By KEVIN THOMPSON
Fourth time's a charm.
So goes the new, old adage for the Lady Bluejays, who, after losing three straight Class 3A sub-state title games, are making their first appearance in the state tourney since 2008.
That was the year the Lady 'Jays finished second with a season record of 24-2.
For the four seniors on the team, especially Ashtynn Burns, who has played on varsity all four of those seasons, it was huge relief.
For coach David Ediger, it was even better because he knows how hard his team has worked to get this far.
"They've worked extremely hard this year on getting better defensively and offensively," he said. "It's both ends of the floor."
The Jays (21-2), the No. 3 tourney seed, will get a chance to show their talents Thursday at the Hutchinson Sports Arena when they take on Council Grove (19-4) in the final game of opening day at 8:15 p.m.
Top-seeded Hesston (22-1) takes on Douglass (18-5) right before that. In the early games, top-seed Riley County (22-1) faces Lyons (15-8) and Caney Valley (20-3) faces Seneca-Nemeha Valley (19-4).
A Cimarron win would put them in Friday's 6:30 semifinal against the Hesston-Douglass winner.
A big key to the Jays' success this season has more to do with how well the players get along, both on and off the court, Ediger said, something that is following them into state.
"They get along so well. They really want to play for each other and with each other," he said.
Basketball-wise, the focus has been on doing the little things better, expecting big things, he said.
"Little things" means better passes, better screens, stronger rebounding and finding the open teammate.
One thing that leads to is getting to the basket better, Ediger said, which results in more trips to the foul line, where the Jays are 306 of 444 (68.9 percent).
"We really work on spreading the floor out and then attacking people," he explained. "We work on getting to the line and making free throws in practice."
Cimarron's strength of schedule has helped prepare his team for the post-season, too, Ediger said. Not only did they play in a tough sub-state (Nos. 2, 3, 4 and 10-ranked teams were there), but Cimarron scheduled bigger schools for the regular season.
"We changed to try to challenge us more across the board, every night," Ediger said of playing Dodge City (6A), Liberal (5A) and Pratt (4A-II, and state qualifier). "We learned to guard more than one or two people a night and we've had to execute better on the offensive end because of that."
Their only two losses, both on the road, were to Dodge City and Pratt, and they learned from both of those.
Against the former, they were up four with six minutes to go and didn't finish. Against the latter, they were within striking distance near the end.
"What we took away from those was that if we play really well, we can beat anybody. If we don't play well, anybody can beat us," Ediger said. "We don't like to lose, but it was good for us to learn more about ourselves."
One thing they learned was to be hungry for a state berth. The seniors have been involved in the previous three attempts and knew how it felt to be so close.
"This year they wanted it so bad, to go to state, because they kept getting tired of not getting that extra week, to work for a week if state's the reward," Ediger said.
Another incentive was homecourt dominance. Cimarron has not lost on the home floor in more than three seasons, and playing sub-state at home meant winning it all because nobody wanted to end the streak, especially for the seniors.
"I asked them why they wanted to win, and some said to get to state, others not lose on our home floor, and the others because we wanted to play together another week," Ediger said. "They really like playing together."
That attitude should fit them as they head to Hutchinson. They know it's going to be tough at that level, but it's something they want to do.
"They look forward to the challenge. They want to play good teams," he said.
Cimarron set five goals this season, Ediger said — stay undefeated at home, win the Cimarron tournament, win the (Hi-Plains) league and league tournament, and go to state.
Now the new goal — win one game at a time at state.
In other first-round matchups, it will be Riley County (22-1) vs. Lyons (15-8), 3 p.m.; Caney Valley (20-3) vs Seneca-Nemaha Valley (19-4), 4:45; Hesston (22-1) vs Douglass (18-5), 6:30.
How They Got There: Defeated Holcomb 64-48 at Cimarron on Saturday to reach the state tournament for the first time since 2008; defeated Cheney 66-51 in semifinals.
Of Note: The Lady Jays had reached the sub-state finals each of the previous three seasons, losing the last two to Holcomb. This will be their 10th state appearance overall, their fourth in Class 3A. They won once, in 1998, 54-52 in overtime against Conway Springs. Previous best finish in 1973, runner-up to Medicine Lodge in Class 2A.
Who: Cimarron Lady Bluejays
2013-14 Record: 21-2
Where: Hutchinson Sports Arena
When: Thursday through Saturday
Quarterfinal game: Thursday, 8:15 p.m. vs. Council Grove (19-4)
Head Coach: David Ediger (9th season, 170-38, .817)
League: Hi-Plains League
Starters: Ashtynn Burns, 5-5, Sr., G (17.9 ppg; 4.3 rpg); Kari Blattner, 5-4, Jr., G (6.6 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 2.1 apg, 2.6 spg); Rebecca Dupree, 5-4, Sr., G (6.0 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 3 apg); Hailey Hoskinson, 5-9, Sr., F (7.4 ppg, 5.7 rpg); Morgan Ediger, 5-9, Jr., G (16.9 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 3.7 apg, 2.2 spg).
Top Reserves: Korina Bailon, 5-8, So., F (6.6 ppg, 4.2 rpg).
Notes: Burns has hit 131-of-142 free throws this season (92 percent). Ediger leads the team with 48 3-pointers while Burns has 35 and Blattner and Dupree 17 each.
State Tournament History:
Championships (1): 1998 (Class 3A).
A Look Back: Defeated Conway Springs 58-52 in overtime; beat Riley County 54-51 in semifinals; defeated Immaculats-Leavenworth 48-36 in opening round.
Previous Tournament Appearances (9): 1973, 1975, 1977, 1979, 1987, 1988, 1998, 2007, 2008.
2013-14 Season Schedule:
Ulysses, 80-50 (W); South Gray, 80-36 (W); Sublette, 77-30 (W); Meade, 75-54 (W); Meade, 71-66 (W); Elkhart, 76-33 (W); Stanton County, 70-20 (W); Dodge City, 66-60 (L); Larned, 63-40 (W); Syracuse, 61-20 (W); Lakin, 71-42 (W); SWHeights, 62-46 (W); Meade, 64-36 (W); Lakin, 68-32 (W); Hodgeman County, 72-33 (W); Sublette, 73-26 (W); Pratt, 62-49 (L); Liberal, 66-48 (W); Satanta, 58-30 (W); SWHeights, 54-29 (W); SWHeights, 56-26 (W); Cheney, 66-51(W); Holcomb, 64-48 (W).