Mill Valley boys deliver admirable encore
The 2005-2006 Jaguars were a tough act to follow.
They were the first Mill Valley team to qualify for state. They got to the state semifinals. They won the Kaw Valley League and finished the season 22-3.
So when the 2006-2007 rendition of the Jaguars finished its season one victory away from returning to state, it was tough for coach Justin Bogart to feel satisfied.
"I guess if you wanted to earn a grade of an A this year, you needed to get back to the state tournament and we didn't do that," Bogart said.
Bogart did give his team a B for the season. After all, the Jaguars started the season 1-3, played four games without three starters and five varsity players because of suspensions, and still managed to finish 13-9, in third place in the KVL and one bad half away from returning to state.
"We played some pretty good ball in January and February," Bogart said. "The games that we lost were to some pretty strong teams and we took care of business and really until we played Basehor and Piper in a two-week stretch, we still had an outside-chance to be league champions.
"Had we had a full compliment of players for those two weeks, we may have made a lot of noise as far as the league is concerned."
Outside of league play, Mill Valley did quite a bit to gain respect for the program around the state. The Jaguars played in the Saint Thomas Aquinas tournament for the first time and won their first round game against Washburn Rural.
Mill Valley erased a nine-point deficit in the final three minutes against Washburn Rural and won 51-50. Washburn Rural ended its season with a fourth-place finish at the 6A state tournament in Emporia last week.
After starting the season 1-2 in the KVL, Mill Valley won eight of its final 10 games in league. The Jaguars only losses during that stretch were to league champion Basehor-Linwood and runner-up Piper. Both games were played during the two-week suspensions.
During that same time period, the Jaguars had one of their most impressive performances of the season, a 60-56 victory at Bonner Springs in a hostile environment. Bonner Springs had given Mill Valley its first league loss of the season earlier in the year.
When the Jags' five suspended players returned, Bogart lengthened his bench and his newfound depth was on full display in the second game with a full roster back. Mill Valley played at Lansing that night; Bogart played all 13 of his players and won 54-29.
"We go to Lansing and just hammered a much-improved team from the beginning of the year," Bogart said. "We got back to normal a little bit with that game."
Two weeks later Mill Valley was playing with a chance to go to state. After winning its first-round match up against Shawnee Heights, 57-54, Mill Valley played Topeka-Seaman, the No. 7 seed in its bracket.
Mill Valley, the favorite as the No. 3 seed, led 16-15 at halftime but went cold in the second half as Seaman heated up. The Vikings won 57-40 and ended the Jags' season.
"The Topeka-Seaman game we didn't play well," Bogart said. "That's a team we should have beat."
There's always next season
The two-week suspensions of five of Bogart's players this season was probably the best thing that ever happened for his team next year.
With eight seniors on the roster this past season, it was tough for any underclassmen to crack the rotation. But when Bogart handed out the suspensions, he also handed out a temporary starting job to sophomores Tanner Rainbolt and Max Carroll, two seldom used players before the suspensions.
"As strange as our season was at times this year, we have young players now with some good experience," Bogart said.
Rainbolt and Carroll performed admirably in relief. In fact, when the suspended players returned, Carroll remained in the starting lineup and Rainbolt still saw time off the bench.
Carroll and Rainbolt join juniors Caleb Smith and Isaiah Anaekwe as the only players with substantial varsity experience going into next season.
Smith started most of the season at point guard and led the team with 2.2 assists per game and 1.3 steals per game. He also was third on the team in scoring at 6.3 points per game and his 19 three-pointers were good for second on the team.
Smith will most likely move to shooting guard next season to make room for Rainbolt in the starting lineup at point guard.
In the frontcourt, Carroll and Anaekwe both played a lot of minutes in the Jaguars final games and both should up their scoring averages from this season. After starting the season on the junior varsity team, Carroll ended up being the fourth leading scorer for the Jags at 5.7 points per game, including one 15-point game, and Anaekwe scored 4.2 points per game.
Bogart said his four varsity underclassmen seemed to form a bond this season on the practice court and would usually play well together when given the opportunity at practice.
"That's a nice core to have back. We're going to need some help from our underclassmen," Bogart said. "But the cupboard isn't empty."