When the Greeley County Jackrabbits boys basketball team walked into Gross Memorial Coliseum in March of 2010 for the Class 1A state basketball tournament, their eyes were wide open as they looked at the big stage they would be playing on.

They fought hard, but took a first-round exit from the tournament after having gone 22-1 through the regular season.

Fast forward to December 2010.

Three losses to schools from higher classifications in their first four games left Jeff Starkey wondering where the season would go.

He had two legitimate returners in seniors Jonathan Miller and Stephen Houston but the rest of the Jackrabbits were an unproven commodity.

Still, Starkey had a keen sense of his players. And his patience with them proved beneficial as the Greeley County team reeled off 19 consecutive victories against Class 1A competition and earned another spot on the Gross Memorial Coliseum floor two weeks ago.

This time, Starkey’s troops marched through three games and walked off the Coliseum stage with the Class 1A-Division II championship after a furious fourth quarter rally produced a 42-35 victory over Hope.

For his team’s successful season, Starkey shares The Telegram’s All-Area Coach of the Year honor with Scott City’s Glenn O’Neil, whose Beavers claimed the Class 3A state title on the same day in Hutchinson.

“I think (Gross Coliseum) wasn’t too big for them this time,” Starkey said. “They got comfortable and the seniors we had really bought into our system.”

The championship was hard-fought as the Jackrabbits stumbled early, falling behind by 10 points at halftime after producing a measley 8 points in the opening 16 minutes. They still trailed by as many as 11 in the third quarter before making a furious rally to claim the school’s first state crown since 1968; Class B, four classes of school.

“Everything we do to succeed is predicated on effort, control what we do,” Starkey said. “We couldn’t hit a shot early, but we played hard and we played unselfishly.”

It was that effort that brought home the second state championship for Greeley County and first for Starkey.

The victory came in front of a huge following from Tribune that included several members of the 1968 championship team that were in attendance as part of a ceremony honoring all previous championship teams as part of the Kansas State High School Activities Association 100th anniversary celebration of the boys state tournament.

“We had a couple of kids on the team who had a dad or uncle who played on that 1968 team who were there and coach (Bill) Hanson was there,” Starkey said. “It was really great to have him there.”