ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
What a year for local sports!
In one calendar year, Hillsboro High School sent athletes to state playoffs in nine sports and came home with one championship.
Down the street, Tabor College sent its men’s basketball and women’s soccer teams to national playoffs, the volleyball team won the conference title, and the football team-well, it didn’t get to any playoffs just yet, but it won more games this fall than a Bluejay team had in 22 seasons.
The excitement began in January, when the both the Trojan boys’ and girls’ basketball teams won their respective mid-winter tournaments. The boys clipped a bigger Thomas Moore Prep team, 49-47, for their fifth Trojan Classic title in the seven years of the tournament.
The following week, Jill Hein scored a layup at the buzzer to give the girls the Southeast of Saline Invitational Tournament title with an equally dramatic 40-38 win over Class 5A Salina South.
The boys went on to register big wins over state-ranked Wichita Collegiate and Halstead, the eventual state champs, but never really came together as a team.
Instead, it was the girls who once again carried the Trojan banner back to Hutch. For coach Becky Carlson, it was her eighth trip in nine years. Her team started well, but then went cold and lost in the first round to the eventual champs, Conway Springs, 45-29, to finish with a sterling 20-3 record.
Before Hutch, though, the Trojans sent a program-record eight wrestlers to state in late February: Bri Ratzlaff, John Sims, Daniel Yoder, James Bina, Carson Greenhaw, Adam Jilka and Wade Sorensen. And the team’s best wrestler, state-ranked Ronnie Davis, suffered a season-ending knee injury before regionals.
As a team, the Trojans placed third at regionals. In state competition, though, the Trojans managed only one win and two points.
In late February, the Tabor men’s basketball team, led by hometown hoops hero Micah Ratzlaff, qualified for the NAIA Division II national tournament with a double-overtime 94-92 win over St. Mary College in the championship game of the KCAC post-season tournament.
The Bluejays won in the first round of nationals, but then lost to the eventual champions, Northwestern College, 71-63.
The spring sports season ended with Trojans competing at state in four of five sports:
— The tennis team won a Class 3-2-1A regional championship and went on to place sixth in state competition. Michael Hagen took ninth in state singles.
— Phillip Thiessen won medalist honors at the Class 3A regional tournament at Hesston, then, as the Trojans’ lone representative at state, finished 40th.
— The baseball squad qualified for its first state tournament appearance in program history by beating Southeast of Saline, 10-7, for the regional title. The Trojans went on to place third at Manhattan with a 2-1 record.
— The boys’ track team capped arguably the best season in school history with a Class 3A state championship at Wichita. Ryan Jilka won both hurdle events to pace the Trojans to a 15-point margin of victory. Alan Yoder won the long jump.
The most amazing feat: Trojan boys and girls set 12 new school records during this dream season.
The softball team just missed its first state berth. Once again the girls lost in the regional championship game to its old nemesis, Southeast of Saline, to finish the season at 17-5.
The summer showcased some Trojan all-stars.
Two Trojan representatives held their own at the 28th annual Shrine Bowl played at KSU Stadium July 29. Coach Dustin McEwen directed the West team, which included one of his own players, Jeremy Loewen. The game ended in a 12-12 tie-the first tie in Shrine Bowl history.
A few days later, another Trojan standout, Grant Brubacher, scored 10 points for the South team at the Kansas Basketball Coaches Association All-Star Game played near Topeka.
The loss of Loewen, Brubacher and the rest of the Class of 2001, talented as it was, didn’t seem to hurt the Trojan sports program when the new school year began in September.
The football rolled through its regular season undefeated and with a district championship at 9-0. But the dream of a state title ended on a windy night in Minneapolis, when the Trojans lost a fumble and the game to the home team in overtime, 26-20.
Senior Adam Woods later was picked as the fourth Trojan in four years to represent the school at the Shrine Bowl, this one to be played at Pittsburg, July 27, 2002.
The volleyball team made it back to state for the first time in three years under coach Collette Burton. The Trojans’ inexperience showed as their title dreams drowned in pool play with a 1-2 record.
The cross country team, meanwhile, won its regional and repeated as the Class 3A runnerup at Wamego. That fact that coach Brian Kennell and his team were disappointed by that finish shows how far the program has come.
In tennis, Amber Hefley capped a strong senior season by placing fourth at the Class 3-2-1A tennis tournament in Hesston.
Across town at Tabor, the Bluejay football team completed its first non-losing season since 1993-and only the third in program history-with a 57-26 win over McPherson in the season finale. The win gave the Bluejays a 5-5 mark.
Symbolizing the renovation of the football program was the work done on Reimer Field during the year. Early, local volunteers hauled in free dirt to raise the crown of the field and improve drainage. In late spring, the field was reseeded with a Bermuda grass cover.
“We’re about a year away from having a Cadillac for a field,” said third-year coach Tim McCarty.
And maybe a Cadillac team, too.
It took volleyball coach Amy Ratzlaff only three season to produce a conference championship. The Jays’ glorious season came to an abrupt end, though, with a first-round loss to Bethel in the KCAC tournament.
Hank Wiebe, meanwhile, took over the reigns of the women’s soccer team, and guided last season’s KCAC champs into the first round of the regional playoffs.
It was a year of coaching transitions at Tabor-and one attempted transition that didn’t happen.
Jeff Luster, who was appointed head basketball coach at Tabor College in spring, announced six weeks later he was accepting an assistant position at Colorado University. To no one’s surprise, Don Brubacher reassumed his old job-again.
As 2001 came to a close, Trojan basketball was back on course. The boys and girls posted early 6-0 and 5-1 records, respectively, with lofty state rankings.
The wrestling team finds itself with some gaps in its lineup, but promises to be another strong contender for late-season accomplishments.
At Tabor, though, a potential “dream season” in men’s basketball has yet to show signs of fulfillment. Red-shirting Micah Ratzlaff because of injury was no small factor, but the surviving Jays have yet to find a rhythm of their own.
The women’s team, though, is surpassing preseason expectations under first-year coach Rusty Allen with a 5-5 mark. Another hometown hoops hero, Angela Kroeker, is a key reason.
Allen’s appointment was one of several transitions to note in 2001. In addition to Wiebe in women’s soccer, the Bluejays also picked former Trojan coach Lonnie Isaac to lead its tennis program and John Sparks from Pennsylvania to take over baseball.
Tabor bid farewell in spring to Gary Myers, who retired from coaching and teaching after 23 years. He was athletic director from 1988 to 1999.
At Hillsboro High, James Thomas, activities director and assistant principal, announced in February his intention to resign after 24 years with USD 410. Max Heinrichs was chosen to succeed Thomas and guide an already successful athletic program into the future.
ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF