By BRETT MARSHALL
There are variations on how one defines drought conditions, not just with the weather, but how long it has been since an athletic team has accomplished a specific feat.
Garden City and Derby High School basketball coaches Jacy Holloway and Brett Flory can attest to that.
Both coaches inherited programs that had lukewarm success over the previous decade — Holloway taking over a program in 2010 that had not been to the state tournament since 2007 while Flory, a Lawrence High graduate, moved from Valley Center to Derby for the start of the 2011-12 season. The Panthers had not seen the road to the 6A state tourney since 1997.
Those two schools, who have met once each in the past two seasons, will collide on at 4:45 p.m. Wednesday at Koch Arena in Wichita in an opening-round game of the Class 6A state tournament.
The Panthers, fresh off a 66-57 victory over Manhattan Friday to win its sub-state title, bring a season record of 19-3 into the opening round contest, while the Buffs (15-7) finally got the better of their Western Athletic Conference rival Dodge City in winning 40-37.
There is a lot of mutual respect between the two coaches for the other's program and where each has arrived this season.
"They've got a little bit of everything that a basketball team would want," Holloway said of the Panthers. "They've got good post play (6-7 Sr., Josiah Ray, 11.1 pts., 8.7 reb.) and several other good-sized players who have a lot of length. That will probably be one of our biggest challenges, is to understand their length."
But the ignition player who drives the Panthers' engine on the floor is 5-9 senior guard Taylor Schieber.
All he does is average a team-high 19.1 points and 5.2 assists, and after sitting out 3.5 games with an injury — all losses — returned in late January to propel the Panthers to a 10-game win streak.
"All I know is that we haven't lost with him in the lineup," Flory said. "That's not to say that we can't be beat, but so far that hasn't happened with him in the lineup. He just makes everyone around him better. He creates so much opportunity for our other players. He's been our difference-maker."
Flory said that this group of seniors has been developing into the team that Derby has pinned its resurrection on, and they have not disappointed.
"Since they were freshmen, this is what they've worked for," Flory said. "We've had some good teams in the past that for whatever reason, couldn't get to the state. We were always in tough sub-states, but this team has had the attitude of not going to lose ever since we lost to Scott City (58-45) at Dodge (Tournament of Champions)."
Derby has four other players who average between six and 10 points, with that group including 6-4 senior Tyler Chambers (9.4 pts., 7.1 reb.).
Holloway said that the Buffs, who are making their first trip back to the state since the 2007, will have to be at their best in every facet of the game, but especially on the defensive end to contain Schieber.
"He's not like any guard we've seen all year," Holloway said. "He understands his role, he can score in many different ways and he can penetrate to get shots for their other guys. We've got to find a way to make him more one-dimensional."
Derby averages 66.1 points in its up-tempo game, while giving up 48.4 points. The Buffs, meanwhile, score at a 52.1 point clip, while yielding 49.5 points per game.
"We've been focused much better defensively in the last three games, and that's what we'll have to do against Derby," Holloway said. "It's understanding their personnel and trying to defend everybody, and know where we're supposed to be."
While the Buffs don't have any one big scorer, Holloway has had several different players lead the team in scoring at any given time — Bo Banner (10.9), Austin Terpstra (9.5), Tristan Nanninga (8.9), Hunter Delgado (8.7), Caleb Tramp (5.7) — have each been the high-point performer at least once.
"I think our balance wasn't anything that was necessarily planned before the season, but it's just worked out that way," Holloway said. "They've played together, and when they're unselfish, we do a lot of good things."
That balance and defensive prowess has not been lost on Flory as he prepares the Panthers for the Buffs.
"One thing's for sure, I have a ton of respect for what Jacy does," Flory said. "They run a ton of ballscreens and the challenge for us is to stop them. They've got guards who can shoot it, and they've got some good, tough inside kids who can rebound and put the ball in the hole. Defensively, they're just very sound, and they make you work. We know we've got our work cut out for us when we play Garden City."
Holloway, who has four state championship titles to his credit as a player at Moundridge (1990-1993), is fully aware of the excitement of heading to the state tourney. And he hopes to pass along that experience and knowledge to this year's team.
"The kids on this team haven't experienced anything like this," Holloway said. "They were in grade school when Garden City last went, so it's a big deal. It's definitely something new and something we have talked about. I want them to enjoy it, but I also want them to know why we're going. It's not a vacation. We want to be playing Friday and Saturday, too."
In the state tournament eight-team format, a first-round loss sends a team packing. Win, and you get to play twice more.
A Wednesday victory over the Panthers would put the Buffs in the state semis for the first time since 2003, when they lost to eventual champion Wichita Southeast (59-56) before beating Blue Valley North (50-43) in the consolation game. They would get the winner of the 3 p.m. game between top-seeded Blue Valley Northwest (22-0) and Lawrence Free State (11-11). That would tip off at 4:45 p.m. Friday.
In the bottom half of the bracket, it will be Wichita North (20-2) against Blue Valley West (13-9) at 6:30 and Shawnee Mission East (20-2) vs. Wichita East (15-7) at 8:15 p.m.