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Next Verse, Same as the First: Cowboy Basketball Recap 2017-2018

The Cowboys finished first in the NCKL this year.

The Cowboys finished first in the NCKL this year.

The Cowboys finished first in the NCKL this year.

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The North Central Kansas League still belongs to the Abilene Cowboys.

Following a mid-February victory against the Clay Center Tigers, the Cowboy Varsity basketball team won the league title outright for another straight year. Despite losing seniors Ryan Wilson, Ben Veach, Parker Base, Carter Wildey, Jacob Schartz, and Parker O’Neal, the Cowboys still managed a 14-8 record (8-1 in district play), finishing the season with four straight wins.

The Cowboys hosted the Vikings of Smoky Valley for their first game on the first of December. They won the kickoff in easy fashion, 85-67, in sophomore Travis Beetch’s first career start. For their second game, the ‘Boys traveled to St. George, Kansas, to take on the Rock Creek Mustangs. The last time the team traveled to Rock Creek, led by the likes of seniors Harley Hazlett, Eric Harms, Andrew Schwarting, Marcus Willey, Trey Bender, and Dylan Ford, they lost in front of a thundering crowd. Their 2017 meeting was no different. The Boys lost 70-52. Following the loss, the Cowboys traveled back to Abilene to attempt to get back on their feet against Augusta. Instead, the Orioles edged out the Cowboys in a low-scoring, defensive battle, 48-39. Following that, the Cowboys were humiliated by McPherson at home, 73-31. On that three-game losing streak, the Boys bounced back in Concordia against the Panthers, putting up a 20 point victory, 58-38. They kept their streak up, earning confidence against their in-county rival in Chapman, 47-32. An overtime thriller in Marysville ended with a Cowboy victory, 60-54, and a home victory over Clay Center, 63-48, ended their pre-SIT half of the season.

The Cowboys then traveled to Salina to compete in the invitational tournament. Playing a strong team in Andover in the first game, the Cowboys lost 58-51 in front of the crowd at Salina South High School. Defeated, the Cowboys returned the next day to Salina Central’s gym and upset the 1-seeded Goodland Cowboys, 53-43. From there, the Cowboys ended their SIT run with a come-from-behind 48-65 victory against the Liberal Redskins to earn a reasonable 5th place in the tournament standings. Junior Preston Boyd ended the tournament with all-tournament honors.

From that point, the Cowboys would only lose two more games. Coming off of their SIT break, where most teams may falter, the Cowboys had a strong showing against Concordia. They won 62-41. Advancing to their next home game against Thomas More Prep-Marian, with which Abilene has a series, the boys in orange once again found their groove in a 50-40 victory over the Monarchs. However, following these two victories, the Cowboys once again suffered a loss, this time against the Council Grove Braves, 61-57. The Cowboys led by as much as 14 at halftime. That would be the last game the Cowboys would lose in the regular season.

Abilene prepares to rebound at home versus Concordia.

A tone was set after the game. A 64-57 victory in Wamego all but sealed an NCKL title. The Cowboys followed this up with a victory in Hays against the Indians. Marred by injury and sickness, the Cowboys leaned on youth and leadership from seniors Tucker Robinson and Noah Wildman, as senior Parker Gentry was out with a concussion for the game. Winning 66-62, the Cowboys kept their record above .500–but the season hadn’t ended yet. A mid-February game in Clay Center seemed to characterize the mindset created after the Council Grove loss. With junior James Mayden sidelined, the Cowboys picked apart the Tigers’ defense and blocked any offensive rebuttals Clay could have made. The final minutes belonged to the future of the program as the Cowboys won, 65-37. That would prove to be the final regular season game the Cowboys would play, as the final game scheduled–senior night, at home versus Chapman–would be rescheduled twice, and eventually canceled, due to ice storms in the area.

The post-season carried excitement for the Cowboys as they entered their first game with Tawanda-Circle High School. The game, however, mirrored many aspects of the season for the Cowboys: strengths, weaknesses, youth, and excitement. In a gut-punch of an ending to the season, the Thunderbirds made a throwaway shot with 2.7 seconds remaining to go up by two points. They lost, 55-53.

The impact of the few seniors Abilene had didn’t go unnoticed. Junior varsity and assistant coach Erik Graefe noted their importance to the team in a text interview after the season had ended.

Noah Wildman, senior, against Marysville. (photo: Dave Linn)

“To me the discussion begins and ends with [the seniors]. I’ll count myself fortunate for the rest of my life to have been able to coach them. Because of them, we won our league, because of them we won against really good opponents on the road, because of them our younger players began to understand how to play hard all the time and be accountable to one another all the time. We are going to miss them more than any of us can realize. I know they wanted to play more games, and I wish we could have done a better job so they could have.”

While Parker Gentry did not score many points his final season it should be noted that his impact as a situational player changed from when he was a junior to a senior. He moved to being primarily a post in his senior season, a stark contrast to his 3-point-specialist play style he utilized his junior year.

“We are going to miss them more than any of us can realize.” Eric Graefe, assistant coach

Next Season will feature some new faces. Juniors Bret Ambrosier, Colton McVan, Damian Hartman, and Timmy Barbieri spent three years marinating in junior varsity. Expect them to join fellow soon-to-be seniors James Mayden and Preston Boyd. Other impact players next year could be freshmen-going-on-sophomores Blaise McVan, Avery Bryson, Grant Heintz, and Josh Stuber, as well as sophomore Jayshaun Jones, among others. Incoming freshman Caleb Becker will add some size to the interior, should he choose to play basketball. With the loss of the three seniors, it’s likely that the boys in orange will look a little different next season. However, barring a coaching controversy or sudden retirement, Terry Taylor will continue to lead the Cowboys, and it’s not too farfetched to be optimistic about next season for Cowboy fans. It was only a season or two ago where Abilene, judged at the beginning of the season to be worse than the year before due to a loss of critical seniors, landed third in the state tournament.

While different, next year’s Cowboy basketball roster will attempt to continue where the last team left off.

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Next Verse, Same as the First: Cowboy Basketball Recap 2017-2018