Video: Emily Ryan highlights
See Iowa State signee and Central Plains star in action.
Smack dab in the middle of the state in the heart of middle America, Claflin, Kan., can easily be missed.
As of the last census taken in 2010, 645 people lived in Claflin, though locals say that number has soared to almost 700 in 2020.
Despite the small numbers, one of the most successful girls basketball programs in the country calls Claflin home. And the 2019-20 campaign was a historic one for Central Plains
, which is currently riding the third-longest win streak in girls basketball history at 136 games.
Like so many teams across the nation, the Oilers lost out to the coronavirus pandemic.
Central Plains, a school of just 65 students, was 25-0 when the season was cut short prior to the state semifinals. The Oilers were two wins away from their seventh consecutive state title.
The team's final game mirrored the previous 24 with a 93-47 victory over Ingalls in the first round of the state's 1A tournament, a state record 42nd straight playoff triumph.
According to the Great Bend Tribune
, MaxPreps State Player of the Year Emily Ryan
, an Iowa State signee, scored 20 points and surpassed the 3,000-point barrier on an assist by Kassidy Nixon
early in the second quarter.
Ryan, a 5-foot-9 senior point guard, also passed the 700-assist career mark in the first half of that game and she recorded six steals to finish with 599 for her career, No. 1 in state history. She scored 16 in the first half and sat out most of the second half, like she did most of the season when she averaged 29 points per game.
At spacious United Wireless Arena in Dodge City, five others scored in double figures in their season finale:
(12 points), Nixon (11), Delaney Rugan
(11), Jennah Jeffrey
(10) and Addison Crites
It was nearly a perfect final performance to another perfect season – only two games earlier than expected. The KSHSAA canceled play after the March 12 game due to the virus. The team left the building that night in a flood of tears. As did many.
"Like everyone else I was shocked," Central Plains coach Pat Stiles told MaxPreps. "I figured since we (all eight teams) got there we would figure out a way to finish. Maybe we would empty the stands. It was pretty disappointing for sure. Not so much for me, but the worst part was seeing how devastated the girls were. We had five seniors who had gone 104-0 and won three state titles. It was an unbelievable group. They played so well together and were playing so well at the end. Frankly, it was hard to take."
Despite the disappointment, many of the Oilers' accomplishments are etched in the Kansas High School State Record Book
They set state marks for scoring defense (21.2 allowed per game), average margin of victory (57.1), field goal percentage (57.1) and fewest fouls (276).
They also set single-game records for field goal percentage (74.6) after hitting 44 of 59 attempts in a 96-17 win over Ness City.
Ryan set state records for field goal percentage in a season (79.6) and career (73.8). She made 408 of 451 career free throws (90.5 percent), also a state mark.
The 136-game win streak is the longest — boys or girls — in 67 years, according to the National Federation of High Schools Record Book.
Stiles, whose daughter Jackie is the state career scoring leader and a member of the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame, said the team never focused on win streaks or state titles.
"We just talk about being the best team we can be," Stiles said.
Though Stiles won't coach this group again, he said the impression they made will never be forgotten. He said it was the best of the previous six that won state titles and the best he's seen in Claflin in 38 seasons as a coach. Claflin High School, where Jackie Stiles scored 3,603 career points, merged into what is now Central Plains 10 years ago.
"To have this much talent at a school of 65 is pretty amazing," he said. "It's such a great group of kids to be around. It was a true privilege to coach them. They just did everything the right way. They played with such pride. We never had a bad practice. And all of that reflected to the games in how focused and precise they were. No matter how it ended it was going to be sad for it just to be over. It just would have been easier to swallow on the court."
Stiles understands the health and safety of the kids, and all Kansas residents, went into the decision. A day after, he addressed the team and offered some perspective.
"We talked about that they're going to face tougher hardships down the road," he said. "More so I promised them that they had so many special memories ahead of them that will pale a state basketball championship. Things like graduating from college, getting married, having children. They're going to make many more special memories in the future because of the quality people they are."