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Taking flight: Lady Eagles earn only second trip to tourney in school history.

Published 3/12/2014

By BRETT MARSHALL

bmarshall@gctelegram.com

None of the 10 Hugoton girls basketball players were born when the last group of Lady Eagles played in the Class 4A state tournament.

But that doesn't mean there won't be at least a little history lesson for the current Lady Eagles when they hit the floor at 8:15 p.m. today at Hartman Arena in the quarterfinals of the Class 4A-Division II state tournament.

The 1993 Hugoton girls team is the only one in school history to qualify for the state and they lost that opening game to Kansas City-Piper 38-29.

This time around, a youthful, but talented and experienced Hugoton team (19-3) will take on Holton (15-7). The Lady Eagles drew the No. 3 seed while Holton is seeded No. 6.

For assistant coach Jeff Ramsey, it will be a special trip not only for the team, but also because he has his daughter, Miranda, a sophomore at Seward County and a former Lady Eagle, sitting beside him on the bench.

"This has been a special group of kids, a special year, certainly for all of us in the community," Ramsey said Tuesday, who spoke when head coach Andy Gillen was unavailable for comment. "We lost three seniors off a team that went 17-6 and there were many folks who thought this might be a rebuilding year."

Among that group of graduates was 6-2 center Nicole Kinser, now playing volleyball at Hutchinson Community College and competing in track there.

"We knew we had three eighth grade girls (now freshmen) who were light years ahead of most eighth graders," Ramsey said of starters 5-3 Amy Scott and 5-5 Katy Heger, the team's top two scorers at 13.3 and 15 points per game. In addition, 5-5 Melissa Fabela comes off the bench in the "Sixth" role and averages 8.5 points while leading the team in 3-point baskets (36).

"We attended team camp in Boulder (Colo.) last summer and what we saw were that our attackers who were going to have the ball in their hands would be the three freshmen," Ramsey said in recalling the early bonding of the group. "We talked about what it takes to be a winning team, building a winning atmosphere and it was about getting everybody to understand what everybody needed to do to contribute. Everybody needed to understand their roles."

That attitude has been prevalent all season, but perhaps none more so than 5-8 junior Riley Sosa, the team's tallest player and one of the team's leading scorers as a sophomore.

Now, Sosa takes on the defensive stopper role, guarding the opponent's best inside player, and focuses on rebounding. She averages 4.7 points, 4.5 rebounds and has made 27 treys.

"She's turned from being a scorer to being a tenacious defender," Ramsey said. "When we've won, she's the first one to have the biggest smile on her face."

The Lady Eagles got their signature victory on Jan. 31, when they defeated eventual Great West Activities Conference champion Holcomb, 52-48.

"They're constantly there and they have good players and play at the top level," Ramsey said of Holcomb. "To get that win, the girls were really pumped afterward."

The only losses for this speedy group, which is built on full-court pressure and a ball-hawking zone defense, came against Ulysses (65-49), the third game in five days for the Lady Eagles. They also lost to Palmer Ridge, Colo., in the semifinals of the Colby Orange and Black Classic, and then lost a rematch with Holcomb, 69-49, at Holcomb.

But Ramsey has liked the chemistry and how this team has bonded and matured throughout the season.

"This is a team that is unselfish. They share the ball," Ramsey said. "Defensive-wise, when they put their mind to it, they can pressure anybody."

One of the returning starters, junior Estefani Armendariz, averages 6.2 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.9 steals. Others playing integral roles off the bench include Sofia Jimenz (5-4, Jr.), Taylor Fiss (5-5 Jr.), Cornelsen (5-5, So.) and Sarah Johnson (5-0, So.).

The rise of the Lady Eagles over the past three seasons (51-15) is nothing short of one of the bigger turnarounds of a program in recent history. The team was 0-21 in 2009, and then Lee Gillen took over the program and went 3-18 in his first year, and then was 5-16 in year two. The Eagles were 15-6 in Lee Gillen's final season before he moved on to Garden Plain to become the athletic director there. His son, Andy, who had coached South Gray to a Class 1A state title in 2010, was named the head coach and had the Lady Eagles at 17-6 a year ago.

In other first-round games today, in the upper half of the bracket, it will be top-seeded Burlington (21-1) taking on Clay Center (8-14) at 3 p.m.; Santa Fe Trail (19-3) meets Pratt (16-6) at 4:45 p.m. and, in the lower half of the bracket at 6:30 p.m., it will be Frontenac (20-2) vs. Wichita Trinity (14-8). A win by the Lady Eagles would put them into Friday's 6:30 p.m. semifinal against the Frontenac-Trinity winner.¬ 

How they Got There: Defeated Goodland 55-47 at Goodland on Saturday to reach a state tournament for just the second time in school history; defeated Scott City 57-33 in semifinals.

Of Note: The only appearance for the Lady Eagles in the state tournament was in 1993 when they lost in the first round to Kansas City-Piper 38-29. Current team member sophomore Megan Cornelson's mother (Mindy Casebeer Cornelson) and her aunt (Tami Cornelson) were members of the 1993 Lady Eagles that qualified for the state tourney.

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Who: Hugoton Lady Eagles

2013-14 Record: 19-3

Where: Hartman Arena,

Park City (Wichita)

When: Wednesday through Saturday

Quarterfinal game: Wednesday, 8:15 p.m. vs. Holton (15-7)

Head Coach: Andy Gillen (2nd year)

League: Great West Activities Conference

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Starters: Estefani Armendariz, 5-3, Jr. (6.2 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 2.9 spg); Amy Scott, 5-3, Fr. (13.3 ppg); Ana Pena, 5-5, Jr. (5.0 ppg); Katy Heger, 5-5, Fr. (15 ppg, 3.4 spg, 3.8 rpg); Riley Sosa, 5-8, Jr. (4.7 ppg, 4.5 rpg).

Top Reserves: Melissa Fabela, 5-5, Fr. (8.5 ppg); Sofia Jimenez, 5-4, Jr.; Taylor Fiss, 5-5, Jr.; Megan Cornelson, 5-5, So.; Sarah Johnson, 5-0, So.

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State Tournament History: 1993 (Lost first round to Kansas City-Piper, 38-29, Class 4A).

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2013-14 Season Results

Syracuse (W 76-31); Guymon, Okla. (W 69-44); Gruver, Texas (W 48-42); Hooker, Okla. (W 62-57); Colby (W 52-37); Scott City (W 64-37); Sublette (W 68-35); Ulysses (L 65-49); Goodland (W 55-46); Sunrise Christian Academy (W 55-12); Palmer Ridge, Colo. (L 52-36); Liberal (W 63-53); Holcomb (W 52-48); Colby (W 41-31); Scott City (W 68-33); Guymon, Okla. (W 74-55); Ulysses (W 53-37); Goodland (W 41-39); Holcomb (L 69-49); Lakin (W 67-38); Scott City (W 57-33); Goodland (W 55-47).

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2013-14 Season Schedule

Pueblo (Colo.) East (L 69-51); Wichita Trinity Academy (W 67-51); Denver South (W 68-58); Ulysses (W 54-32); Hugoton (W 72-45); Holcomb (W 73-53); Colby (W 64-35); Burlington, Colo. (W 62-22); McCook, Neb. (W 65-42); Palmer Ridge, Colo. (W 71-57); Lakin (W 66-33); Liberal (W 52-46); Ulysses (W 65-52); Hugoton (W 71-51); Goodland (L 46-42); TMP-Marian (W 55-48); Great Bend (W 51-47); Holcomb (L 66-57); Colby (W 61-26); Goodland (W 58-43); Colby (W 64-29); Goodland (W 57-45).

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Season Schedule: Liberal, 55-43 (W); Denver South, 48-46 (W); Pueblo East, 72-20 (L); Trinity Academy, 57-50 (W); Goodland, 73-30 (W); SWHeights, 66-54 (W); Colby, 62-25 (W); Scott City, 73-53 (L); Ulysses, 60-37 (W); Hays-TMP, 60-43 (W); Hillsboro, 66-60 (W); Hesston, 57-51 (L); Hugoton, 79-47 (W); Goodland, 64-46 (W); Lakin, 53-33 (W); Colby, 72-40 (W); Garden City, 66-55 (W); Scott City, 66-57 (W); Ulysses, 62-37, (W); Hugoton, 66-39 (W); Chaparral, 78-50 (W); Kingman, 65-57 (W); Cheney, 53-50, (W).

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Season Schedule: Liberal, 55-43 (W); Denver South, 48-46 (W); Pueblo East, 72-20 (L); Trinity Academy, 57-50 (W); Goodland, 73-30 (W); SWHeights, 66-54 (W); Colby, 62-25 (W); Scott City, 73-53 (L); Ulysses, 60-37 (W); Hays-TMP, 60-43 (W); Hillsboro, 66-60 (W); Hesston, 57-51 (L); Hugoton, 79-47 (W); Goodland, 64-46 (W); Lakin, 53-33 (W); Colby, 72-40 (W); Garden City, 66-55 (W); Scott City, 66-57 (W); Ulysses, 62-37, (W); Hugoton, 66-39 (W); Chaparral, 78-50 (W); Kingman, 65-57 (W); Cheney, 53-50, (W).

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