Through the past couple of decades there have been moments of success for athletic teams at Moscow High School.
They’ve had state champions in track and field, a state semifinal appearance in football a decade ago and most recently a state runner-up for the Wildcat girls basketball team in 2015 at the Class 1A-II state tournament in Dodge City.
Now, it’s the turn of the Wildcats’ boys basketball squad to make some noise in the postseason, and they will get that chance at 8:15 p.m. Wednesday at United Wireless Arena in the final game on opening day of the Class 1A-II boys state tournament.
While their opponent — Sharon Springs/Wallace County — is a familiar face and comes in as the defending champion, but with a modest 12-11 record, the Wildcats are the No. 3 seed with a 16-5 mark.
To put this landmark accomplishment in perspective — the Wildcats' entry into the state tourney — the last appearance for the Wildcats, and the only one in school history, came when Jimmy Carter was President of the United States.
That year, 1979, the Wildcats fell in the opening round to Waverly, 81-71, at Gross Memorial Coliseum in Hays.
Now, 39 years later, the Wildcats will try to make a little more noise this time around.
Nobody is more thrilled for his players, his school and his community than head coach Brett Harp, just about to wind up his 14th season as the Wildcats’ mentor.
“Oh my gosh, it’s a big deal with everyone around here,” Harp said Tuesday in a telephone interview. “The community is always fired up when our kids are doing something special. This a good bunch of kids.”
Harp had taken the Wildcats to three previous sub-state championship games, falling short in a bid to the state each time. Saturday, however, was different following a convincing 52-35 triumph over Ashland to make the trek to Dodge City.
“We start four seniors, and they’ve pretty much been playing varsity since they were freshmen,” Harp said. “So there’s quite a bit of maturity with this group. They’ve been focused from day one this season.”
Harp said he has relied on the team’s balanced scoring attack and a stingy, aggressive defense during this run to the state tournament.
“It’s a team, no doubt about it, in every aspect,” Harp said. “It’s the first team I’ve coached that none of the players — starters or guys coming off the bench — care about who’s the high-point scorer. All they care about is winning.”
That group of seniors includes guards Javi Marquez (5-7, G, 8.0ppg, 3.0apg), Jaylen Mendez (5-10, F/G, 9ppg, 4rpg), Kage Allen (5-10, F, 9.0ppg, 9.0rpg) and Jalen Shaddix (6-0, F, 8.0ppg, 9.0rpg). Only one junior, Axel Granillo (6-0, F) has cracked into the starting rotation and he’s the team’s leading scorer (16.0ppg, 13.0rpg).
“We’re not overly tall, but we jump well and we’ve got a lot of quickness,” Harp said of his squad. “It’s probably the quickest team I’ve had since I’ve been here.”
Harp said he likes to play mostly man-to-man defense, but will get after the other team by utilizing the quickness of his players.
“We’re definitely a pressure defense type of team,” Harp said. “We probably could improve on our help defense, but we’ve got good hands and we’ve been able to get a lot of steals to start our offense.”
Of the team’s five losses, two of those have come against teams that will be competing in larger class state tourneys this week — unbeaten South Gray in Class 1A-I and Stanton County in Class 2A.
“Honestly, if we had a chance to play Stanton County again, I think we’d have a good chance of winning that one,” Harp said. “South Gray’s a different story. They’re the best small class team I’ve seen in all my years coaching, so I’m not sure if we’d ever have a chance against them (a 77-42 loss might indicate as much).”
But that’s the beauty of the smallest division of the smallest class. South Gray will be in Hays battling for its own state title.
There was one item that did catch Harp’s interest level Saturday night in the team’s locker room after the win over Ashland.
“The boys were talking and one of them said, ‘We’ve got three more games to play now.’ I think that speaks of how they view the trip to the state tournament," Harp said. "They want to be playing the last game on Saturday.”
Contact Brett Marshall at email@example.com