Focus on fun as Bobcats pursue perfection
The Basehor-Linwood High School boys basketball team will be playing for more than a league championship during the season's final two weeks.
History will be there for the taking as well.
If the 10-0 Bobcats can win their last three Kaw Valley League games, they will become the first team in school history to run through league play undefeated.
Standing in their way? A home game against Santa Fe Trail that will be rescheduled because of a cancellation on Tuesday, next week's highly-anticipated tilt at Piper and the finale, a week from Friday, at home against Bonner Springs.
Piper, a longtime BLHS nemesis, is also undefeated.
"I told these kids tonight, win or lose, don't put pressure on yourself," BLHS coach Mike McBride said on Friday. "Really, we just want to have fun. I coach this game because we want to teach kids something besides just basketball. Running the table, would it be nice? Yeah, it would be nice. At the same time, if we lose somewhere along the way, we have to understand that we are going to learn from it. We learn from our losses. Sometimes, that wakes you up a little bit."
When the dust clears, this year's BLHS team could compare favorably with the best in school history. The two finest seasons in Bobcat history were 1988-1989 and '95-96, both of which included league championships. The '89 version lost just one league game during the best regular season in school history. The lone loss came at the hands of a familiar face -- Piper.
"(Beating Piper) would be pretty big," senior Austin Knipp said. "If we beat them then, it would just be great. I don't know what I'd do. It's an important game, but we have to focus on the games before that. When it comes down to that, I'm sure we will all be ready."
Forward Matt Fanning sees the Piper contest as a statement game.
"It's pretty important, because a lot of teams are still doubting that we are any good. Beating a team like Piper will start opening some eyes and showing that we are for real and that we don't need to be taken lightly anymore," Fanning said.
Eyes have already been opened. Consider Mill Valley coach Justin Bogart as one of the converts. BLHS whipped his Jaguars 55-42 last Friday night.
"They are a good ball team," Bogart said. "I haven't seen a team that can put four guys on the court like that who can shoot it in a long time. That is going to be one tough team to beat."
After having played both teams, Bogart is in a unique situation to handicap Feb. 20's marquee matchup.
"I'd give the edge to Piper athletically and with their experience," Bogart said. "Piper was there last year. They got to the state tournament. I'd give them a slight edge there, but it's going to be a fun game."
Despite the attention being placed on the chase for the undefeated season and the Piper game, the Bobcats are keeping their priorities in order.
"(Going undefeated) is important, but what we are really after is the state tournament," Knipp said. "I don't want to say that it is icing on the cake, but it's just an achievement."
How do they like their chances?
"I think it's looking pretty good," Fanning said. "With our record, we will get a higher seed. We can beat anybody in sub-state if we come and play our game."
The Bobcats' coach is quick to caution that there is work still to be done. Besides Piper and the other two in-conference games, BLHS will host Sumner Academy on Saturday.
"That will be a big game," McBride said. "They are going to be fast and get us ready for sub-state. I did that on purpose. I didn't want any cake games before sub-state, because win or lose, running the table is not that important to me. I want us to play fast, I want us to be intense, and I want us to be ready to go."
Most of all, the coach wants his players to relax.
"We are really going to work on having fun," McBride said. "We have never been here before. What does it matter? We have no pressure on us. Everybody thinks we have done a great job all year long. There really shouldn't be any pressure.
"If we just come out and play basketball, I like our chances of winning. We are pretty much ready to go."