I ranked East's boys basketball team second in Class 6A before the season. The Aces were young, but talented.
Seventeen games into the season, I still think East (12-5) is a state-title contender, but, boy, this season has been rough.
Especially the past month, when the Aces have battled three key injuries and a slump.
But coach Ron Allen refuses to call his team snake-bitten or unlucky.
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"I don't look at it like that," Allen said. "I look at it like it's even more of a challenge now. In order for you to make it with all this adversity popping up, you cannot change your direction, your mindset, your determination, your outlook on what you set out as your goals.
"This adversity will turn into a miracle if we stay focused and stay determined and continue to work toward our goal."
The Aces went into January's Dodge City tournament riding a seven-game winning streak after losing by three points to Heights in their opener.
But at Dodge City, the Aces lost 2 of 3 games and then lost two straight games in the City League.
During that tournament, starting sophomore guard Jalen Love fractured a finger on his non-shooting hand and missed six games. He returned Tuesday in a win at Southeast.
"He didn't score much (against Southeast), but he was involved with helping break the pressure and moving the ball to the right spots and just being on the floor. He seems to keep everyone moving," Allen said.
Several weeks ago, starting forward Teance Walton had arthroscopic surgery to a knee. While he's been released to practice, Allen doesn't know when he'll play again.
"I don't want to bust his bubble, but we have kids who can play that position fairly well," Allen said of Walton. "But he means something to the team. Anytime you have a kid that started in that position and goes out, it will leave some void in your productivity."
Then last Friday, in a game at Maize South, starting forward Randall Rogers suffered a broken right leg and is out for the season.
"It was on a layup," Rogers said. "I picked the ball up, stepped with my right foot... and I landed wrong."
He heard the bone break and said his leg was hanging awkwardly.
"It was terrible, just painful to see it," Allen said. "When you saw it, you knew it was the end. There was no doubt about it.... You knew his high school career was over. And you hurt for him."
Rogers had a stress fracture in his left leg prior to the season. It's possible that the pressure he then put on his right leg to compensate during the season caused the initial fractures.
Losing Rogers hurts badly.
"It's big, it's big," Allen said of losing him. "We become a different team without Randall.... He was starting to become the player I thought he was going to be, but it all came caving down on him."
East's depth could carry it forward, though. Guard Ja'ln Williams is a scorer and an excellent ballhandler. Having Love back takes pressure off Williams, too.
And Jalen Carter played more aggressively inside in the win over Southeast, finishing with 15 points.
"I think without Randall, that they're all doing a better job of looking for each other, rather than sitting back and relying on one (Rogers)."
No one knows if East can turn this season into the miracle that Allen wants. The Aces have three regular-season games left and the Aces are in a sub-state with Heights, Derby and Washburn Rural.
"It's unfortunate that we've had to deal with more than our share (of injuries) —and key players, too — but we've still got hope," Allen said. "I've still got hope.... It takes a lot to get me down."