HOWARD — Although the West Elk High School boys’ basketball team has come close in recent seasons, it had never been able to push its way into the state tournament.
That all changed this year as the Patriots will be making their first-ever state appearance in program history. In fact, WEHS will be well represented at this week’s Class 2A State Tournament in Manhattan as the girls’ squad also earned a state berth for the first time since 1990.
Dave Miller has the distinction of serving as the head coach for both the boys’ and girls’ basketball programs. He has directed the boys’ team to an overall record of 182-88 in his 12 seasons with the program, while he leads the girls’ squad to state in just his second season in charge. He has a 36-9 record in his two seasons with the Lady Patriots.
What makes these state appearances so exciting for Miller and all of West Elk is the way it happened.
The boys’ team needed a three-pointer at the buzzer from senior Cade Miller — Dave Miller’s son — to capture a thrilling 46-43 victory over rival Sedan in Saturday’s championship game of the Class 2A Udall Sub-State Tournament.
“It was amazing,” said Miller, who shared an emotional hug with his son after the game-winning shot. “There was an overwhelming amount of excitement followed by a sense of pride. As a dad who happens to be the coach, I couldn’t have written a better ending. I was just so happy and relieved for this group of seniors.”
Meanwhile, the girls — coming off a share of the South Central Border League championship and making a second straight sub-state championship appearance — pulled away for a 57-46 victory over Leon-Bluestem.
“It wasn’t the prettiest of games, but the girls did enough of the little things to get the win,” Miller said. “The girls were all so excited and proud.”
Both teams now shift their attention to this week’s Class 2A State Tournament, which will be held at Bramlage Coliseum on the campus of Kansas State University.
Action gets underway today with girls’ quarterfinal action. West Elk takes a 20-2 record into the state tournament and will have the No. 3 seed in the bracket. The Lady Patriots will take on No. 6 seed Valley Heights (19-5) in an 8:15 p.m. matchup.
“Valley Heights is a long, skilled, athletic team,” Miller said. “Although they lost a few games, those games were lost to quality opponents, including two other state-bound teams.”
The winner of the West Elk-Valley Heights contest will advance to Friday’s 6:30 p.m. semifinal contest and will take on the winner of No. 2 seed Olpe (22-0) and No. 7 Spearville, which plays at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Other quarterfinal action set for Wednesday includes No. 1 seed Central Plains (23-0) against No. 8 Inman (14-8) at 3 p.m. and No. 4 Hill City (20-3) taking on No. 5 Pittsburg-Colgan (19-4) at 4:45 p.m. The winners of those games will meet in the first semifinal game on Friday at 3 p.m.
The West Elk boys will take center stage on Thursday in the first quarterfinal of the day. The Patriots — 21-1 overall — has the No. 2 seed in the bracket and will face No. 7 seed Stanton County (16-6) at 3 p.m.
“I know they are quick and athletic as are most teams that make it this far,” Miller said. “From what I have heard, they have similarities to Caldwell. Our goal is to win that first game. Then we will see what happens.”
The winner of that contest will take on the winner of the second quarterfinal game on Thursday between No. 3 seed Pittsburg-Colgan (21-2) and No. 6 Plainville (17-6). That semifinal matchup would be played at 4:45 p.m. on Friday.
In the other half of the bracket, the 6:30 p.m. quarterfinal on Thursday will have No. 1 seed Central Plains (23-0) facing No. 8 seed Inman (13-9), while No. 4 Burlingame (20-2) will go up against No. 5 Salina-Sacred Heart (20-3) at 8:15 p.m. The winners of those games will meet in the other semifinal on Friday at 8:15 p.m.
(Photo by Kim Nevil)