Archive for Thursday, October 16, 2008

Kaw Valley League has matured into a strong football conference

October 16, 2008

Not long ago the Kaw Valley League was considered to be little more than a small-school conference lost in the shadows of the larger schools in the Kansas City area — power conferences such as the East Kansas League and Sunflower League.

Not anymore.

One needs to look no further than the league standings of recent years to see just how competitive the KVL has become. No longer is Tonganoxie steamrolling through the league unblemished, and no longer is Mill Valley trampling everything in its path.

These days, there’s a lot more balance in the league — and it’s the good kind of balance. The KVL has grown top-heavy with numerous quality programs, whether it’s Lansing, Mill Valley, Perry-Lecompton or Bonner Springs.

It’s no coincidence that three of those four schools compete in Class 5A, and as the larger schools in the league they do a little bit of pushing others around. That isn’t a bad thing, however, as Basehor-Linwood football coach Steve Hopkins will tell you. His Bobcats took a serious bruisin’ during the league season in 2007. What did it do? It made them better. It made them tougher. By the time the Class 4A district playoffs began, the Bobcats were battle tested and afraid of nobody.

BLHS surged into the state playoffs in 2007 and then toppled one of the favorites to win a state championship — Eudora — in the first round.

Bonner Springs has a similar storyline. After spending years near the league basement, the Braves surged to the top of the standings in 2007, grabbed a share of the KVL crown and advanced to the state playoffs thanks to one of the league’s most electrifying offenses.

During recent years, and last season in particular, the increasing depth of the KVL showed itself on a state-wide scale when six of the league’s 10 schools earned berths in the Class 4A and Class 5A state playoffs.

Numerous schools are becoming postseason regulars, whether it’s Lansing — which has made four straight postseason appearances — or Tonganoxie, a long-time league powerhouse that had a rare playoff absence during 2007.

KVL newcomer Turner, a Class 5A school, has made the league that much better. Sure, the Bears have struggled to a 1-5 mark this season, but that’s a trend that’s not likely to continue in the future as the league moves forward. The Bears have been to the playoffs in four of the past five years, including a state quarterfinal appearance in 2006. Even with a less-than-glowing record, their battles with the league’s top guns should have them poised to make a playoff push in a district that includes Harmon, Sumner Academy and Wyandotte.

At this point in the season, predictions are relatively pointless regarding which schools will be playoff-bound. Only one thing is certain — at least two teams will go. Basehor, Tonganoxie, Bishop Ward and Piper share a district, so two will advance to state and two will stay home. Beyond that, there are no guarantees.

Perhaps the better question is “what’s realistic?” How many will go?

Certainly two is realistic. That’s going to happen. Based on what we’ve seen this year, though, the KVL looks awfully strong again.

Seven teams seems realistic.

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