High School Sports

It’s a crowded set of Blue Valley teams at the top of Kansas 6A basketball

Darien Jackson has helped lead Blue Valley Northwest to an 18-3 mark so far this season.
Darien Jackson has helped lead Blue Valley Northwest to an 18-3 mark so far this season. 810 Varsity

Throughout the last seven years, a Blue Valley school has stepped onto the court at Wichita State’s Charles Koch Arena during the Kansas high school state basketball tournament.

Blue Valley Northwest made it five consecutive years from 2010-2014, then again in 2016. BV North joined them in 2010, 2012 and 2014. BV West took its own turns in Wichita in 2011, 2013 and 2015.

It has become common to have multiple Blue Valley boys’ teams participate in the tournament in early March.

But it’s uncommon for the Kansas Basketball Coaches Association to rank three of them — in this case BV Northwest, Blue Valley and BV North — as the top three Class 6A teams, which coaches did in the last weeks of the regular season.

“This is very unique,” said BV Northwest coach Ed Fritz, who won back-to-back titles with the Huskies in 2013 and 2014 and has been in the district about 16 years. “They’re good teams, and playing a league like we play in makes it really hard. It really prepares you for playing in the state tournament.”

Coaches picked BV Northwest and BV North as the top two 6A teams in preseason rankings. They fulfilled those predictions and never fell below No. 3.

BV Northwest remained No. 1 season after having lost just one starter from the 2016 squad that placed fourth in the state tournament. The Huskies beat Chaminade and Vashon, top-ranked schools from the St. Louis area, to retain their status as an elite Kansas team.

Tulsa commit Darien Jackson and Oral Roberts signee JaMichael Morgan — who are ranked second and sixth, respectively, among 2017 recruits in Kansas by 247Sports — have helped BV Northwest average about 69 points per game this season.

“We found ourselves at the right time,” Fritz said.

Blue Valley, meanwhile, entered the season at No. 8 and remained in the bottom half of the top 10 until mid-January. But The Tigers’ clout began to rise as they defeated Eastern Kansas League opponents such as St. Thomas Aquinas and 4A defending state champion Bishop Miege.

Even in the face of adversity —football coach Eric Driskell died Feb. 15 and a majority of the basketball team had played football for him — the Tigers suffered just one loss to BV Northwest as they closed the season.

“I’m proud of how fast they grew up,” said fourth-year coach Dwight Williams. “Our kids have dedicated our season to him … They’re motivated to get to state for him.”

After beating Mill Valley, Blue Valley jumped over BV North for the No. 2 ranking and secured a piece of the EKL Championship. BV Northwest and BV North, who also finished the regular season with just two conference losses, shared in the glory.

But you won’t see all three in the state tournament in Wichita next week.

KSHSAA groups 32 schools into four eight-team pools based on geographical area and then divides each pool into two substate tournaments. That makes it impossible for the top-ranked teams in the classification to compete for a state title if they all play in the same area.

BV Northwest (18-3), which earned the No. 1 seed in the Blue Valley West pool, got the upper hand in drawing Gardner Edgerton (11-10) in Friday’s tournament final. No. 2 Blue Valley (16-5) and No. 3 BV North (15-6) earned seeds in the same pool and will now face each other in the second tournament final.

“It’s frustrating that only two of the three (Blue Valley) teams are guaranteed to make it to the state tournament,” said BV North coach Ryan Phifer, who’s in his 11th year leading the Mustangs. “…The last two years, we’ve been banging on the door to get back there.”

BV North hasn’t been to the state tournament since 2014, when the Mustangs were runners-up to Northwest. The only players remaining from that team are seniors Colby Bullock (18.3 points per game) and Keilon Hunter (3.2 assists per game), who certainly have incentive to challenge Blue Valley’s high-powered offense.

Blue Valley’s motivation might be greater: The Tigers, who averaged 71 points per game this season, have never won a state title. BV North’s only title came in 1997.

It has been 13 years since Blue Valley made the state tournament, but the Tigers, led by seniors Tyler Geiman (22.1 points per game, 7.6 assists per game), Gus Gomez (11.6 PPG, 4.7 rebounds per game) and Harry Van Dyne (10.7 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 33 blocks), will be trying to do just that on Friday in their matchup against Blue Valley North.

BV North knocked Blue Valley out of contention in the first round of substate last year, just one week after Blue Valley had beaten BV North by 16 points.

“I know our guys remember that. It was a hard one to swallow,” Williams said of last season’s exit. “We went into that game with a certainty that we would win that game. And that’s what we’ve been talking about this year, that we can never go into a game being certain. But we can go in with confidence.”

Both substate championship games — Gardner Edgerton at Blue Valley Northwest and Blue Valley North at Blue Valley — will be played Friday at 7 p.m.