By BRETT MARSHALL

bmarshall@gctelegram.com

On March 12, veteran South Gray boys basketball coach Mark Applegate was sitting on the bench in Gross Memorial Coliseum at Fort Hays State University.

His Rebels were playing Hanover for the Class 1A state championship, a game they would lose 57-48, capping off a 26-2 season, with just two starters returning from last year.

On March 16, Applegate was in an operating room at the Western Plains Medical Complex in Dodge City undergoing prostate cancer surgery.

"It keeps things in perspective for sure," said Applegate, named The Telegram's Area Boys Coach of the Year. "It's easy to walk down the hallway and know someone is worse off than you."

For Applegate, his team's recent success was another year in what has been a remarkable run for the Rebels.

Since Copeland and Montezuma combined into South Gray in the early 1990s, Applegate has taken his team to the state tournament in Hays 10 times. He has won three state titles, finished second on three occasions and lost in the first round three times. He has never lost a semifinal contest.

Applegate says this year's edition of the Rebels exceeded most expectations. But he also knew this team had a chance to develop into a top-notch group when the season started.

"We had a good record all year, but the team really came together down the stretch as we headed into the playoffs," Applegate said. "At the end of the year, they just did some things they had to do to win and different people stepped up."

It didn't hurt that Applegate had the best player returning in The Telegram area, senior guard Chase Clancy. But the Rebels were more than Clancy.

"Austin Love did a great job of rebounding for us all season and came up with some big scoring games in postseason," Applegate said of the junior. "(Junior guard) Garrison (Hendricks) played a big role for us, and came up with that big steal in the win over Quinter (1A semifinal contest). Chase would be the first to tell you that the others were the reason we had such a good year."

In his 28 years of coaching, Applegate has a record of 481-190, a .717 winning percentage. It has been even more impressive over the past six years at 143-14 (.910). When this year's team played its last game at home, they won for the 41st straight time on the Rebels' home court.

Applegate said he never takes for granted the trips to the state tournament and tries to make sure his players understand that as well.

"We have high goals here, but I never assume that we're going back," Applegate said. "It's kind of like your health. As long as things are good, you don't think too much about it. But when it's not so good, you realize how fortunate you've been."