What a difference a year makes. Just 12 months ago, the Lancer boys basketball team entered the season with a stellar septet of seniors and state title aspirations. Flash forward to today, and it is the ladies that will take a turn at late March magnificence. Led by a stable of returning veterans, this year’s seniors have a chance to become the winningest class in school history. Senior Janna Graf returns after a season that netted her a host of postseason accolades, including player of the year in the Sunflower League. However, after bowing out in the state quarterfinals a year ago, the girls seek a state championship, and they replace last season’s outgoing senior class with senior foreign exchange student Anna Seilund from the U16 Denmark National Team.
On the boys’ side, the program reloads after losing all five starters from last season’s third place team in the state. Seniors Scott Kennedy and Ryan Olander lead the way as the only returning players with varsity experience from last year’s team. Five other seniors, four juniors and a pair of talented freshmen join them as they look to continue head coach Shawn Hair’s success in the Sunflower League.
Here’s a look at the boys’ toughest match-ups:
Shawnee Mission South (Dec. 4)
This year’s two matchups with the Raiders mark the final time Hair’s boys will have to defend senior guard Will Spradling, a three-year starter who has signed to play at Kansas State next year. South also boasts returning starters on the wing – junior guard Jake Reid – and in the paint with sophomore forward Dylan Christie, the cousin of East’s all-time leading scorer J.D. Christie. However, the Raiders have certainly lost key contributors to graduation and transfer. Gone are former starters Christian Duke and R.J. Newton, both in the class of 2009, and senior Anthony West has transferred to East and figures to be a key contributor for the home team. East took both showdowns with South last season, with wins of 13 and 17 points. The Raiders are under the direction of their former JV coach, Brett McFall, after the resignation of former head coach Pat Cormack at the end of last season.
Olathe East (Dec. 18)
Olathe East will be forced to regroup after four starters graduated from its team that made it all the way to the state quarterfinals last year, before losing to the Lancers 54-51. The two hardest players to replace will be guard Joey Mundweiler, a three point specialist, and big man Bruce Reed, a 6’6” force in the paint. The Hawks’ lone returning starter is junior guard Tyler Kalinoski, yet another hotshooter in the Olathe East arsenal. If the Lancers hope to compete in this game, senior guards Sam Kovzan and Ryan Olander will need to step up their games on the perimeter and play the lock-down defense that Hair’s teams have become know for. The Hawks figure to be near the top of the Sunflower League standings for the stretch run, so this game will provide a barometer for how the Lancers will fare as the season rolls on.
Shawnee Mission North West (Jan. 5)
The Cougars of Northwest figure to be a prominent contender for the state title this year, and they appear to be strong at several positions. Senior forward Steve Carver, who recently committed to play at Holy Cross next season, and junior forward Drew Goodger could pose matchup problems inside for the undersized Lancers. The Cougars’ junior swingman A.J. Spencer is one of the more talented players in the area, and his long, wiry frame and sweet touch from all over the court make him a mismatch for any team. However, it remains to be seen how Northwest will adjust to head coach Mike Rose, who was promoted from his assistant position after a heart condition forced former coach Ben Meseke to limit his coaching responsibilities. The Lancers ended Northwest’s season last year on a buzzer-beating layup in the third place game at the state tournament.
Rockhurst (Jan. 29)
East coach Shawn Hair appears to have his alma mater’s number of late, considering the way his teams have four of the last five matchups. However, the sting of last year’s 46-43 defeat is fresh in the minds of the Lancers, who will have the opportunity to get their revenge in front of a raucous crowd on the Kansas side of the border. The Hawklets feature a plethora of returning letterwinners, yet only senior guard Dexter McDonald, a football standout set to play at Illinois next year, and junior forward Dan Tapko return to the starting lineup. Rockhurst must replace outgoing guards Mike Ford and Keith Langtry, and it will be up to junior guard Matt Lampo to control the ball against an always tough East defense. If the Lancers can convert turnovers into easy buckets and make the crowd a factor, things could get dicey for the Hawklets. Plan on a border battle that will pack the East gymnasium moreso than any other game this season: going home after school may not be the best idea if you plan on getting a seat.