Another title run?
Chieftains look to overcome early-season illnesses in quest for league title, state berth
The flu bug has been feasting on the Tonganoxie High girls basketball team.
Several players have been out with illness, including senior standout Ali Pistora, who is questionable for Friday's game.
"Things have been going pretty well, aside from the sickness," THS coach Randy Kraft said. "Maybe we're getting all of our sickness out of the way and getting ready for the rest of the season."
Tonganoxie won't be able to ease into the season. The Chieftains, the outright winners of the Kaw Valley League the last three years, will face rival Basehor-Linwood on Friday in Tonganoxie. The Bobcats are ranked No. 6 in the first Kansas Basketball Coaches Association poll in Class 4A.
The Chieftains then will play next week in the Eudora tournament. The tournament will include such perennial powers as Paola and Eudora.
"We went to the Eudora tournament to up our competition level and you'd like to start into that full force with everybody healthy and ready to go, but that may or may not happen," Kraft said. "And starting off with Basehor is a good thing. They're going to be a challenging opponent."
Along with Basehor-Linwood, Paola also is ranked, checking in at No. 3 in the preseason poll.
Then there's Tonganoxie.
THS ranked No. 2 in the same poll after last year's 21-2 season that ended in the substate title game against Sumner.
In addition, Tonganoxie returns nearly all of its players from last year, as Kelley Stauch was the only player lost to graduation.
Tonganoxie, though, likely will play four games in the span of eight days starting Friday, so that could wear on a team that's battling some illness.
But Kraft noted a plus side to the situation.
"In some ways, it's good," Kraft said. "We've been able to give other kids more time and mix up some things. "Practice has been really good. It hasn't seemed to matter who's been there, they've picked it up pretty well."
Joining Pistora for a final season are Rebecca Bogard, Rachel Bogard and Aimee Ostermeyer.
Other top returning players are juniors Tracie Hileman, Shannon Carlin, Christy Weller and Elizabeth Baska.
Kraft said he's been most impressed with Baska, who is coming back from a knee injury late last season that required surgery.
That game, coincidentally, was against Basehor-Linwood.
"I've been real pleased with her progress as far as being out there so long with her knee injury," Kraft said. "I'm real pleased with where she's at. A lot of that is mental and she seems to not be favoring it at all."
Kraft said the team's strength would be its experience, while an early-season concern is consistency in shooting.
"Probably the biggest thing we need to do is put the ball in the basket," Kraft said. "We have those days when we really shoot the ball well and we have those days we don't.
"We just need to get more consistent in our shooting."
Kraft begins his fifth season at Tonganoxie, where he's had just one losing season -- his first -- and that was a 10-11 record.
The veteran coach said Basehor-Linwood would be one of the better teams in the league, as would Bonner Springs and Santa Fe Trail.
"Bonner Springs has a lot of players back, and they always seem to play us tough," Kraft said.
He also said Mill Valley has been making strides in recent years and also should be a good team this season.
That leaves Tonganoxie, which has been atop the KVL the last few years, and a team that could make another run at state.
"I think every team's goal is to get to the state tournament," Kraft said. "We don't talk a lot about it. I know it's on everybody's mind, but it's not something we talk a lot about."
For more on Friday's game, as well as next week's tournament in Eudora, log on to The Mirror's Web site, www.tonganoxiemirror.com.