It would be difficult to blame Matt Pfeifer and Jacy Holloway, as well as many high school basketball coaches across Kansas, if they were calendar day counters during the holiday break.
But unlike most schools, who played their final pre-holiday games either on Dec. 15 or Dec. 19, it was Dec. 9 when the Buffs basketball teams were on the floor against an opponent other than themselves.
That came on a Saturday in the final day of the three-day Clarion Inn Roundball Classic.
Now, 27 days later…one day shy of four complete weeks of idle time for practice, the Buffs will resume play Friday night when the girls (6 p.m.) and boys (7:45 p.m.) hit the road to open Western Athletic Conference action at Great Bend.
That last appearance at The Garden produced two significant wins — a 59-53 overtime win over Scott City for Pfeifer’s girls, and a 62-27 thumping by the Buffs boys of the Beavers.
Heading into the break, the boys were sporting a 4-2 season mark while the girls, winners of all three Classic contests, were right at .500, 3-3. Both Great Bend teams bring records of 1-4 into the WAC opener.
So how do coaches spend nearly a month in between games, to keep things fresh, interesting and challenging for the players?
Well, Holloway and Pfeifer said one of the days prior to the dismissal of school, was spent with a combined practice where the boys and girls traded doing drills and having some shooting competitions both from the field and free throw line.
“It was a fun day, and we exchanged some of the drills that each of us uses,” Holloway said of the combined practice. “Just something a little different to mix things up and let the kids enjoy the day a little more and keep it relaxed.”
In some ways, both Pfeifer and Holloway said the long layoff was broken into three different time frames — post Dec. 9 to when classes dismissed (Dec. 21); Dec. 28-30 following the non-practice imposed schedule by KSHSAA of Dec. 23-27; and now the first week of January, readying for the tip-off of the second season.
“We went to the bowling alley one day and had a friendly competition with the boys,” Holloway said. “The first part of the break gave us a chance to work on things…putting in some new wrinkles on offense and some different looks to the defense.”
Holloway said he expects many teams to throw zone defenses at the Buffs, something that troubled them in the two losses to El Paso, Texas Hanks and to Wichita Trinity.
“We don’t know yet how those changes will work since we haven’t had a game to see what will happen,” Holloway said.
While Great Bend’s boys are struggling, the Panthers have been competitive in most of their games, Holloway said.
“They lost four seniors from last year’s team, so they’ve got a number of new kids who have moved up to the varsity, so we expect them to play hard and compete,” Holloway said. “It’s always a battle when we go there.”
Pfeifer, who is in his second season at the Buffs’ girls helm, said the team battle a little sickness over the break, but he expects his squad to be fully ready to go for Friday’s game with Great Bend.
“We spent a lot of time shooting the ball during the break,” Pfeifer said. “A lot more than we did during the preseason, because we didn’t have to focus so much on putting things in. That’s one area that I thought we improved on from the first game in Texas to the last game with Scott City.”
Pfeifer said he has been pleased with his team’s defense, and during the break continued to work on learning how to switch defenses (man-to-man to a zone) and see how that impacts what the team can then do on transition offense.
“I’ve been pretty pleased with the effort of our defense,” Pfeifer said. “We’ve still got things to shore up, but there was definitely improvement over the six games we played.”
Pfeifer was especially pleased with the play of two of his freshman newcomers — Julie Calzonetti and Keyhana Turner. In that dramatic win over Scott City, the rookie forwards contributed 17 points (Calzonetti 13, Turner 4) and 21 rebounds (Turner 12, Calzonetti 9).
“They’re starting to figure out their roles and gaining some maturity,” Pfeifer said of his young players. “They’re starting to believe what I told them all along, and that was at some point they’re going to have to contribute for us to be a good team.”
Following Friday’s road game, the Buffs will play host to Liberal on Tuesday with the girls starting at 6 p.m., followed by the boys at approximately 7:45 p.m. at The Garden.