Editor?s note: This installment concludes our series.
The boys of Canton-Galva made their first trip to state in 1978. The team was coached by Don Cameron, who was entering his second season at the school.
The Eagles returned four seniors in Gary Rathbone, Keith Fishback, Jack Koehn and Davy Lawless, plus key underclassmen Tracy Schmidt, Brad Hill and Butch Ladd.
It was a good collection of talent, but in the preseason polls the Eagles received little love. In fact, they were picked as low as fifth in the Heart of America League. That kind of prediction could either be deflating or inspire a spirit of determination. The Eagles choose the latter.
Canton-Galva opened the season with 10 consecutive wins and climbed high, not only in the HOA race, but in the state rankings as well. As a team, this squad was not big (Ladd was the tallest at 6-foot-2) but possessed incredible speed and good shooters. The Eagles coupled that speed with a smothering defense and produced some dominating wins.
Victories over Quivira Heights (90-52), Centre (89-52) and Burrton (94-60) were clear examples of this early dominance. Later in the season, the Eagles would mash Maize (102-48), Hamilton (84-59) and Central Christian (90-55).
Two wins, although not blowout victories, were perhaps the most satisfying wins of all. In a game against Pretty Prairie, the Eagles found themselves down by 20 points late in the third quarter. The team miraculously rallied and finally claimed an improbable win, 62-57.
And then there was the battle with Hutchinson Trinity. Both teams entered the game as undefeated, state-ranked squads. At halftime the Eagles trailed by 10 points, but rallied behind Rathbone?s 24 points and won 66-65.
At this juncture in the season, the Eagles were averaging 72 points a game while giving up just 53. Those statistics helped propel the Eagles to a No. 3 ranking in Class 1A.
The team hit a pothole, however, and was upset by Little River 58-53. That loss was followed up by six-straight victories as the Eagles ended the regular season with a mark of 16-1. The one loss to Little River had been costly, though, as the Eagles had to settle for a tie for the title in the HOA League race.
Canton-Galva entered the postseason with a stop in the Burrton Regional. As the No.1 seed, the Eagles were joined by Goessel, Hamilton, Central Christian (Hutchinson), Trinity, Inman, Marquette, Flinthills and Burrton.
The Eagles breezed to wins over Burrton and Hamilton before facing Trinity. The Celtics had lost to the Eagles twice but not on this night. Trinity finally pushed Canton-Galva aside to claim the regional title.
Canton-Galva still advanced and now traveled to the Emporia sub-state tournament along with Thayer, Argonia and Waverly. The Eagles won both games and their first trip to state was secure. As noted in previous columns, Galva had already attended state (1932) but Canton had not. Now the two communities, tied together around one school, had that chance for the first time.
With a record of 20-2, the Eagles advanced into the Class 1A State Tournament in Hays. Joining Canton-Galva were teams from Greensburg, Hanston, Ransom, Luckey (Manhattan), Baileyville B&B, St. Paul and Sylvan Grove. The Mustangs of Sylvan were the only undefeated team left in Class 1A while Ransom came to state with a losing record.
The Eagles drew the Greens?burg Rangers in the first round. The Rangers were a tall team (much taller than Canton-Galva) and featured two players who stood 6-4. Despite the size disadvantage, the Eagles stayed close the entire game and with just 10 seconds left, trailed 72-70.
With the ball, Coach Cameron drew up the play, but Gary Rathbone?s last-second, back-handed layup curled out and Greenburg corralled the rebound. They were fouled and sank one last free throw for a 73-70 win.
Canton-Galva had no answer to Ranger star Gary Feiner. The 6-4 center poured in a game-high 29 points while Keith Fishback (26), Rathbone (14), Hill (12) and Ladd (10) led the balanced Eagle attack. Hanston eventually claimed the state title by defeating Luckey High.
Canton-Galva closed the year with a record of 20-3. After the season, Gary Rathbone and Jack Koehn were rewarded with all-state nominations by the Topeka Capital-Journal.
?It has been a good season,? Coach Cameron told the McPher?son Sentinel. ?I am proud of the entire team. We lose four key seniors, but we will set our goals high for next year. I think that finally getting to state will inspire the younger kids.?
Cameron proved prophetic: For the Eagles, a return to state came quite quickly. The boys qualified for state in 1979 (placing second in Class 1A), 1980 (placing fourth in Class 1A), 1982 (placing second in Class 2A), 1983 (state champions in Class 2A) and 1987 (a loss in the first round in Class 2A).
It all began back in 1978 with Coach Don Cameron and his very special Eagles team.
? 2012 by Steven Michael Farney. All rights reserved. Ideas, comments or questions: contact firstname.lastname@example.org