Written by Hillsboro Free Press Tuesday, 01 May 2012 15:33
The boys of Goessel made their initial trip to state in 1977. The team was coached by Chet Roberts and returned two starters in 6-foot-2 center Robert Woelk (10.9 points a game) and 5-8 guard Vance Unrau (8 points a game).
Woelk and Unrau had been key contributors on the 1976 squad that had ended the year with a mark of 14-7. One other letter-winner (Vaughn Juhnke) also earned a letter in 1976.
Roberts was counting on significant contributions from Kendall Heinrichs, Robert Klassen, Sherwin Frey, Greg Schmidt, Robert Derksen, Nelson Goertzen, Randy Gehring, Luke Fensky, Marlin Janzen and Steve Nikkel.
Many of these latter players had performed well in 1976 on a junior varsity team that had ended the year with a stellar mark of 15-1.
“We will have tremendous depth,” Coach Roberts told the Hillsboro Star-Journal. “We have the best quickness I’ve had in my six years here and we have some good shooters. Our goal is to go as far as we can in the playoffs. The Heart of America League will again be a tough race with Hutch Trinity, Little River, Pretty Prairie and Canton-Galva all figuring to have good teams.”
Hutchinson Trinity was the early choice as the team to beat, and in fact could boost a starting front line that stood 6-6, 6-5 and 6-4. No matter the league, that was an imposing lineup by any standards.
Picked to finish fourth in the HOA preseason poll, the Bluebirds opened the season by crushing Canton-Galva (75-47) as Unrau, Janzen and Heinrichs scored 21, 16 and 14 points, respectively.
After dispatching Flinthills, the Bluebirds suffered their first defeat, losing to Burrton, 67-64. Later in the season Goessel suffered losses to Trinity (twice) and Pretty Prairie while posting impressive wins over Marquette, Central Christian, Maize and Little River.
The Bluebirds ended the regular season with a record of 14-4 and tied for second with Little River in the HOA League race. They next entered the Geneseo Regional along with Hutch Trinity, Central Christian, Pretty Prairie, Canton-Galva, Little River, Burrton, Marquette and the host Geneseo Dragons.
Goessel was the No. 2 seed behind league champion Hutch Trinity, and the tournament went exactly as it was seeded. Goessel defeated both Marquette and Little River before falling to Trinity in the title game, 84-66.
Still, with the second-place finish the Bluebirds moved on to the Emporia sub-state tournament. Fortunately for Goessel, Trinity was sent to another sub state. No more Trinity, at least not before state.
Goessel opened sub-state play by edging Flinthills in overtime, 46-44. The Bluebirds continued to live on the edge in the championship game, but nipped Olpe (48-47) when Vance Unrau nailed an eight-foot jumper with eight seconds to play. The trip to state was theirs.
With a record of 18-5, the Bluebirds traveled to Hays and the Class 1A State Tournament. They were joined by teams from Lebanon, Claflin, Mankato, Hutch Trinity, Ransom, Jackson Heights and Bern. Lebanon was the top seed with a record of 22-1 while Bern (20-1), Jackson Heights (22-2) and Trinity (21-3) were close behind.
Goessel drew the Bern Indians, who came to state riding an 18-game winning streak. The Indians were undefeated in Kansas; their only loss had been to a Nebraska school. Bern was the tallest team at the tournament (and perhaps in the entire state) as their starting lineup featured players which stood 6-7, 6-6 and 6-5.
The Bluebirds were much smaller but had battled the tall Hutch Trinity team during the regular season. The games against Trinity served as an excellent preparation. With those experiences in mind, Coach Roberts had some strategy.
“Bern is not a deep team,” he said, “so we have to use our quickness and run and run. That is our only chance. If we don’t run and play better pressure defense than we did at sub-state at Emporia, we won’t do to well.”
The Bluebirds played much better against Bern and used their pressure defense and speed to stay in the game.
Late in the third quarter Goessel led by four, but with just three minutes remaining in the game Bern finally grabbed the lead for good and edged Goessel, 66-63.
The Bluebirds could not contain big 6-6 Robert Chauza (he tipped the scales at between 230-240 pounds). The big center ended the game with 26 points. Vance Unrau sparked Goessel with 14 tallies but it was not enough.
Bern eventually finished second to Lebanon in the state tournament. Hutch Trinity, the league foe that had battled Goessel throughout the year, also did not survive the first round, losing to Claflin. After the tournament, Vance Unrau received all-state nominations from various media services in the state.
Goessel ended the year with a mark of 18-6. At the time that record was the second-best in the school’s history. Only the 1957 team (19-2) had a better record, but that team did not qualify for the state tournament.
In the coming years Goessel would return to state in 1984 (lost in the first round), 1987 (placed third), 1988 (state champion), 1989 (placed second), 2007 (placed fourth) and 2009 (placed fourth). But it all began in 1977 with Coach Chet Roberts and his speedy flock of talented Bluebirds, however. They had laid claim to the first Goessel team to experience the state basketball “madness.”
Our last stop on the state tournament tour heads north to Canton-Galva.
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