There hasn’t been a more successful area basketball team the past two seasons than the Wamego High girls.
Until last season, the Red Raiders hadn’t had a winning season since 1998 and was 29 years removed from their last state tournament appearance.
All that seems like ancient history now, as Wamego was crowned the Class 4A state champions this past month.
The turnaround started with coach Jim Page, who brought his talented daughters — Kaylee and Lanie — on board.
Wamego was 25-1 this season, won the North Central Kansas League for the second straight year and defeated McPherson — a 4A girls powerhouse and the defending champions — for the state title in Salina.
Kaylee has been named The Mercury’s All-Flint Hills Girls Player of the Year, while Coach Page is the Girls Coach of the Year.
Kaylee, a 6-foot-2 junior, averaged 20.6 points, 8.1 rebounds, three assists and 4.3 blocks a game this season — all team highs.
Lanie, a 14-year old sophomore, has been named to the All-Flint Hills First Team as well, averaging 16 points and 6.3 rebounds a game.
“It was one of those things that you always know is possible,” Jim Page said about the Red Raiders’ season. “But, it’s such a difficult task to win a state title. It’s not something you totally let yourself believe can happen, and that’s kind of been our focus all year; just getting better everyday. I know it’s cliché’, but that’s truly what we did.”
Jim said Wamego’s four seniors — Rikki Alderson, Rachel Griffitt, Lakyn Rowden and Katie Baker — were key in this season’s success.
Alderson came back this season after a serious knee injury that sidelined her much of last year and averaged 7.1 points per contest. Rowden had 10 points and five rebounds in the state title game.
Though Kaylee was obviously a gigantic force in Wamego’s offense, the Red Raiders did prove show depth earlier in the year when they defeated Concordia 62-29 without her due to injury. In that game Rowden and Griffitt combined for 16 points. Baker added five steals. Lanie led the way with 29 points.
“For them to stick with it, was big,” Jim said. “All four of those kids played a major role during the season and in the championship game, especially when Kaylee was in foul trouble and Lanie (had tweaked a hamstring).
“They were just truly happy with playing the roles they did. It was cool to watch.”
Kaylee, who can sink a shot from just about any spot on the floor, said her game has improved, especially as a leader.
“My leadership (has grown),” she said. “Just making sure everyone knows what’s going on and communicating. I try to make sure everyone is on the same page and if someone is having a bad night, I want to be the person who helps them out and lets them know it’s going to be okay.”
Kaylee admitted she couldn’t hold back her tears when the state title was in the bag. She said the payoff of months and years of hard work was overwhelming and that she was especially happy for her upperclassmen teammates.
“They mean the world to me,” she said. “I had played with many of those girls for a long time and I wanted them to go out on top.
“It was the best thing I could do for them, to make sure they went out as the best.”