By BRETT MARSHALL
In their three-year reign in dominating Class 3A boys basketball, the Scott City Beavers knew exactly where they would lodge, exactly where they would practice, exactly where they would eat their three meals a day at the state tournament in Hutchinson.
But thanks to another revision to state classifications, the Beavers and head coach Glenn O'Neil find themselves looking for a new hotel, a new practice site, and new restaurants, all preferably within close distance of Hartman Arena, which is the new home to the newest classification, 4A-Division II.
That's where the Beavers will look to lay claim to their fourth consecutive state championship, albeit in a different location and against a new set of opponents.
The Beavers (19-3), the No. 2 tourney seed, get their first taste of their new surroundings at 6:30 p.m. Thursday when they take on the Pratt Greenbacks (11-11) in the first of the lower bracket quarterfinal games. Concordia (18-4) faces Girard (12-10) in the 8:15 finale.
Earlier games Thursday in the upper bracket, have top-seeded Andale (20-2) taking on Iola (10-12) at 3 p.m. and Eudora (17-5) meeting Holton (17-5) at 4:45 p.m.¬
A Scott City victory would put the Beavers into Friday's semifinal against the Concordia-Girard winner at 8:15 p.m.
For a team that lost four starters off a squad that captured its third consecutive 3A crown in 2013, the veteran coach O'Neil says he's happy with the progress this group has made.
"It's a little like the football season in that we didn't really know how good we might become, but we thought we'd be decent," said O'Neil, who coached the football team to a semifinal appearance last November after losing the bulk of starters from his 2012 state champion 3A football squad. "I don't know if we expected to be 19-3, but we felt like if we won 15 games in the regular season, that would be pretty good."
The lone returning starter off the 25-1 title team was O'Neil's youngest son, 6-2 junior guard Trey. He has taken on the additional scoring responsibilities and responded by averaging 20.8 points, 5.5 rebounds, 5 assists and 2.3 steals per game.
"We played some summer ball, a couple of MAYB tournaments, and we could see that it wouldn't be a total rebuilding year," coach O'Neil said. "It would be a transition period, but we felt that the other players would progress as the season went, and that's exactly what has happened."
Brett Meyer, a 6-3 junior guard, has upped his average to 14 points, while also grabbing 4.6 rebounds and dishing out 3.1 assists. In the score-by-committee portion of the team, Sloan Baker (6-1, Jr.) averages 7.6 points and a team-high 6.9 rebounds. Senior Brayden Strine (6-0 forward) averages 6 points and 6.3 rebounds while sophomore Dylan Hutchins hits for 4.5 points and junior Chantz Yager averages 3 points
In all, the Beavers average 61 points, down some from the previous three juggernaut teams.
"Our scoring is now more balanced," coach O'Neil said. "Other guys have been stepping up. They've gotten used to playing at the varsity speed."
In typical coach O'Neil style, the Beavers are sharing the ball, averaging 13.4 assists while limiting turnovers to 9.9, lower than any of the three state title teams. They get 10 steals per game.
"Our assist-to-turnover ratio has greatly improved," coach O'Neil said.¬
If there had been any sense of pressure of continuing a winning streak from the previous season, it was quickly erased in the Dec. 12, 2012, season opener against Pueblo (Colo.) East when the Beavers lost 69-51 in the Southwest Classic. But they rattled off 13 straight wins before a 46-42 upset road loss at Goodland, the first Great West Activities Conference setback in four seasons. A week later, after two more wins, the Beavers lost 66-57 at Holcomb (3A state qualifier), a game that decided the GWAC title.
"We went through about a two-week stretch where we just didn't play very well," conceded O'Neil. "But since the Holcomb game, I think the kids have played well."
With a potent front line of Drew Kite and Joey Meyer gone, the rebounding chores have been assigned to the entire team, and coach O'Neil says that has slowly but surely improved, too.¬
"Three things for this team to win were playing good defense, rebounding and making more free throws than our opponents shoot," coach O'Neil said. "We're only two free throws made less than our opponents have shot, so that's pretty good. For the most part, we're rebounding more by committee."
So a year after a Class 3A dynasty had mostly graduated and gone off to bigger things in college, the re-tooled Beavers are back once again to make their mark on another state tournament.
And for coach O'Neil, finding the right place to sleep, the right place to practice, the right place to eat — that task should have been completed by the end of Monday.
In the end, it's what happens on the basketball floor that counts. And if recent history is any indicator, the Beavers have set their sights squarely on another title.
Who: Scott City Beavers
2013-14 Record: 19-3
Where: Hartman Arena, Park City (North of Wichita, on I-135, exit 16)
When: Thursday through Saturday
Quarterfinal game: Thursday, 6:30 p.m. vs. Pratt (11-11)
Head Coach: Glenn O'Neil (18th season, 325-104, .758; 28 seasons, 484-178, .731)
How they Got There: Defeated Goodland 57-45 at Goodland on Saturday to reach a state tournament for the fourth consecutive year; defeated Colby 64-29 in semifinals.
Of Note: The Beavers won the previous three state championships in Class 3A, going 75-3 in that stretch before moving up to Class 4A-II this season. Class 4A now has two divisions.
Starters: Brayden Strine, 6-0, Sr., F (6.0 ppg; 6.3 rpg); Trey O'Neil, 6-2, Jr., G (20.8 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 5.0 apg; 2.3 spg); Brett Meyer, 6-3, Jr., G (14.0 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 3.1 apg); Sloan Baker, 6-1, Jr., F (7.6ppg, 6.9 rpg); Chris Pounds, 5-11, Sr., G (4.4 ppg, 1.5 apg, 1.3 spg).
Top Reserves: Dylan Hutchins, 5-8, So., G (4.5 ppg); Chantz Yager, 5-9, Jr., G (3.0 ppg, 1 apg, 1 spg); Keigun Wells, 6-0, Sr., F (1 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 1.5 apg, 1.3 spg).
State Tournament History:
Championships (5): 1958 (Class A); 2006 (Class 4A); 2011-12-13 (Class 3A).
A Look Back: 1958--def. Sterling 58-42; 2006--def. Belle Plaine 71-52; 2011--def. Minneapolis 55-53; 2012--def. Nemaha Valley 61-47; 2013--def. Humboldt 74-55.
Previous Tournament Appearances (16): 1921, 1939, 1941, 1958, 1960, 1966, 1979, 1997, 2000, 2002, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2011, 2012, 2013.