Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

By Brad Hallier
hallier23@yahoo.com
Twitter: @bhallier

Some of the finest work I’ve ever done is with Lyle Goertzen.

See, in the spring of 2017, Goertzen became the public-address voice of Buhler soccer. Problem was, Goertzen didn’t know much about soccer.

I was able to work with Lyle. I didn’t just give him some basic pointers. I asked him if he wanted to learn how to sound like a real soccer snob, and he, in fact, did.

Imagine my surprise when, this spring, I was reffing a Buhler girls soccer game and, after issuing a yellow card, Lyle announced over the PA system, “Booking!”

Here I am, trying to be professional and write down the yellow card in my book, and Lyle makes that announcement. I don’t know if anyone noticed my body shaking with laughter or not.

With the World Cup coming up, I know many of you will at least have a passing interest in the tournament … even though the United States somehow didn’t qualify for the first time since 1986.

See? You have your first soccer-snob fact you can use.

But if you really want to impress your friends, and if you want to talk with your soccer-fan buddies, you don’t have to buy an Egyptian Mohamed Salah jersey, or a Brazilian Willian jersey. Just use my handy soccer thesaurus here, and you’ll be the envy at the company Independence Day party, or this summer’s family reunion.

Assistant referee: Those dudes who run up and down the sideline? Yeah, don’t call them “linesman” or “flag judge” or anything silly like that. They are assistant referees, and if you really want to sound snobbish, call them “ARs.”

Booking or booked: Either is necessary when a yellow card is issued. Imagine your father-in-law’s reaction when he asks, “What was that yellow card for?” and you reply, “He was booked for feigning injury.”

Boots: So your son wants a pair of Ronaldo’s cleats? No. You tell him, “Why don’t we get you a pair of Messi boots instead?”

Clean sheet: A goalkeeper does not have a shutout in soccer. Goalkeepers keep a clean sheet when the opposing team has not scored.

Fixture or match: Either is acceptable when referring to a game. “Match” is probably more acceptable, but “fixture” definitely gives you more of a soccer-snob edge.

Kit: Don’t use “uniform.” That’s boring. Soccer players wear kits.

Nil: Never, ever, say “zero” when giving a soccer score. It’s not “We’re up three-nothing!” You say “nil.”

“What’s the score now?”

“We’re down one-nil.”

No!: Any time your favorite team is on defense, and an opposing player seemingly gets fouled in the penalty area, shout “No!” and wag your finger. Even if the opposing player gets fouled so hard he breaks his leg, you must act like it wasn’t a foul.

Nutmeg: When a ball rolls between a defender’s feet, they’re getting nutmegged, or “megged.”

Offside: For the love of all that’s good, don’t call it “offsides.” That’s American football. Not soccer. And, if you really want to be snobby, any time someone scores a goal against your favorite team, raise your hand. Because somebody HAD to be offside, right?

Pitch: Use this instead of “field.”

Que golazo!: When you see a tremendous goal, jump up and shout “Que golazo!” Which loosely translates to “What a goal!”

Rubbish: When you see a bad touch or other egregious blunder, you call that player or that error “rubbish.”

Sent off or sending off: When a player gets a red card, they are kicked out of the game. Or, in the soccer-snob world, they are sent off.

Set piece: Free kicks, corner kicks throw-ins, etc. You can use those terms, but the real soccer snobs will call them “set pieces.”

“We’re terrible defending set pieces!”

Stockings: Part of every soccer player’s kit is socks. But we don’t call them socks in the soccer-snob world. We call them stockings.

Studs: We usually think of the term “stud” as someone who is really good at a sport. Lionel Messi is a stud, yes, but if you want to be a bona fide soccer snob, use “studs” to describe the cleats on the bottom of a player’s boots. When someone slides with “studs up”, chances are, they will be sent off if they make contact with an opponent.

Unlucky: Pretty much can be said any time something doesn’t go your team’s way, whether luck was involved or not.

Woodwork: Nothing will get the attention better than telling your non-soccer-snob buddies after a shot hits the post or crossbar, “What a shot! Right off the woodwork!”

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Above: Wichita East girls soccer coach Dylan Gruntzel and Hutchinson High freshman Josie Hallier celebrate a tournament title by the Kansas Rush Wichita U16 girls team.

By Brad Hallier
hallier23@yahoo.com
Twitter: @bhallier

Disclosure part one: The primary subject of this blog post is Dylan Gruntzel, who coaches my daughter, Josie, in club soccer. And for any potential snitches, Josie attends Hutchinson, not Wichita East.

Disclosure part two: None of the information in this blog post was attained from Gruntzel. When I called him for an interview, he declined comment.

Dylan Gruntzel should be enjoying life right now. Every night, Gruntzel should go home, crack open an ice-cold beer (or other cold drink of his choice), prop his feet up on his couch, sip that beer and grin.

Eleven days ago, Gruntzel coached the Wichita East girls soccer team to the City League championship, the first public school to win the championship outright since 2003. The year before, Gruntzel coached the Aces to the Class 6A state semifinals.

East is currently the best girls soccer program in Wichita. This is not debatable. Alas, someone tried to rain on Gruntzel’s and the Aces’ parade. You may even say they succeeded.

But, as much as this snitch tried, East is still the City League champion. East won the title, fair and square.

East sealed the outright title – a major score for the seven City League public schools – with a breath-snatching 1-1 tie at Bishop Carroll on May 10. Carroll or Kapaun Mount Carmel had won or shared every City League title since 2003, most being one or the other outright.

East celebrated heartily at the end of the game. Carroll’s players and coaches were graceful after. I have refereed Carroll a few times, and I have always been treated well by their administration, players and coaches. I know a few of Carroll’s players and parents from club soccer. Great kids, great people.

But someone, somewhere – maybe not even from Bishop Carroll – wasn’t going to let East get away with this.

What was the problem? A freshman at East played club soccer with Josie on Gruntzel’s Kansas Rush Wichita team.

Soon after East celebrated a conference title, a call came from the Kansas State High School Activities Association. Despite a clear discrepancy in the handbook (more on that later), KSHSAA said Gruntzel violated the rules by coaching a club player at East.

My guess is someone figured by snitching to KSHSAA, East would have to forfeit all its games, and thus vacate its City League title. Alas, that didn’t happen and won’t happen.

But there were repercussions. Gruntzel was suspended for the entire postseason for coaching a kid in club ball who had never played for Wichita East before this spring. Gruntzel wasn’t able to coach East’s Class 6A regional championship win against Garden City, and he won’t be there Tuesday in the state quarterfinals when East travels to Washburn Rural.

Let’s look at KSHSAA’s handbook now, shall we?

When does a freshman become a part of a team he or she has never played with before? Rule 22 deals with “Outside Competition.” Article 3 outlines this.

“A student becomes a member of a school’s athletic squad, scholars bowl or debate team when he or she first participates in a practice session. A student ceases to be a squad member after his or her last contest for the school’s athletic squad, scholars bowl or debate team or when the membership on a squad is terminated.”

So, if I could translate this, the line “when he or she first participates in a practice session” is key. Using my daughter as an example (again, she’s plays for Hutchinson, not East), Josie did not officially become a Salthawk soccer player until early March, per KSHSAA’s soccer start date.

Thus, any freshman who plays a spring sport should be OK to play club with their potential future coach at the high school, until the first official day of practice.

But wait! There’s more!

Rule 30, Article 2 makes this situation murky. The first part of this rule states:

“During the school year a coach/coach’s aide may only be involved with his/her athletes in a sport during the season.”

Thus, according to this rule, Gruntzel may not coach any player attending Wichita East. Notice the discrepancy?

In my opinion, Rule 22 Article 3 overrides Rule 30 Article 2. It clearly states that a student-athlete is not part of the team until they first practice.

Since these rules contradict, Gruntzel should be reinstated immediately.

At least the 2018 City League championship will forever be with Wichita East.

By Brad Hallier
hallier23@yahoo.com

Every year, I keep thinking, “Well, this is probably a rebuilding year for Haven softball.”

Well, that’s not entirely accurate. I knew the 2015 Wildcats would be really good. They still had Samantha Stallbaumer, who is arguably the best offensive player in Kansas high school softball history (the state’s all-time leader in hits, runs and stolen bases), so I figured that team would still be good.

The 2014 and 2015 Haven teams were great, but they also got a tough draw in the Class 3A state tournament, playing – and losing – in the first round both years to eventual champ Silver Lake.

But surely, the 2016 team would take a step back, right? Whoops. Katelynn Stucky blasted those thoughts right out of my head. Haven was now in Class 4A Division 2, and Stucky hit like a hundred home runs and drove in a state-record 75 runs. Possibly the most puzzling thing in human history since Michael Jordan opted to finish his career with Washington, Stucky was not walked intentionally once that season. I mean, duh.

Haven reached the championship game but lost to Frontenac.

Surely, 2017 would be the rebuild. Stupid to even think so. Led by the rubber-armed pitcher Bailey Brawner, and Emmiley Hendrixson – who never struck out – Haven again reached the title game but lost to Girard.

This year? Please. Hendrixson is still around, bashing balls to left field, to center field, to right field, to Wrigley Field. And there’s the Big Mac Attack, freshman Maguire Estill. Maguire is an interesting kid. Nobody seems to have more fun in sports than Maguire. She’s always smiling, congratulating teammates, having more fun than a 3-year old at a birthday party. Yet, especially in softball, nobody seems to enjoy beating you more than Big Mac. A dominant pitcher with the ability hit home runs – a female Babe Ruth, so to speak  – I’ve decided to scrap the “Big Mac” nickname for a more appropriate one – “The Happy Assassin.”

Haven is back at the 3A state tournament this week in Manhattan. At 22-1 and the top seed, Haven is a legit threat to make some history for coach Darin Ashworth. I believe he is the only person in Kansas history to take a baseball team (Elkhart) and softball team to state. If he can win a softball title, to go with his 2002 baseball title, I’m quite sure he’ll be the only person to have won a baseball and softball title. I doubt that would ever be duplicated.

How has this school, located a large district in area but not in population, been able to be so damn dominant? Visit Haven’s softball facilities. Better than NCAA Division 1 schools. A picturesque field, with a pair of batting cages, and a set of use-at-any-time-even-without-a-catcher pitching area, Haven’s softball players have year-round access that few schools have.

There’s also a great weight program in Haven, and, of course, Ashworth. The man has put in countless hours to that program. Before the new facilities opened before the 2017 season, Ashworth would work countless hours on the slowpitch softball field – with no fences for fastpitch – in making it game-ready, even for practices.

Yes, Haven has been blessed with great athletes. Stallbaumer and Stucky were two of the very best all-around athletes I’ve ever seen. Hendrixson is as badass of a basketball player around as you’ll see. And now, The Happy Assassin.

But it takes more than great athletes and good softball players. It takes a coach willing to work to develop not just the players but also the facilities. The weight program in Haven has aided the development of these players.

I’ll be in Manhattan this week for the state tournament, broadcasting the games live on Ad Astra Radio. If you haven’t been entertained with Haven softball these last five years, you probably would fall asleep watching Indiana Jones.

By Brad Hallier
hallier23@yahoo.com

I was in a dark place 10 months ago.

I had no job, my severance was a month from expiration, and I was still reeling from being laid off.

Vacation to Lake Taneycomo and Branson was a great respite from the stress and feelings of shame. Getting laid off causes all kinds of stress that I wouldn’t wish on any one.

I was taking my son fishing one morning. We had a little vacation cottage, and my phone rang. An anonymous call from Hutchinson. I was on vacation and figured if it was important, they’d leave a message.

“Hi Brad, this is Jillene Cunningham from Hutchinson Community College, and I got your name from Denny Stoecklein. I wanted to visit with you for a few minutes …”

I didn’t finish listening to the message. One of my students, Brenna Eller, has some of the worst luck you could imagine. This is the kind of thing that would happen to her.

I immediately returned Jillene’s call. Of course, it went to voice mail. My cell phone nearly ended up as fish bait in the middle of Lake Taneycomo. I cursed myself. Why didn’t I answer?

Alas, my anger with myself didn’t last long. Jillene called me back, and we talked about teaching journalism at HutchCC.

Two weeks later, I was in my office (I have a real office people! Like, with a door, window and everything!) at the best damn community college in the United States.

But what did I know about teaching? I spent 18 years in the newspaper industry (23 if you count college and my senior year in high school), but how would I bring that experience to a college?

Here I am, 10 months later, ending my first year as an instructor, and while I know I have much to learn about teaching, I can say this has been the most satisfactory year of my professional life.

First of all, I’ve had some great bosses. From Brett Riggs and Rob Houston in Garden City, to Gene Schinzel, Harold Bechard, Pat Sangimino and Mary Rintoul in Hutchinson, all of those people had the characteristics of a great boss. They listen to your ideas and try to accommodate you. Their ideas aren’t always the greatest in history of the world, and they can accept that. They know that just because they’re in a supervisory role, they know that doesn’t automatically make them the smartest person in the room.

What’s more, they want YOU to succeed for YOUR sake, not theirs. And that’s what I’ve been blessed with at HutchCC with Jillene Cunningham. She helped hire a person with no teaching experience and was patient. She listened. She worked with me. She listened to my ideas and desire to reform the journalism program at HutchCC. She didn’t automatically dismiss my ideas, even if they weren’t the best. Her enthusiasm to revamp the journalism program is right up there with mine, but she also has let me do most of the revamping. When she offers changes or suggestions, she explains why, and then listens some more.

I’ve worked with some of the best journalists in the United States through the years. From the aforementioned group, to Greg Halling (the ultimate pro, who deserves to be an effing New York Times editor), Matthew Sprague, Patrick Murphy, Michael Alcala, Tommy Gallagher, Ryan Gutschenritter, Jonathan Sanfilippo, Larry Feese, Lucas Fahrer, Brad Nading, Doug Hanna, Vance Janak, Kyle McCaskey (who was, honestly, the most talented sports writer I ever worked with), Tommy Dahlk, Wendy Skellenger, Ryan Buchanan, Travis Morisse, Lindsey Bauman, Sandra Milburn, Jeff Myrick, Cynthia Hernandez, James Kellerman, Kathy Hanks, Joey Young, Lucas Soltow, Amy Bickel, John Green, Jason Probst, Jim Heck, Mary Clarkin, Ryan Christner, Darcy Gray, Edie Ross and others I know I’m forgetting.

And now, I’m working with some of the best educators in the United States. So many people at HutchCC have not only welcomed me but been willing to help me, but none more than Amber Brawner, who is the magazine advisor and puts out an incredible product three times a year. She’s listened to my weekly whine session (Amber, we may not make it this week) with sympathetic smiles and words of encouragement, and she’s helped me with so much of the so-called little things. I would have been more lost than than Clark Griswald was driving in the desert without Amber’s guidance.

And others like Dan Naccarato, Kelly Clasen, Travis Booe, Denny Stoecklein, Janae DeWeese, Jackie Long, Tim Evans, Shelly Ellis, Matt Magee, Tracy Chadwick, Cindy Hoss, Carter File, Cynthia Rapp and Matt Smith helped me out more than they’d know, whether it was an offer to substitute, being a guest speaker, giving me guidance or just making me laugh, I can’t say enough good things about these people.

But you know what made this year fun? You know what made this year rewarding? You know why I can see myself teaching at HutchCC until I retire? The students.

My faith in journalism was tested when I got whacked. It gets tested each time I see a great journalist get laid off. But when I see the work and the desire my students had this year, it gives me faith that the future of journalism isn’t as bleak as it appears. They came to HutchCC for various reasons, but they all wanted to be a part of The Hutchinson Collegian staff.

We had a small staff. Editor Merissa Anderson was a rock star. She not only tackled some of the bigger stories, but she spent countless hours in the newspaper lab, working on the current edition before going off to tutoring or one of her other million activities. She was the only returning staff member, and yet, she was so open to doing things a different way. We had many good conversations, and even though we didn’t always agree on things, we always found middle ground (another key ingredient in leadership).

“Unfortunate” Brenna Eller is the next Editor. She was awesome this year, always writing columns and stories, and staying until the bitter end on Thursdays. Hopefully her stress level is more manageable next year, but she was always a cool cat when stress hit. She’s going to be a great Editor!

I also have to give shoutouts to Lucas Barlow, who wrote the best sports features The Collegian has probably ever seen; Jack Greenwood, whose weekly “Entertainment Pulse” was written with so much passion that even I – a person who knows nothing about current pop culture – read it with enthusiasm every week; Emma Cox, who volunteered to write columns this semester on her own free will (loved her fiery rants!); Amanda Carney, who spent countless hours in the fall revamping our outdated web site (she deleted over 15,000 spam messages. Not an exaggeration); Pablo Sanchez, whose enthusiasm and desire to do anything we needed him to do never went unnoticed, but I will never forgive him for changing the way I view Pop-Tarts; and Cassidy Crites, who wrote some outstanding stuff in the fall, even while she played volleyball.

All my students, not just the newspaper kids, were great. They had a bona fide interest in the subjects at hand, and they listened to my sometimes dull Ben Stein-like lectures.

As a fan of the English soccer team Liverpool, we sing a song every game called “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” A lyric in that song is, “at the end of the storm is a golden sky.”

I think my storm has passed. It was worse than I ever could have imagined. Hutchinson Community College and the journalism department was the golden sky.

Is Hutchinson in or out? Regardless, Monday looks like it could be quite nerve racking for the Blue Dragons and their fans.

There’s been quite a few upsets various districts. Teams like No. 2 Florida SouthWestern State, No. 5 Trinity Valley, No. 6 Eastern Florida State, No. 7 Odessa, No. 11 Moberly and No. 12 Northwest Mississippi all did not win their district championships, and will all likely garner at least strong consideration for at-large bids.

You have to figure Florida SouthWestern State is in, despite a District 8 semifinal loss. Trinity Valley, Odessa and Eastern Florida State also have little to worry about.

That already takes up four of the eight at-large bids. No. 9 Southern Idaho lost to No. 8 Salt Lake in the Region 18 championship game, so you have to figure Southern Idaho is the fifth at-large.

That takes us to No. 11 Moberly, No. 12 Northwest Mississippi and No. 14 Hutchinson. Currently, those are the three highest ranked teams that did not win a district title.

Salt Lake’s District 1 win against Arizona Western ensured that Hutchinson will be the eighth-highest ranked team that is not automatically in. Do they have much to worry about?

Let’s break it down.

First of all, nobody behind Hutch should be considered over Hutchinson. Second, let’s look at the teams just ahead of the Blue Dragons.

Moberly is 26-5 following a Region 16 semifinal loss to Missouri State-West Plains. Six of Moberly’s wins came against prep schools or junior varsity squads. Region 16 (Missouri) has also not had a strong performance at the national tournament lately.

Northwest Mississippi is 22-4 following a district quarterfinal loss to Southwest Mississippi. Five of their wins came against prep schools or junior varsity teams. District 15 (Mississippi) has been solid in recent years, even having the 2014 national champion in Jones County.

Hutchinson is 28-6 following a District 6 championship loss to Coffeyville. Two of Hutchinson’s wins came against junior varsity teams, and the Blue Dragons had two losses to Coffeyville. District 6 is a well-respected junior college basketball district. Hutchinson has reached the last two championship games and won last year’s title. Hutchinson also reached the quarterfinals in 2015. The district has also established itself as multiple-bid district, with Coffeyville, Neosho County and Butler making it in recent years too.

Should Salt Lake win tonight, this is all probably moot, even more so if Salt Lake and Otero win. Monday will be stressful for Hutchinson regardless, but even more so if Salt Lake loses, and if Salt Lake and Otero lose.

Here’s a breakdown of the top 15 teams and if they’re in or prospects of an at-large.

No. 1 Indian Hills won District 11
No. 2 Florida SouthWestern State lost District 8 semifinals. Will get 1 of 8 at-large.
No. 3 Vincennes won District 16
No. 4 Northwest Florida State won District 8
No. 5 Trinity Valley lost District 14 quarterfinals. Will get 2 of 8 at-large.
No. 6 Eastern Florida State lost District 8 quarterfinals. Will get 3 of 8 at-large.
No. 7 Odessa lost District 5 championship. Will get 4 of 8 at-large.
No. 8 Salt Lake in District 1 championship
No. 9 Southern Idaho lost District 18 championship. Will get 5 of 8 at-large.
No. 10 Coffeyville won District 6 championship.
No. 11 Moberly lost Region 16 quarterfinals. Could get 6 of 8 at-large
No. 12 Northwest Mississippi lost District 15 quarterfinals. Could get 7 of 8 at-large
No. 13 Connors State won District 2.
No. 14 Hutchinson lost District 6 championship. Could get 8 of 8 at-large.
No. 15 Otero in District 9 championship

As for the Hutchinson women, they are the ninth-highest ranked team that did not win a district title, at No. 19. But … the eighth-highest team is Florida SouthWestern. Hutchinson beat Florida SouthWestern 60-56 in late December.

Will that be enough? Obviously, you can’t take 26-6 Florida SouthWestern over 27-6 Hutchinson.

Women
No. 1 Shelton State won District N championship
No. 2 Gulf Coast State won District H championship
No. 3 New Mexico JC lost District E championship. Will get 1 of 8 at-large
No. 4 Moberly won District K championship
No. 5 Jones County won District O championship
No. 6 Cochise won District A championship
No. 7 Tallahassee lost District H semifinals. Will get 2 of 8 at-large
No. 8 Northwest Florida State lost District H. Will get 3 of 8 at-large.
No. 9 Wabash Valley won District P championship
No. 10 Seward County won District F championship
No. 11 Salt Lake won District M championship
No. 12 ASA Brooklyn lost District C championship. Will get 4 of 8 at-large.
No. 13 Casper won District I championship
No. 14 Walters State won District G championship
No. 15 Trinity Valley lost District L semifinals. Will get 5 of 8 at-large
No. 16 Iowa Western lost Region 11 championship. Will get 6 of 8 at-large
No. 17 Collin County lost District E quarterfinals
No. 18 Florida SouthWestern lost District H semifinals.
No. 19 Hutchinson lost District F semifinals

John-Ontjes

By Brad Hallier
hallier23@yahoo.com

Coach-of-the-year awards are often reserved for those who do the most winning.

You win a championship as a coach, you’re going to be in line for some sort of award. For good reason, too. Championships are hard to win, and should never be taken for granted.

But I’ve always tried to look at things a little deeper. How good was your team supposed to be? How good has it been lately? Did your team overachieve? Did your team raise eyebrows?

Let me use this example. Last year, the best coaching any high school baseball coach did in Kansas may have been Hutchinson High School’s Jim Preston. The Salthawk alumnus was taking over a program that had been mired in funk. When the 2017 seniors were freshmen, the Salthawks won one game. The next two years resulted in nine total wins.

The Salthawks had no NCAA Division 1 talent. Heck, you could argue they had no Division 2 talent. Their best player was Kolby Holmberg, who plays college basketball at Pratt Community College. They had no dominant pitching, no amazing speed, no mammoth home-run hitters.

What did Preston’s Salthawks do? They won a regional championship and could have – probably should have – won their state-tournament opener, which ended with a 3-1 setback to top-seed and eventual runner-up Manhattan.

While Preston would wave his hand in disgust at the notion he did anything special last year he did, he did. He brought belief back to a once-proud program. He brought validity that he, in fact, knew what he was doing and that his style could work.

Preston didn’t win any coach-of-the-year awards. Not for the league or state.

Likewise, John Ontjes won’t likely win any coach-of-the-year awards this season. And yet, this has probably been the best coaching he has done in his 11 years as Hutchinson Community College women’s coach.

Ontjes has won a ton in his time as Blue Dragons coach. Five conference titles (a sixth was forfeited). Five Region 6 titles. Four NJCAA Final Fours. Three national runner-up finishes.

Before this year, 31 of Ontjes’ 60 losses were due to forfeits from the 2014-2015 season.

Through the years, Ontjes’ teams have been dripping with some of the best junior-college talent in the country. Going back to his second season, Ontjes had Heather Robben, an All-American who played at Wichita State and Emporia State. He later coached the likes of the Patterson twins – Jackie and Jasmine. Jackie was the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year at Texas Tech.

There was Chelsea Small, a great shooter and rebounder who later played at Indiana State. Two Patrick sisters – Laura and Jamie – were elite players, both coming from tiny Hutchinson Central Christian. Laura was the Jayhawk West player of the year in 2012 before going to Emporia State, and Jamie was briefly the all-time leading scorer and later played at Colorado State.

Alysse Barlow, the 2012 national runner-up point guard, played at San Diego. The 2013 point guard, Chrisstasia Walter, played at Louisiana Tech.

Later came Kalani Purcell, the greatest player in school history whom had a great career at Brigham Young.

Last year, we saw the player who missed 3-pointers only when she felt like it, Taylor Stahly (Louisiana Tech), point guard Inja Butina (Seton Hall), Brenna McClure (Arkansas) and a good D2 player in Lakin “What Does That Mean Too High” Preisner.

This year’s team doesn’t have the talent those other Blue Dragons teams have. They’re good. They just aren’t great.

While new Jayhawk Conference rules have no restrictions on where basketball teams can get players from, Ontjes continues to hit Kansas hard. And he starts those Kansas kids. And they come from all over our state – Liberal (Jada Mickens), Dodge City (Tia Bradshaw and Brianna Bradshaw), tiny, tiny, TINY Dighton (Sara Cramer), Olathe (Dejanae Roebuck) and Leavenworth (Alicia Brown). Other schools have fewer Kansans on their roster than Hutchinson starts.

With so many freshmen, there’s no telling yet if there’s D1 talent on this year’s team. Maybe there is. Mickens is pretty damn good. But compared to years past, this team just isn’t as good.

And yet, here they are, 24-5 going to Monday’s regular-season finale at Dodge City. Frankly, the Blue Dragons don’t have the talent other teams around them do, like Cowley, Independence, and maybe even Cloud County, Butler and Garden City. But as long as the Blue Dragons beat 11-17 Dodge City, they’re going to finish conference runner-up, a remarkable feat.

It goes back to Ontjes, and his coaching staff of Phil Anderson and Travis Kirk. Anyone can win with talent. It takes a great group of coaches to get the most out of the talent they have. Ontjes’ teams have never underachieved, and in rare cases they don’t have as much talent, they still contend for championships.

Maybe the Blue Dragons will win Region 6 and go to the NJCAA Tournament again (an at-large bid is a long shot at this point). But if it doesn’t happen, this season hasn’t been a failure. Quite the opposite.

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PHOTO COURTESY USD 308.

By Brad Hallier
hallier23@yahoo.com
@bhallier

The only things certain in this life are death, taxes, the Chiefs losing in the playoffs and my wife telling me to stop yelling when my favorite teams are on TV.

Yes, I know they can’t hear me. No, I can’t help myself when Liverpool is beating the bejesus out of Manchester City.

There is nothing certain when a school hires a coach. It might look like a great hire. Heck, what hire doesn’t look like a great hire?

OK, we knew Kim Anderson was going to be a colossal failure as Missouri basketball coach, but beyond that, all hires look great in some fashion.

Maybe Mike Vernon won’t work out as Hutchinson High football coach. My guess is he will.

Vernon – a former Hutchinson assistant who has been more popular at all his stops than The Joker was when he gave away free money in “Batman” – was announced as the new Salthawks football coach Friday by USD 308.

Perfect.

Vernon is the right coach in the right place at the right time. Salthawk football means a lot to him. He helped bring some hardware, as a Randy Dreiling assistant, to Hutchinson during its dynasty of seven state titles and 10 title-game appearances from 2003-2014.

People were sad when Vernon left to take over at Inman. In two years, Vernon went from curiosity in the small McPherson County community to more popular than Eric Hosmer was when he scored the game-tying run in Game 5 of the 2015 World Series. In two years, Vernon led Inman to a 12-6 record. For a program with little to no history to speak of, this was almost unprecedented.

When Vernon left to be a Rose Hill assistant, Inman residents were sad. Even though Vernon was there two years, he left his mark.

Possibly the biggest win in his tenure was in 2013. After being manhandled by Hutchinson Trinity for three-and-a-half quarters, Inman was down 7-0. They hadn’t been close to scoring. Alas, the Teutons scored twice in the final five minutes for a thrilling 14-7 win.

Vernon’s reaction afterwards was priceless. His face read, “How did we just do that.”

I’ll tell you why. It was because of Mike Vernon and getting kids who knew nothing but losing to believe.

After one year at Rose Hill – word was people were upset to see him leave – Vernon returned to Reno County to take over at Nickerson.

A school that hasn’t had much history to speak of, some of it due to really bad luck and geography, Vernon led Nickerson to a 17-13 record in three years, three playoff appearances and this – a 48-14 win against Wichita Collegiate.

Who ever thought Nickerson could beat Wichita Collegiate? Who ever thought Nickerson could beat Collegiate by 34 points?

Nickerson did because they had Mike Vernon and kids who believed in him.

Nickerson will understandably be upset losing this coach. He’s a good one.

Vernon is ready for this. He’s going to keep Salthawk football steady. There may be a few lean years coming up, but look what one coach did to two schools not known for football? In five combined years at Inman and Nickerson, Vernon’s teams had four winning seasons and three playoff appearances.

At the same time, Salthawk fans should be fair to the man. He’s an outstanding person, better person than coach. He’s not a savior. He’s not Randy Dreiling. Let him build the program his way. If a few losses happen along the way, so be it. Remember, Randy Dreiling didn’t have instant success either. Ryan Cornelsen, Hutchinson’s most recent coach who is departing to Gardner-Edgerton, didn’t build Hays into respectability overnight. It took time.

Give Vernon some time. Because with a little patience, you might see eventually what Salthawk fans want to see annually – playing Thanksgiving weekend for a state title.