The phrase became the title of his No. 1 album in 1972. What Reginald Dwight, John’s real name, was probably referencing was the phrase, “Don’t shoot. I’m just the messenger.” In this case, don’t blame the sports reporter who is about to announce the Abilene Cowgirls are not favored to win the North Central Kansas League and Chapman girls’ coach Sara Cook will need the help of a real leprechaun to take home a league trophy.
This is all, of course, pre-season. League coaches have Wamego on top followed by Marysville. Those are the only two league schools which posted victories over the Cowgirls a year ago and Abilene is predicted to finish third.
All of the NCKL schools suffered major losses in personnel as a lot of good basketball players graduated. Abilene lost Tara Hoekman, Alexis Dutt, Morgan Palenske, Jessica Geist.
Marysville lost Kiley Schwarz and Jessica Downard.
Chapman lost everybody: Jill Kurtz, Myranda Clark, Kendra Gifford, Kaity Lowry, Allie Day
Concordia lost the league’s top rebounder in Paige Champlin and also Ashleigh Johnson, Mallory Backstrom and Richelle Luongo.
The Tigers up north in Clay Center will be without Sydney Crimmins.
Wamego lost, well (sorry seniors from last year) nobody really important. What the Red Raiders have back is only the NCKL’s top scorer last year and No. 2 rebounder in Kaylee Page. Now a sophomore, she’s joined by her sister and Lakyn Rowden (6.9 points per game. 3.5 rebounds per game), Rikki Anderson (6.7 ppg) and 7 of 14 from three point range), Rachel Griffitt (2.7 ppg). Those numbers may not sound impressive but consider that Page shot the ball every time she touched it (19.6 ppg) and with 11.7 rebounds per game, she touched it a lot.
Marysville is not without talent. Maggie Schotte, Maggie Leonard and Blair Russell are the top returners.
Abilene returns the league’s leader in steals a year ago in Karina Anderson, All-NKCL player, and Kelsey Lacy (7.8 ppg) and all-league honorable mention. The Cowgirls’ junior varsity was 13-2 a year ago. But pre-season injuries could make early games difficult to win.
Returning for Clay Center are Alyx Bloom (8.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg), Alyssa Steppe (8.6 ppg) Victoria Hess (5 ppg, 5.8 rpg), Holly Cooper (2.9 ppg, 3.5 rpg) and Katie Folks (1.7 ppg).
Chapman doesn’t have a player back that scored more than 37 points or more than 38 rebounds for the season and the Fighting Irish’s junior varsity finished 7-9, making the pre-season outlook a difficult row to hoe.
Concordia returns senior Ashlynn Lambert (2.1 ppg, 1.8 rpg).
There’s better pre-season news for the Abilene Cowboys and Fighting Irish. Abilene is ranked on top of the NCKL and most league coaches had Chapman finishing third.
Unlike the girls’ team in the league, a bunch of players are back in the boys’ bracket.
All-NKCL underclassman returning include Andy Wilson and Adrian Polk of Abilene, Grant Holmes of Concordia (13.4 ppg), Garrison Wright of Marysville (11 ppg), Jordan Bauman of Chapman (9.4 ppg) and Caleb Carson of Clay Center (9.7 ppg).
Earning honorable mention a year ago and back this season are Collin Sexton of Abilene, Blake Woellhof of Concordia and Zach Heiman (7 rpg) of Chapman.
The Cowboys lost two All-Leaguers with Cody Whitehair now on the sidelines at Kansas State University football games and Nick Rice currently on the basketball team at Tabor College.
Wilson was the league leader in scoring, averaging 14.8 points per game. Polk was the league leader in rebounds, averaging 7.9 rebounds per game. Sexton was second in the league in assists (5.1) and steals (1.9).
It’s easy to see how the Cowboys are the pre-season favorites. But Abilene does not have a lot of seniors with only Sexton and Polk on the roster. Coach Terry Taylor will need to rely on some youngsters.
The Fighting Irish at Chapman lost Chad Williams and Chase Altwegg. But Bauman (9.4 ppg), Heiman (7 rpg), Trey Schultz (8.9 ppg) all have varsity experience.
Wamego has a couple juniors back that saw varsity action last season as sophomores: Isaac Poe and Matthew Webb.
Of course all that could change as early as Friday night when high school basketball gets underway in Kansas.