4A girls field loaded with talent
All eight state squads have three or fewer losses entering state tourney
It's not been a bad season for Abilene's first-year head coach, Janelle Geist.
In 10 years in the Abilene school district, Geist has coached at the middle school level and as a freshman and junior varsity coach.
But this is her first year as head coach of the Abilene girls basketball program.
What a year it's been.
The Cowgirls clinched a Class 4A state tournament berth with a 20-3 record by defeating Marysville, 54-43 at the Concordia substate. The win marked the Cowgirls' third victory this season against the Bulldogs, who finished the season at 19-4. Both teams play in the North Central Kansas League.
"We just have had a really good year all year," Geist said. "We've enjoyed each other as a team and worked hard and tried to take care of business and go home. "And feel good about working hard. I just think team unity, if I look back at this year, is what I'll feel really good about."
Abilene opened the season with a 49-46 loss to Hesston, a squad that finished the season at 19-4 after losing to Hillsboro, 55-35, in a 3A substate championship game.
AHS then won seven straight before losing to NCKL foe Clay Center, 43-38. The Tigers finished the season at 8-14.
The Cowgirls lost for what would be the final time during the regular season two games later to 5A squad Salina South, 58-53. The Cowgirls jumped out to a 23-5 lead in the game, but couldn't hold on after such a strong start. Salina South finished the season at 15-8 after losing to McPherson, 52-46, in the substate finals.
Geist said Abilene's league opponents "have come around" this season, providing some good competition. In addition, AHS defeated nonconference foe Ellsworth in late January when the Bearcats were state-ranked.
"It's not been extremely tough, but it's given us challenges," Geist said about this year's schedule.
Abilene last appeared at the state tournament in 2003-04. The Cowgirls finished third that year. Tonganoxie placed fourth the following season, but both programs are searching for their first state titles in school history.
The Cowgirls are led in scoring by junior guards Emma Ostermann and Devin Wilson and junior forward Gina Hullet.
"We're just one of those typical teams," Geist said. "We've got the guard players and the post players. We do have some size and some guard play."
And the Cowgirls have a bright future.
Abilene doesn't start a single senior; four juniors and a sophomore take the floor at the beginning of each game. The Cowgirls do have two seniors who come off the bench.
"To look ahead, it's looking good for the Cowgirls," Geist said.
Although this is Geist's first year as Abilene's head coach, she also served from 1991-93 as head coach of Bazine -- as the boys basketball coach there.
She coached at Bazine, which is southwest of Hays, while her husband, Jeff, who now is the football coach at Abilene, was the head boys basketball coach at nearby Ransom.
Geist said a state activities association official had told her that he thought another woman previously had been hired as a midseason replacement to coach a boys basketball team in Kansas. However, he thought Geist was the first woman in the state to be hired to coach a boys high school team from the onset.
"They responded well to a female coach and we had better seasons than they had previously," Geist said.
Abilene is the No. 8 seed at this year's state tournament and will face No. 1 Tonganoxie at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the state tournament.