Scott City’s pregame playlist for home games includes “The Greatest Show,” the opening tune on the soundtrack to “The Greatest Showman,” based on P.T. Barnum.
How appropriate for a girls program that has become one of the tops in western Kansas, with a successful coach and former player as its ringmaster.
Three years ago, when Sarah McCormick took over the Scott City girls program, the veteran coach and player saw something in her players that others missed.
Last season, the Beavers qualified for their first-ever state tournament, winning a first-round game and finishing fourth at the state Class 4A-II tournament.
This year, they’re headed back again, except this time closer to home at the state Class 3A tournament in Hutchinson.
This year, they enter as the fifth seed at 19-4, set to face No. 5 Haven (19-3) in Thursday’s final game of the night at 8:15.
Haven is making its fifth state appearance, the most recent in 2016, when they lost in the opening round.
Haven plays in a competitive league with the likes of Halstead and Hesston. They also lost a close game to top-seed Garden Plain, so McCormick knows Haven’s schedule is tough, which makes them a difficult opening match-up.
Scott City got this far by winning its sub-state in Colby Saturday, taking out Norton 41-34 against a taller team.
McCormick said that senior leadership and playoff experience played a key role in getting that win.
“Experience at this level is very, very valuable,” she said. “Everyone’s good. No one’s going to give us anything easy. We just have to play hard every single possession. We can’t take any breaks.”
That mentality is what she preached to her team at halftime after leading just 19-14 and not shooting well. Her team took that to heart, got the win, and are now heading to second straight state tournament, just in a different venue.
“Our experience should help us immensely,” McCormick said. “I don’t think we’re the team that’s just happy to be there anymore. We’re the team that wants to go there and do something.”
The goal is to play through the weekend, but to finish higher this year.
“Of course, we want to have a better finish than we did last year,” McCormick said. “Any team wants to do that. Right now, records don’t matter. I mean, sure it’s going to get you a seeding, but everyone’s good who’s at the state tournament. We’re going to have to come and play our best game every single day that we’re there.”
Scott City has a pretty well-rounded game, with height, speed, and defense as its strengths.
“And of course, whenever we shoot the ball well, that makes things a lot easier,” McCormick said, referencing the dry spells her team has hit late in the season.
“The main thing is, we have to rely on our defense,” she added. “Nothing is going to be given to us. Nothing’s going to be easy at the state tournament. We can always rely on, every single game, is our defense.”
The girls have been to the Hutchinson Sports Arena, but as spectators when the boys’ program was having success there, winning three state titles in four years, the most recent in 2015
At least they’ve seen the arena. From the stands.
But McCormick, who coached at 3A Garden Plain for five years, took teams there three times, finishing second and third in those trips.
And that’s not all.
And as a player at Cheney High School, she played in Hutchinson all four years of high school plus three years as an assistant at Garden Plain.
That makes 10 appearances at the Sports Arena, but no titles—yet.
Last year, McCormick used her experiences as both player and coach to let her girls know what a state tournament was all about. In Emporia at the Class 4A-2 event, Scott City won its first round as the fifth seed 44-40 over fourth-seed Burlington, a program making its ninth state appearance.
For her, she said, “It’s just like coming home, because a lot of friends and family are from around that area. Of course, they’re excited to see us, too. And I want to show off my team because I’m really proud of them, but a lot of people don’t know what western Kansas basketball really looks like."
When she took over the Scott City program, mired in mediocrity for so long, McCormick saw something in the girls that made her say out loud that she thought they could get to the state tournament in three years.
She did it in two.
“A lot of people thought I was crazy when I told them that,” she said. “But I know what it takes to get there. I saw all those things in these girls and said, let’s just go. We can do it. We don’t have anything to lose.”