Over the past nine years, Maize girls basketball coach Jerrod Handy has watched his daughter, Daley, play with and against outstanding athletes in the Wichita area.
This crop of players has made its mark — four area seniors signed to play Division I basketball and two juniors have non-binding commitments.
“I think everybody in that class has known that this is a really strong class,” said Handy, whose daughter is a senior. “This year’s class and next year’s class, they grew up playing against each other and with each other. It’s been a strong group ever since third grade. All of us dads and parents know about it.
“It’s a special group. These things just don’t happen all the time.”
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Maize’s Keiryn Swenson has signed with Arkansas, while teammate Daley Handy has signed with Wyoming. Andover’s Jaylyn Agnew signed with Creighton, and Kapaun Mount Carmel’s Sam Bachrodt signed with Drake.
Wichita South’s Kendrian Elliott has made a commitment to Kansas State, while fellow junior and teammate Ericka Mattingly has committed to Wichita State.
“I don’t know if we’ve seen it like this for a while,” said Andover coach Max Hamblin, in his 10th season. “Multiple girls going to play Division I, it’s kind of a unique year. We just have tons of talent around. It’s fun to watch.”
The Wichita area has had many other Division I athletes, including 12 currently playing college basketball.
But there’s no doubt this group of six is exceptional.
“I think all these kids have the complete and total package that will be beneficial for whatever teams they play for at athe next level,” South coach Antwain Scales said. “They’re not only naturals at the game, they know how to play.”
And how to win.
Mattingly and Elliott have led the Titans to two straight Class 6A titles. They are 48-2 at South.
Swenson and Daley Handy led Maize to the 6A title game in March and are 63-12 with three top-four finishes.
Bachrodt was a freshman when Kapaun won the 5A title in 2012 and is 63-12 in her career with three top-four finishes. Agnew has led Andover to the postseason twice and has won at least 16 games each season.
All six have played key roles since they were freshmen, and each is undeniably versatile. Each can handle the ball, drive to the basket, rebound, pass, hit the three. They can be counted on for their steady play but also make the exciting play.
They’re heady, knowledgeable, highly-skilled players who are also veterans.
Mattingly is devastatingly quick, using a burst of speed to get past defenders and to the rim. And while she mainly focuses on ballhandling — she averaged 9.0 points as a sophomore — she can score from anywhere, especially in crucial moments. She had a hand in South’s final 11 points in the Class 6A quarterfinal game in March as the Titans beat Washburn Rural by five.
Handy is primarily a ballhandler, as well, and with her size, teams struggle to match up with her. Handy, who averaged 10.0 points, 5.5 rebounds, utilizes that on defense, as well, and is scrappy and physical.
Swenson and Elliott are dominant inside players, but Swenson, who averaged 14 points, 6.6 rebounds and was a 2014 All-Metro selection, has an oh-so-soft touch on her shot, and Elliott is consistent with her jumper.
“Honestly, she’s probably one of the top shooters on the team,” Scales said of Elliott, who averaged 13.6 points, 11 rebounds and is a two-time All-Metro selection. “But you don’t get to see it because we want to take advantage of her size and her presence.”
Agnew, who averaged 14.0 points, 6.0 rebounds, mainly played inside her first two seasons because the three-time Class 5A high jump champion rebounds well. She also has a knack for blocking shots.
But she moved to the perimeter more as a junior and will do the same this season as a way to create matchup problems, use her speed to get to the basket and her ability to hit threes.
“She’s a heck of a defender,” Hamblin said. “She’s long and lanky. She anticipates really well, and that’s probably one of the biggest keys.… When I put her on somebody, you can kind of tell they don’t want to shoot the ball.”
Kapaun first-year coach Billy Graf coached freshman boys the same season Bachrodt was a freshman. His team scrimmaged the varsity, so he had a close-up view on what Bachrodt could do.
“She was one of the best players on the floor back then, too,” he said.
Bachrodt, who led the City League in scoring as a junior with 15.9 points, has showcased a wide-range of skills since freshman season, but she has added a greater consistency to her three-point shooting.
“She’s really worked on the outside shot,” Graf said. “Drake likes to shoot the three, and she took it to heart and she improved it. She can get to the glass, she can pass. She’s so basketball savy and she can see an opponents’ weaknesses and exploit them.”
The athleticism and depth of talent in the Wichita-area could be a sign of the times, according to Hamblin, who previously coached boys basketball for two decades at Hugoton.
“Girls basketball has come a long way in the last 15 years,” Hamblin said. “These girls are athletic, they can run, jump, shoot.
“It’s fun to watch.”