Beavers return to 3A state tourney in search of 3-peat
By BRETT MARSHALL
Perhaps one of the reasons Glenn O'Neil has won three basketball state championships in the past seven seasons, won 75 percent of his games at Scott City in 17 seasons, and collected 461 career victories in a 27-year career is that he doesn't look too far ahead, nor does he look backward.
O'Neil professes to try and be in the moment, taking what is happening directly in front and focusing on that objective.
Well, that next objective has arrived, and it will take place at 3 p.m. Thursday in the familiar surroundings of the Hutchinson Sports Arena.
It's there where the Beavers, 22-1, will tangle with Pittsburg-St. Mary's Colgan in the opening game of the 2013 Class 3A state tournament. The Sports Arena has been good to the Beavers since they made the switch from Class 4A to 3A in 2007, having finished second that year to Wichita Collegiate, but now have put back-to-back state championships together in 2011-12.
Going for three is not something O'Neil has thought much about.
"Perhaps at the beginning of the season, we might have talked about a chance to do something special," O'Neil said Tuesday. "But I don't think we as a staff, nor the kids, have really said too much about it. We just try to do the one game at a time thing. If you can't walk it, then don't talk it."
It's been quite a ride for this year's senior class, having won those two consecutive state basketball titles, but then followed it up with the school's first state football championship in more than two decades in November with a stirring 28-21 comeback victory over Silver Lake at Hutchinson's Gowans Stadium, a stones throw from the Sports Arena.
To make the year even more memorable, O'Neil coaches both the Beavers' football and boys basketball teams and has his two sons playing for him — senior Brett and sophomore Trey. Brett was the team's starting quarterback/free safety/punter/placekicker while Trey played wide receiver and defensive back. On the basketball floor, Brett is the team's floor leader at point guard and Trey the other guard/small forward.
With little down time between seasons, the Beavers managed to work their way through the December schedule without a loss.
"I'd say it wasn't until the Christmas break, where we had time for a lot of practice and didn't have to worry about getting ready for the next game, that we finally got ourselves into basketball shape," coach O'Neil said. "The kids just needed to go play the game and not do a lot of conditioning stuff. They were in good physical shape, but just hadn't played basketball for nine months."
The Beavers enter this year's tourney with a single loss, that coming against Class 6A Wichita North in a 67-63 overtime game at the Dodge City Tournament of Champions the third week of January. Also there, they defeated Derby (58-45) and Dodge City (60-51). Both Derby and North are in this week's Class 6A state tournament in Wichita, and Dodge City won the regular-season Western Athletic Conference title.
O'Neil said this year's schedule was tough and that it has helped prepare the Beavers for their upcoming task.
"The confidence level of our kids comes from who we've played, and how we've played this year, not who we played or how we did in the past," coach O'Neil said. "Those three games at the TOC, then playing Holcomb three times, and Denver South early in the year — all of those teams have different styles, different types of athletes that we've played against, so that will help us prepare for the teams in Hutchinson."
For all of O'Neil's accomplishments, first at Frankfort and now at Scott City, he will be facing another highly successful coach from Colgan in Wayne Cichon, who is in his 30th season and has a 522-185 career record (.738 percentage). He has guided the Panthers to five Class 2A state championships (1996/2000/2002/2005/2008) and six runner-up finishes. Before moving to Class 3A a year ago, Cichon's teams had played in nine consecutive 2A state championship games in Manhattan.
The Panthers made an early exit in their first trip to Hutchinson (61-50 loss to Central Heights), and Cichon has just one starter returning from that squad, but he's a good one.
Dyson Dechant, a 6-4 senior, averages 18.6 points and 8.1 rebounds and helped Colgan to a 17-5 record while winning the Cherokke-Neosho-Crawford league title and then running over Neodesha (72-41) and Riverton (74-54) in their final two sub-state games. Scott City, meanwhile, dispatched Southwestern Heights (79-50) and Holcomb (81-61) in its final two games to qualify. In their win over the Longhorns, all five Beaver starters scored in double figures, led by Drew Kite's 22 points and 19 rebounds.
"The experience we gained in Hutchinson was good for us," Cichon said earlier this week. "It's a new atmosphere and allowed our kids to get a feel for what it's like to play there versus Bramlage in Manhattan."
Cichon said he will play 10 to 11 players, thus allowing his team to play up-tempo, utilizing full-court and half-court presses to force teams out of their comfort zone.
"We like to spread the wealth around and play fast when we can," Cichon said. "I think over the past couple of weeks, we're all in agreement that we're playing our best basketball of the season."
According to Scott City's O'Neil, Dechant, while playing the post position, is more like a wing player who can slide out and hit the mid-range jumper.
"He's an awfully good player, and their other kids are very athletic," O'Neil said. "They like to be patient on offense, but when they're effective with the press, there's no sense of them slowing things down. Like anybody else we face, we know they'll be a tough challenge, and we just have to be prepared to play our game."
Cichon was still in the early stages of reviewing the scouting report on the Beavers at the start of the week, but clearly knows what challenge the Beavers present.
"I see them as very athletic," Cichon said. "They like to go about seven deep in their rotation, and I know they're a senior-laden team. That always is helpful to a team. They really move the ball well and seem to be in the attack mode. We'll have to play at our best. When you go play teams with whom you're not familiar, you've got to limit runs, take away their strengths, keep them off the free throw line, and don't let them get to the offensive board for easy putbacks."
The No. 2-seeded Beavers are in the lower half of the bracket and the remaining two teams there are No. 3 seed Nemaha Valley (22-1), the team the Beavers defeated 61-47 in the state championship game a year ago, who will face Wichita Independent at 4:45 p.m. In the upper half of the bracket, it will be No. 1 seed and unbeaten Humboldt (23-0) vs. Salina-Sacred Heart (15-8) at 6:30 p.m. and Beloit (21-2) taking on Silver Lake (20-2) at 8:15 p.m.
A Scott City victory would put them into the 4:45 p.m. Friday semis against the Nemaha Valley-Wichita Independent winner while the other semifinal will be at 8:15 p.m.