Montemayor: Harvesting fall season’s highlights
More often than not, members of the Mill Valley football team would be a vocal presence at their school’s volleyball matches — including making the trip up to Leavenworth with coach Joel Applebee to watch the Jaguars roll to a sub-state championship.
The show of support at once gave the girls an added advantage and dispelled any notions that the two teams may have been competing with one another for the distinction of the school’s legends of the fall.
In coach Whitney Revelle’s first season, the volleyball team cruised to a 32-8 finish, setting a school record for most victories. It defeated teams like Ottawa for the first time in years, went undefeated in Kaw Valley League play for the first time and advanced to its first ever state tournament.
All season, as the Jaguars extended their winning streak in league play and turned in impressive showings at weekend tournaments, a positive attitude was ever present.
If this season wasn’t enough, the Jaguars return nine of the 11 players on this year’s varsity roster, graduating Molly Kelley and Molly Miller. Next year’s team will return six seniors — Abby Ford, Molly Oshinski, Hannah Billings, Alexis Crispin, Gabby Fangman and Taylor Cowan — to a squad that now has an all-important first state visit out of the way. This season, those juniors, plus a sophomore Maddie Little, took turns coming through when their team needed a momentum-swinging block, kill or ace serve. One can only imagine how they will follow up a banner year.
All season, Mill Valley football stood head and shoulders above its competition in the Kaw Valley League. Unfortunately, an eight-game winning streak in which each game was decided by double digits couldn’t prepare the Jaguars for what awaited in the playoffs.
For a consecutive season, the Jaguars were bounced from the first round, falling 41-23 on Nov. 2 to Bishop Miege. This one stung more than most.
An 18-man-deep senior class helped raise expectations to their highest level. Even in defeat, the Jaguars weren’t through breaking records.
Until Mill Valley is in a league that will expose it to the postseason stalwarts that await it in the 5A — and, inevitably, 6A — playoffs, it’s difficult imagining the Jaguars going on a deep run. Big class football is too deep and talented in Kansas to play nearly half of a season against 4A teams. While playing in the KVL is a great test in basketball, football is a different animal when it comes to the differences roster sizes can make. And while it can be argued that Miege was similar in size to some of the KVL’s smaller teams, Miege’s schedule that pitted it against five 2012 5A and 6A playoff teams made the then-4-5 Stags’ victory against the 8-1 Jaguars less surprising than their records suggest.
These are frustrations Mill Valley shares. The school has openly pursued exit from the KVL in recent years, and will likely find its way to the East Kansas League — or, albeit less likely, the Sunflower League — before long.
That said, given what this team could control this year, the season still ranks among the absolute best in school history. Coach Joel Applebee developed a roster filled to the brim with athletes who deserve to be playing on Saturdays once their high school careers are through. You’ll no doubt be reading in future issues of The Dispatch the signing ceremonies for Skyler Windmiller, Coleman McCann, Kendall Short, Tim Thomas, Staton Rebeck, L.J. Hatch and so many others.
Just a few miles east of downtown Shawnee, on the grounds of Shawnee Mission North High, is one of the metro area’s finest football stadiums. The Shawnee Mission North District Stadium saw some of this season’s finest Sunflower League showdowns. But, alas, for another season, SM North and SM Northwest were not part of them.
The team that should own the biggest home field advantage (and this writer’s alma mater), SM North, experienced its first winless season since 1985. The once proud program has not won more than three games since Sam Brown left after the 2004 season. The task of rebuilding will be a tall one for the latest new hire, who will replace the recently resigned Dennis Grayless. But the slightest steps in the right direction will be rewarded by a passionate fanbase hungry for a return to prominence inside a home stadium befitting a program rich in history.
Over at SM Northwest, coach Linn Hibbs brought a stellar resume after a long tenure at 4A powerhouse Wellington. Though the Cougars finished 2-7 in his first year, there’s little reason to suspect this program won’t begin its climb back to competing for playoff spots and beyond.
Let’s call it the Shawnee Showdown, and let’s stage it every single season. Pit SM Northwest and Mill Valley against each other on an annual basis in volleyball, soccer, basketball, football, baseball and softball. Imagine what a Shawnee Showdown in boys soccer would have looked like this season. Isaiah Gum booted the game-winning goal in the fourth overtime to advance the Jaguars to their regional final last month before Mill Valley capped a 10-6-1 season.
Meanwhile, the Cougars rebounded from an 0-4-1 start to finish 9-8-2, falling in the final minute of overtime against one of the state’s top teams in Blue Valley Northwest. Up to that point, junior goalkeeper Steven Skells and the SM Northwest defense held postseason opponents scoreless for 259 minutes. We may need to plan for a few extra periods, but a Mill Valley-SM Northwest showdown would be worth planning an evening around.
The rich got richer in cross-country this season. SM Northwest coach Van Rose added another state title to his resume as the boys team took home its 21st state championship last month at Rim Rock in Lawrence. Seniors Clayton Henderson (fifth) and Kirk Bado (seventh) had about as good a swan song high school runners could have in leading the charge. On the girls side, seniors McKenzie Iverson (12th) and Katie Nelson (16th) also capped strong Cougar careers.
Keeping it on the cross-country side, it says something about a team’s ceiling when a sophomore-laden squad’s third-place finish at state can be called disappointing in any context. Although Maranatha Christian Academy’s girls team was edged out of Xth place by the slightest of margins, a team led by sophomores Lauren Harrell, Hope Manning and Taylor Morrow should continue to be a force on area trails in the next two seasons.
SM North’s team continues to be one of the school’s consistently most successful programs under coach Ryan Colburn. This year, senior Micki Krzesinski led the Indians with a 19th-place finish at the state meet and the boys team placed seventh overall, led by senior Jason Foster (14th) and junior Ben Burchstead (21st).
And who could forget the finish by Mill Valley’s young runners? Freshmen Amber Akin and Ellie Wilson — best friends, they say, since 4 — finished sixth and eighth, respectively, in the their first state meet. They’ve established a high ceiling for their next three years. Meanwhile, the Jaguars graduated just two boys runners and will return a deep group of young athletes led by freshman Derek Meeks, who gave the team its best state finish in 34th place.
Shawnee residents competing at St. James Academy were more than ready for the jump to Class 5A competition. Emily Tripp, Jenna Gray and Arianna Person — led by coach Nancy Dorsey, also from Shawnee — helped lead the Thunder to its fifth-straight state title and first at the 5A level this year.
Senior Alexa Van Lerberg capped her career with a 36th-place finish at the state meet. And senior Jansen Keyes helped lead the Thunder to its best football season yet at 7-2. Although St. James finished excruciatingly short of the playoffs, it was clear to see that the football program was headed toward the same success enjoyed by the rest of the athletic department.
It was a happy ending for the career of Mill Valley senior Sarah Wetzel, who advanced to state for the first time as a Jaguar. Meanwhile, SM Northwest coach Ken Clow got a pleasant surprise at the regional tournament last month when not one, but two, of his doubles teams qualified for the state tournament. Colleen Freeman and Claire Gordon, and Lauren Benjamin and Amanda Rebori surprised Clow in placing fifth and sixth, respectively, at the regional meet last month in Prairie Village. Freeman and Gordon placed 12th at the state tournament.