Chinstraps and Mouthpieces: Fall scrimmages signal busy season ahead
The whirlwind of activity Friday in McLouth and Tonganoxie signaled an obvious hint high school sports are ready to roll.
As Tonganoxie soccer started with a home game against Mill Valley, fellow THS teams had their annual red/white scrimmages. Volleyball played in the THS gymnasium and the Chieftain football team scrimmaged to the south on Beatty Field. Earlier in the afternoon, cross country members trampled along a route on the school district ground south of Tonganoxie.
In nearby McLouth, the routine was the same. Its Fall Preview included all fall sports minus the soccer.
What unfolds the rest of the year could be encouraging for many local teams.
In Tonganoxie, the Chieftain boys cross country runners have a 4A State title on their minds. The Chieftains took third at Wamego last year. Alan Davis was their biggest loss, but veterans with strong finishes return, including Kyle Norris, Tommy Powell and Tony Aligo. Levi Huseman could also contribute immensely for THS.
Some runners faltered slightly at regionals in Topeka last year, but THS still managed a second-place finish. Baldwin's mighty Matt Noonan is now running in the Big 12 Conference at Missouri, while Mill Valley's Griffin Lee has also moved on.
Despite losing its top runners, Baldwin is the four-time defending state champion. Only Shawnee Mission Northwest has more consecutive state titles. The Cougars have won eight straight 6A team titles and have 13 overall. In 5A, Great Bend has claimed the last three championships.
On the girls' side, Tonganoxie returns much of its team from last year when the Chieftains took second in the Kaw Valley League meet. Laura Korb and Elizabeth Smith are expected to lead the team.
In Tonganoxie's other sports, it seems more uncertain whether they'll have breakout years.
THS football went 5-4, the soccer team was 8-9-1 and the volleyball team finished 18-16.
For football and volleyball, the slight winning records are major bounds from where they were. THS football has back-to-back 5-4 seasons, an improvement after four straight losing seasons and 4-32 record. Tonganoxie hasn't made the playoffs since 1995. Last year looked promising, as the Chieftains were 5-2 with two games to play last year, but they dropped the final two district games.
If THS doesn't win its district this year, it can still get into the playoffs as a runner-up, thanks to the KSHSAA. Playoffs have been expanded to 32 teams from 16, which gives the team another shot at the postseason. With most of the team returning, the Chieftains should be able to match last year's record, but this season's schedule could pose problems.
The Chieftains open with Wamego on Friday. The Red Raiders pushed eventual 4A champion Wellington to overtime in last year's playoffs. Also on the schedule is new Kaw Valley League member Bonner Springs. BSHS is a geographical rival, but despite the closeness, the two schools haven't met on the football field for some time. Bonner Springs, in class 5A, will also be the largest school Tonganoxie will face.
In volleyball, expectations have been elevated after last season. The Chieftains lost five seniors from last year's team, but the team does have talent returning. Now that the team has been with coach Tiffany Parker for a year, the system is set and a losing record would be a surprise.
Like cross country, the Chieftains have a strong shot at state. A big-time tournament in Tonganoxie later this month with 6A and 5A schools, along with a season-ending quadrangular at Lawrence-Free State should prove beneficial when sub-state begins.
Like football, volleyball will have a rule change, although volleyball's postseason is unchanged. Kansas high schools will experiment with rally scoring, which involves points being scored each time the ball is served. In traditional volleyball, points are awarded only for the serving team, with side outs changing possession.
The Chieftains, along with all other KVL schools, will experiment with the scoring Oct. 1.
The Tonganoxie soccer team is tinkering with its alignment this fall after last season. The Chieftains new scheme provides another player in the middle, which seemed to help Tonganoxie's defense in Friday's season opener against Mill Valley. The Jaguars prevailed in double overtime, 1-0, but Tonganoxie's defense was solid, especially Luke Brown, whose goalkeeping saved the Chieftains on various occasions. Like the volleyball team, Tonganoxie will have a hefty non-conference schedule. KC Christian, last year's 4-1A runner-up, is the regular season finale, while games at Lawrence-Free State and Ottawa are sprinkled into the KVL schedule.
For McLouth, the upcoming season doesn't look quite as promising by the numbers overall.
The girls cross country team finished eighth at last year's state meet. Courtney Edmonds will lead the way again this year for the Bulldogs, who won the Delaware Valley League title last fall. Most of McLouth's state placers are back, but while Edmonds finished fifth, the other five MHS runners finished no better than 64th. If the supporting cast can place better this fall and Edmonds can stay in the same range, the Bulldogs might just earn a trophy in Wamego at season's end.
The boys squad won't finish as high, but they do return Matt Scarlett, who took 17th at state last season.
McLouth volleyball and football might have tougher roads.
The volleyball squad went 4-26 last season and will have a young team under first-year coach Calleen Turney. No players with varsity experience return this season, so inexperience could be a problem. Turney, though, was the junior varsity coach last year, so the team is already used to her system.
In football, the Bulldogs have mustered a win a year the last two seasons and enter this campaign with Shannon Crouse, an assistant last season. Unlike the volleyball team, the football squad has experience returning, including senior quarterback Nathan Subelka.
No matter the sport or the record, Tonganoxie and McLouth teams will be in full force.
Whether they can improve on last season still is in question.
But with all the action going on last Friday, it appears players want to find out.