Holcomb. White Auditorium.
The two names have become a good partnership for one of the premier basketball programs in Kansas.
For the third time in the last four seasons, Holcomb will take the floor in Emporia, searching for its third title in that arena.
Their 60-45 win over Pratt last season gave them title number two under head coach Chad Novack.
The first came in 2015, when they took out Rock Creek 63-55 at Hartman Arena in Park City.
The defending state champions will get a shot this week at the repeat as they enter the Class 4A-II tournament as the top seed.
Holcomb (21-1) will face the Frontenac Raiders (11-11) in the 6:30 p.m. game Thursday. In a bit of irony, it will be a match-up of the teams that played in late November for the state football title in Salina, with Holcomb dominating that game, 40-20.
The Longhorns, no stranger to success, have won 19 straight games, and hope to make it 22 straight with the repeat.
Holcomb’s first appearance under Novack was in 2014, when they dropped their first-round game. But that game was played in Park City.
White Auditorium feels like a second home.
“It’s a cool atmosphere,” he said. “Fans can be right on the floor there.”
But like in the movie “Hoosiers,” he and his staff tell the team the rim is still 10 feet up and the free throw line is still 15 feet away.
A court is a court, Novack said.
“It’s a matter of focusing in, who can not let the outside stuff affect you,” he said. “If you can just play your basketball and get settled in early, that will be a big bonus.”
Last year, Holcomb traveled the farthest of any team, but the fans were great. They expect more of the same this year.
Holcomb has been to the state tournament 12 times, beginning in 1985 under Chad’s father, Dave, who took the ‘Horns to state six times, winning a title in Class 2A in 1986 and in 3A in 1992.
Many of this year’s group of 10 seniors were on the team that won the title last year, and many have been part of two state football championships and one in baseball in just the past three years.
In other words, this is a team loaded with athleticism, confidence and experience.
“That confidence you have when you step on that floor at the state tournament knowing we’ve been here before and understand we’ve gotten to this point by playing Holcomb basketball, being disciplined and fundamental,” Novack said, “if we come on this floor, no matter the atmosphere or who the opponent is, play hard and solid, we’re going to put ourselves in a good position.”
Frontenac started the season 0-5 and lost three of four games later in the season before winning four straight, including three in sub-state, capped by a 44-42 upset over Girard.
Don’t let the record deceive you, though, Novack said.
“Their record isn’t indicative as to how good a team they really are,” he said. “When you get to this part of the season, no matter who you play is going to be a quality ball team.”
The Raiders have two very athletic and skilled players at 6-4 to take care of the inside, and they have three or four solid guards who shoot the ball well from outside, Novack said.
“Offensively, they’ve got a pretty good skill set,” he said. “Defensively they’re going to mix it up. They’re going to run anywhere from a man, to a 2-3, to a 3-2, to a 1-3-1, some junk defenses where they run some triangle-and-two and some box-and-one.”
In short, he said, Holcomb will have to be prepared for almost anything, but it’s nothing his teams haven’t seen or competed against.
“We’ve told our kids they’re a good team, but we are, as well. We’ve seen different types of competition all year, last year, in the summer,” Novack said. “It’s just a matter of us executing our stuff and being disciplined, and that’s something we always preach.”
In other, it comes down to playing Holcomb basketball.
“It doesn’t really matter who our opponent is,” Novack said. “We’ve just got to go into that game, focus on our opponent and then play our ball. If we do the little things and play Holcomb basketball, we’ll give ourselves a chance.”
The field this year is very good, Novack said. Parsons and Garnett-Anderson in the other quarterfinal should be an athletic matchup. Topeka-Hayden and Andale loom large on the bottom side of the bracket.