For Manhattan High athletic director Mike Marsh, finding non-league basketball games can be a chore.
Marsh wants to play large schools, but most teams in the Wichita and Kansas City metro areas tend to play each other. The same goes for most of the schools in the 26-team, four-division Ark Valley-Chisholm Trail League.
That leaves schools like Manhattan and Junction City on an island, stuck between Wichita and Kansas City but without any schools to play in basketball. So Marsh and Junction City athletic director Matt Westerhaus got creative, setting up a deal with Dodge City and Great Bend to get two games in for the price of one overnight road trip.
The Red Demons and Panthers traveled last year, so this year, it’s time for Manhattan and Junction City to return the favor.
Friday night, Manhattan travels to Dodge City for a 6 p.m. tip while the Blue Jays go to Great Bend. On Saturday, Junction will go to Dodge City and play while Manhattan travels up to Great Bend for an afternoon game that begins at 1:30.
For the teams and coaches involved, making such a long overnight trip isn’t necessarily ideal, but there isn’t any other way.
“It’ll be tough, you almost have to pretend it’s like a tournament,” Manhattan girls’ coach Scott Mall said. “You’re going to go and play, stay overnight and then play again.”
Mall said he expects both games to be difficult.
“It’ll be tough games, because Dodge City is really tough at home,” Mall said. “Last year, they had an off year, but they upset a really good team at sub-state. They’ll be better.
“And Great Bend has a very good team. They’re a senior-dominated team and they’re a lot like Derby in that they have one post player and all kinds of little scrappy guards that go to the hole, so it’ll be a tough come-back that next day.”
While Manhattan did enough to win against Derby in its foul-plagued season opener last week, Mall knows there is still plenty to work on.
“We’ll have to work on rebounding,” he said. “And we need to build on our defense. I thought our perimeter defense was much better than last year.”
For the boys’ team, it was a high-scoring affair and a comfortable win that saw the Indians score 80 points, something they hadn’t done since the 1998-99 season in a sub-state loss to Wichita Heights under former coach Terry Taylor.
Much of that came because of Derby’s defensive style and young roster. Combine that with a focus on defense by both Manhattan coach Tim Brooks and Dodge City coach Dennis Hamilton, and the score is likely to be much lower on Friday night.
A season ago, defense and poor shooting was the theme, as Manhattan won 34-30.
For the boys’ team, playing with a young roster due to a rash of injuries will make the road trip even tougher.
“Darian (Taylor) is supposed to be back, which is really going to help,” Brooks said. “Bret (Fehr) is progressing. Chris (Martin) played tonight, but he was hurting pretty bad. The young guys got experience and that’s what they need. Hopefully they settle down and are able to contribute.”
The stars of Manhattan’s season opener were point guard Alex Stitt (27 points) and big-man Payton Stephens (25 points). They combined for 18-of-24 shooting and had good chemistry all night long.
Stitt said after Friday’s game that he enjoys having such a talented player to pass to in Stephens.
“We’ve got good chemistry - we’ve been playing together for a while, we play well together and I’m looking forward to playing a full season with him, since he wasn’t 100 percent last year,” Stitt said. “He’s 100 percent this year and he’s an animal.”
The boys’ games are scheduled to follow the girls’ games at approximately 7:45 on Friday night in Dodge City and 3:15 on Saturday afternoon in Great Bend.