Scott Mall recalled the last time the Manhattan High girls made it to state when he was in his first year the coaching staff as an assistant.
Mari Jo Massanet didn’t remember it all. In fact, she wasn’t even born when the Indians played to a second-place finish in 1991.
But with an all-state senior forward in Massanet in his starting lineup, and a strong combination of balance and depth, the Indians ended the long drought with a trip to the Class 6A state tournament this season, finishing the year at 20-3.
After all the success and accomplishments of this season, Mall is the 2012 All-Flint Hills Girls Coach of the Year, and Massanet is the All-Flint Hills Girls Player of the Year.
In a year that was dominated by strong girls players in the Flint Hills area, Manhattan was the only team that advanced to the state tournament.
Mall said he started to think this team had a serious chance to end the long streak of missing the state tourney after the first game of the season against Washburn Rural.
“We knew (Washburn Rural) was going to be good, but to win like we did, I think was the first indicator that we had some good things going on,” he said. “We bounced back from off-games to play good games and that showed us a lot too. But I think that first game showed us we could keep getting better and have a good season.”
But it was not as if the Indians had ascended from the ashes to make the state tournament. Manhattan had been a strong contender for the Centennial League title on a yearly basis and nearly advanced to the state tournament on a number of occasions.
“It gets overlooked sometimes because it seems for any sports these days it’s all about what happens at the end of the season,” Mall said. “When you look at the records these girls had in their time in high school, well we won two out of the last three Centennial League titles. How many schools in our league could claim to have as few off years as we have had?”
The Indians lost a group of a few strong seniors last season, and had lost a larger senior group after winning the Centennial League two seasons ago.
Mall said not many teams could have recovered from the type of senior loss that it had.
“We lost six seniors before last year and we still won 13 games,” he said. “You look at schools in our league that lost a lot of seniors going into this year, they won five, six, seven, eight games. It’s just a credit to our girls for the work they put in to get better.”
Massanet was a big part of the Indians’ success this season, scoring more than 20 points in the first five games of the season. She finished the season averaging a near double-double, with 14 points and nine rebounds a game.
The MHS senior said this was a season she will always remember — her most memorable time as a basketball player at Manhattan.
“I loved this team so much, and I will never forget this year,” Massanet said. “This basketball season made me love the game a lot more than I used to. The girls were just awesome to play with and experience everything with them — it was just amazing.”
That newfound love of the sport says a lot for a girl who is committed to play volleyball at Nebraska-Kearney next season.
Massanet credits much of the extended success of the season to the way the team grew together.
“I feel like we started working together really well, and we started spreading the ball around and passing it well, and it opened up a lot of things,” she said. “I think that’s why we won a lot of games down the road.”
Mall said when he looks back on the season, he credits the seniors for being leaders — all in very different ways.
“We’ve always been lucky that we’ve had great seniors every year, and this year was no exception, and I think that started from them,” he said. “I think they all had their own role they played in leadership.
“You just look at Mari Jo, as good as she is, was looking so much to pass to her teammates. And that’s why we had so much success.”