There wasn’t one story that blew all the others out of the water in the state/juco ranks this year, where in 2012 it seemed like it was just one after another. Still, there were a lot of stories that turned heads, including one that continued over from 2012.
Here’s my Top 10 stories for 2013:
Cowley coach Jennifer Bahner went wire-to-wire as No. 1 and won her second NJCAA Division II title in three years. What she has done with the Tigers in four years as a coach (she’s also got a runner-up finish) has been nothing short of spectacular. The consistency in recruiting and winning means that when she wants to move up, she can, or maybe she wants to stay in Arkansas City and continue to win national titles.
Jayhawk football rosters made the jump from 12 to 20 out-of-state players this season and from five to eight out-of-state players in basketball — a movement spurred on by the huge divide, in football, created by Butler’s domination and in basketball by an almost 20-year drought since the last time an NJCAA title came back to Kansas. We saw the impact immediately in football with improved programs in Dodge City and Highland — the Scotties’ win over Butler cost the Grizzlies a shot at the national title — and my guess is we’ll see the impact in basketball come March.
Mark Potter built a team to do exactly this, and watching their chemistry last year was something else. Sweeping Kansas’ four MIAA schools before the break, capped by a rout of No. 2 Washburn in Wichita, put the whole country on notice. Is it sustainable? The Jets seemed to have all the pieces in place this season, but injuries have decimated their roster and junior-college guard Perryonte Smith hasn’t lived up to the hype quite yet.
A sham of a trial and a family left devastated. The failure of the McPherson County District Attorney’s office — including not calling an eyewitness to testify — left many wondering how and when justice will ever be served for former Tabor College football player Brandon Brown, who was found beaten to death in the front yard of a house where several McPherson College football players lived in September 2012. If Alton Franklin didn’t do it, who did?
In six years covering KCAC football, this year was the best I’ve seen the league, top to bottom. And it showed in the postseason, when the KCAC got three bids for surprise league champ Sterling, Tabor and Ottawa, with Tabor winning a first-round game. All of this, in my opinion, was a direct result of the changes instituted by commissioner Scott Crawford several years ago. The league seems to be as strong as it’s ever been.
Kansas’ four MIAA football teams were duds this year. Emporia State, the only one to make the NCAA Division II playoffs, got smacked in the mouth when it hosted eventual NCAA D2 champion Northwest Missouri and then again in the first round of the playoffs by Minnesota-Duluth. Pittsburg State, for the second straight year with a loaded roster, was able to find a way to collapse in the second half of the season.
Kansas City’s Sporting Park is now the destination for the NCAA Division II football and men’s and women’s soccer championships — football being the crown jewel of all of D2 title games and being held in Florence, Ala., for the last two decades. A lot of people have been saying Sporting Park seems like a perfect spot for football – either HS state championships or D2 stuff for awhile. The Kansas City Star’s Blair Kerkhoff wrote a great story on the change and what it encompasses. If Pitt State and NW Missouri were to continue their series in KC, this seems like a better venue than Arrowhead.
The real impact of this transfer is happening right now, as Mitchell gets to play a full season in his final year of college hoops, but he gave Friends a big boost last year in the second half of the season after the Falcons pulled some strings to get him eligible.
9. Wu-per Bowl
NCAA Division II Washburn, in Topeka, had two players in the Super Bowl between San Francisco and Baltimore in February. Cornerback Cary Williams for Baltimore and linebacker Michael Wilhoite for San Francisco. Amazing.
The Blue Dragons seemed primed to make a run in the NJCAA Tourney on their home floor. Hutch fans packed over 7,000 in the Sports Arena then watched their squad get spanked by Howard.
See y’all in 2014.