Saturday, 08 August 2020
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Big 7 League High School Basketball Season Preview
By Justin Fluke
Copyright: MSC Sports

The Big 7 has been by far one of the best girls leagues in the state the past few years, and last year was certainly no exception.  When two teams go to the state tournament and both place in the top four while the fourth best team in the Big 7 League wins a state championship?  Yeah, good luck finding anything better, anywhere, in any classification. It was the fourth straight season the Big 7 had a team in the top three at state as League champion Nemaha Central took fourth place and Royal Valley captured their first state basketball championship in school history.  The Panthers finished 9-5 in the Big 7 regular season behind 11-win League foes Sabetha and Jeff West, but again peaked at the end of the year to make a return trip to 3A in Hutchinson before cutting down the nets with an overtime title victory!  One of the teams the Panthers knocked out in Sub-State was Jeff West, a squad that finished 19-4 and beat every Big 7 League opponent at least once. 

Another tremendous crop of talent has departed, but perhaps the bigger headline this year in that half the League has new coaches after the departure of a couple very successful and long tenures.  Jon Holliday coached 28 year at Holton and Alex McAfee spent 17 of his last 22 coaching years at Sabetha. Kyle Porter just made history taking Royal Valley to back-to-back state title games and winning it all. Those three schools are now all coached by former assistants on staff, while Perry Lecompton also has a new leader in Jami Hodge. With all the changes in personnel and players, it appears the Big 7 League race is wide open entering 2019-20.        

The most consistent team in the League lately has been the NEMAHA CENTRAL THUNDER who has finished with at least 17 wins for the last six seasons and more than 20 wins in five of those years while placing in the top two of the Big 7. Coach Hadden Hiltgen must replace four starters in his 10th season in Seneca, but has one of the best seniors in the League in (Benedictine commit) Alleigh Kramer. Six other letter-winners are back, including a pair of six-foot players that will have a hard time quieting the Thunder.  

Nate Bauman takes over the SABETHA BLUEJAYS after coaching the JV to a 16-2 season last year and 227 wins to just 81 losses in his JV tenure at Sabetha. The Lady Jays return three starters from their 11th consecutive winning varsity season and actually five starters if you count the Schuette twins (Morgan and Kinley), who are back on the team as seniors after choosing not to play last year. Sabetha doesn’t have much height, but a ton of depth with solid seniors and one of the two best juniors in the league in Melinna Schumann. 

 Kurt Haussler is the new coach moving to varsity for the HOLTON WILDCATS after 16 seasons as the JV coach. The Cats return eight letter-winners, all of which are seniors, except maybe the best junior in the Big 7 League, Saydee Tanking. Holton needs a lot of players to elevate their game having won just 10 contests last year and needing to value and shoot the basketball more consistently.   

The JEFF WEST TIGERS were able to overcome the loss of Mariah Murdie a season ago to still win 19 games under Coach John Malloy (7th season).  Can they now overcome the loss of another star in Aaliyah Negonsott (Benedictine freshman)?  The Tigers don't boast as much depth returning with only two senior starters in Heather Kahler and Kiley Biltoff, but have sister Kristin Biltoff as one of the best sophomores in the League. The Tigers will rely on a few underclassmen this season and need new leaders to emerge to stay in the top half of the Big 7.   

We like the PERRY LECOMPTON KAWS to make a big move and climb the standings this year with new energy and Coach Jami Hodge taking the reigns. Among three returning starters are a pair of all league performers in Jenna Keller (senior) and Katy Hurd (sophomore). The Kaws need to find some depth and confidence, but if they do, a surprise season is in store.  

The ROYAL VALLEY PANTHERS have made the Big 7 proud the last two years and former assistant coach David Boucher will try to keep the train on the tracks moving forward. It was a helluva couple years (38-13) including two state title game appearances and a championship, but frankly, the cupboard looks bare. As if losing three starters and two all state players wasn’t enough, the star sophomore Irving twins transferred out of the program and only Maddie Saia returns with any meaningful varsity seasoning. Players from an 8-10 JV team must step up and ride the momentum.   

The HIAWATHA REDHAWKS and RIVERSIDE CYCLONES both should be better this year. Hiawatha improved their win total by four victories last year and had only one senior starter for the second straight season. Part of the Redhawks success was spurred from the freshman class, including all league standout, Clara Lindstrom, who enters this season recovering from a broken foot.  Brady Jasper begins his sixth year still with a young team and again few seniors. The future looks bright, and the Hawks hope to take another small step forward this winter.

Tim Stillman starts his fourth year at Riverside and returns a pair of third-year starting seniors in Endiah Bryd and Brailee Miller. They are the only starters back however and besides a lack of varsity experience, the Cyclones will have battle a lack of size and depth.     


One year after breaking through with their first state tournament appearance since 1982, the Perry Lecompton Kaws were back at 3A State in Hutchinson and stuck around longer last year to place third in Class 3A! They were the only League squad making the big dance and won their first Big 7 Title. Sabetha and Nemaha Central each posted 16-win campaigns, but met in Sub-State and like Hiawatha, got knocked out by MH-MA.  

One year after having three new league coaches, there are two more new leaders this year as Matt Simmons takes over at Jeff West and Tyler Herbster steps up from his assistant role at Riverside. Most believe the Big 7 will be better this year with as many as four teams competing for the League title and the bottom of the conference being much improved to provide more parity and toughen up the schedule.   

Similar to football, the JEFF WEST TIGERShave the most experienced group of athletes returning to the hardwood this winter. They did claim a share of their first-ever Big 7 title this fall and now believe they can contend for the hoop championship. The Tigers must adapt quickly to new Coach Matt Simmons after finishing four in the League the past three years.  They also need star junior, Josh Broxterman to get healthy to pair with a couple four-year varsity seniors in Quinn Neuenswander and Bryce Clements. Jeff West only lost one starter and the three players mentioned all averaged 11 or 12 points per game each in a balanced attack a year ago.   

Like Jeff West, the HIAWATHA REDHAWKShas a lot of hype and a senior experienced roster after winning 11-games last year, the most in any season since 2009-10. Coach Garry Smith returns for a second campaign with four senior starters back and they are all great athletes who love the game of hoops: Tyler Brockoff, Mike Moreno, Andrew Lierz and Sage Meyer.  Can this group maintain a winning mentality and be consistent enough to push for the league title while developing some depth? If so, they will contend.

Jon Thomas starts his 25th year in Seneca and his NEMAHA CENTRAL THUNDER will no doubt be in the League title conversation, as they are virtually every year. Nemaha has finished with at least 16 wins and in the top three of the Big 7 for nine consecutive years. There is a little more work to do in 2019-20 with only one returning starter, Andrew Leonard. The Beck boys (Marcus and Kurtis) must have sensational sophomore seasons to give the Thunder a shot at another league title.   

The PERRY LECOMPTON KAWS are riding a lot of confidence with some great athletes. Despite returning only a couple starters in football, Perry posted a helluva season and deep playoff run. Now the basketball team, coming off back-to-back state tournament showings and a third place state finish last year while winning the Big 7, must do the same with four terrific starters departed. Blake Farmer returns as a 6’7 senior starter, but the Kaws have some talented juniors ready for their turn to start and shine on the basketball court and keep the program churning out wins under sixth year Coach Jared Swafford.    

The SABETHA BLUEJAYS also must replace four starters from a team that went 12-2 in the League to place second just behind Perry. This is year number 30 on the Sabetha sidelines for Coach Scott Burger who will build around lone returner, Gabe Garber and look to a new group of upper-classmen to step up and elevate their game to the varsity level.   

One of the top teams on the rise in the ROYAL VALLEY PANTHERS, who had three freshman burst on the varsity scene a year ago and help the team to a 6-8 League record. Nahcs Wahwassuck is the best sophomore in the League scoring 12 points per outing last year as a freshman alongside two other 6’3” gifted classmates, Brady Klotz and Mason Thomas. Things should be smoother in year two under Coach Trent Olivia, who hopes for more discipline, chemistry and mental toughness to take the tall Panthers to the next level.   

Like Royal Valley, the HOLTON WILDCATShave a second year coach in Connor Bechard who is trying to build a winning mentality and toughness.  The Wildcats won just three games last year but return nine varsity players and hope leadership and experienced leads to more points and production. Finding a true point guard and taking care of the basketball are keys for this team, who also doesn’t have as much size as most Big 7 opponents. Holton has quickness and will shoot a lot of treys with senior Eli Prine back as one three guys that combined to knock down 66 shots behind the arc a year ago and his 6.6 points per game scoring average is the best among returners.     

It was a tough season for the RIVERSIDE CYCLONES who lost all but four games and also their coach with a few weeks left in the season.  Tyler Herbster stepped up then as the assistant and is now the head man, looking to three returning starters among six lettermen to get the Cyclones spinning back in the right direction. Riverside has some nice size and also two newcomers to the program in guard Bray Davies (Troy transfer) who should help scoring. Isaac Webb (senior) is back as the leading scorer at 10 points per game for Riverside. With some leadership and discipline they should be much improved and give anyone a great game on any given night. 


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Hiawatha, KS 66434
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