of the Miami County crop. The Wildcat girls have lost but once, and that was on a disputed, fluke of a call against Burlington on their home floor, which saw the ‘Cats go from two down to nine down with just 18 seconds to play in the game. Finally the Wildcat wrestlers have the Hood brothers, all of which are ranked at the top of their weight classes, as well as several other tough wrestlers. The ‘Cats have taken two tournament titles on the young season, and will be looking for more after the holidays.
    The Frontier League will present challenges for the Wildcats, Gardner-Edgerton is a very talented team, and will very tough to beat. But look for the Wildcats, all three teams to be at or near the top when the playoffs start in March.
    The Osawatomie Trojan boys basketball team is also playing at a high level, they have a very talented and quick lineup and will be a force in the Pioneer League, it will take some time to see if the league will be challenging enough to toughen the Trojans for a deep run toward the state tournament.
    The Trojan girls basketball team will struggle this year, and it will be no surprise, given the fact the Trojans have but one senior and one junior on their squad. Trojans Head Coach Don Blanchat will have to mold a group of Freshmen and Sophomores into a cohesive unit. It will be interesting, as one minute the girls will play like seniors, and the next they won’t be able to get the ball across half court. Look for good things from the Trojans, a couple of years from now.
    The Trojan wrestlers have talent, starting with one of the top ranked wrestlers in the state at 189 pounds in Zach Grimes, but they too are young and inexperienced, and will struggle at times to grow and compete.
    Another bright spot this winter is the Osawatomie-Paola boys swimming team. Two meets into the season, the boys have qualified multiple swimmers for the state competition and should qualify at least two more relay teams in the upcoming weeks.
    That leaves me with my Paola Panthers, I don’t know how many games the Panther boys or girls will win in basketball, but I do know one thing, they will always be competitive and will never quit. The Panther boys are young, with lots of sophomores and juniors, and just one senior, the future can be bright for the Panthers, but they have to find someone to consistently hit shots from outside the paint, and a consistent floor leader that knows the flow of a game and when to speed things up and when to slow them down.
    The Paola girls are struggling to find an identity early in the season, but when you’re coming off a year like the Panthers had last year, that’s top be expected. The Panthers lost three of the most talented players ever to wear the black and gold, and Head Coach Stuart Ross and his squad must find a way to play “Panther Basketball” while molding players to fit the necessary parts.
    If the last three weeks are an indication of what to look forward to in the next two and a half months, one thing will be for certain . . . it will be a fun ride, and I’m looking forward to it!

Sometimes we "Get It"

Originally Posted, Sunday, November 29, 2009

    With the completion of the State Football Championship games, we can now close the books on the 2009 fall sports season. Although the Panthers fell a game short of their ultimate goal of a state championship game appearance, the fall season can be looked on as a success on many levels. All three fall sports, football, volleyball, soccer and cross country made deep runs in the state championship playoff system. The Panther boys cross country team appeared in the state meet again, and the Panther Volleyball team went to state for the third time in the last four years. The Panther Soccer team won its first ever state playoff game and the Panther football squad made another deep run in the playoffs, falling to eventual state champion Bishop Miege in the sub-state game held at Panther Stadium.
    The title of this blog entry is “Sometimes we get it!”. What is “It”? To me, “it” is the idea that we all want to compete at the highest level, all the time. We want to test ourselves against the best that our competition level has to offer. We want to be measured against the best, to ultimately be the best. The Paola Panther fall sports coaches have set the bar high in the past few years, putting the Panthers on the map when it comes to playoff level competition.
    It’s a big deal now when a team faces, and defeats, the Paola Panthers. Other schools measure their level of success by looking back and saying they played and defeated Paola. School look at their schedules and see the Panthers on the horizon, and they mark that game with a little extra, because they know they will have to play their best to compete, and to be victorious. 
    It has been accurately said the road to the state championship in Class 4A football runs through Holton, because the Wildcats have been so good for so long that every team who makes it to the state championship game will have defeated them along the way. Well, the same is beginning to be true about Paola. Year in and year out, the Panther football team is one of the last four or eight standing when the playoffs are drawing to a close. “It” is alive and well in Panther football.
    Volleyball has “It” too. All the Panthers did this year was re-load a team that lost to of its best players of all time, and after a rocky early season, found an identity and rode it all the way to the state championships. Granted, the Panther horses were not as strong as the others at state, but that doesn’t matter, “It” got the Panthers to state, and “It” will serve them well for years to come.
    The Paola Panther boys cross country team has “It” too, developing a strong core group of runners that know what it takes to compete and win at the highest levels. The Panther girls are finding “It” too, but they are a year or so behind their counterparts in making it happen.
    The Panther soccer team won its first ever state playoff game, and is gaining an identity, and learning what it takes to play at the state’s highest levels. The soccer program is learning quickly that “It” is needed to compete, and it’s not good enough to just win a game or two, to be really good, to compete at the highest levels, “It” must be found and lived day in and day out. The soccer team got a glimpse of “It” winning the first round playoff game, they must not continue to build and move deeper in the state tournament in the coming years.
    “It” is defined differently by each and every school, coach, athlete and parent. Some are happy with lesser accomplishments and lower levels of competitiveness, and that is fine. “It” can be a league title, or a tournament title, teams have to compete at a level where they are comfortable, much like the “Peter Principal” teams will rise to the level where they are most comfortable and will stay there, that is until the climate changes and something or someone demands they step outside their comfort zone.
    The Panthers have made that commitment, they are committed at all levels to compete, not just once in a lifetime, but every year, in every game, for the ultimate prize. The Panthers, their fans, players, coaches and administration have “it” and it was fun to watch it in action this fall. I can’t wait to see what the winter sports have in store!