EMPORIA — Few things turn out exactly as planned. Just take the case of Heights senior Keith Riley, who had designs on maximizing his state tournament trophies when he began playing high school basketball more than three years ago.
"I always thought I should have four," Riley said.
Riley was smiling when he said that, so it's clear he'll do fine with two Class 6A titles. The Falcons repeated as champions with a 56-40 win over Blue Valley Northwest on Saturday night at White Auditorium.
The plans for four state championships still apply to Heights sophomores Perry Ellis and Terrence Moore, though. With all but reserve Riley returning, the Falcons will be the favorite to three-peat when the 6A tournament moves to Intrust Bank Arena next year.
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When the season began, Heights set its own standards for a perfect season. It wasn't going undefeated, it was winning the City League, the midseason tournament in Dodge City and the state tournament. Once the benchmarks were stated, there was no need to discuss them further. The calm approach to achievement is probably why all the goals were met.
"Actually, we really didn't talk about repeating," Moore said. "We just talked about taking our time, taking it one game at a time."
Heights captured its first title since 1977 during a 2008-09 season in which perennial City League powers East and Southeast weren't quite ready to hand over their status as Wichita's flagship teams. Southeast fought particularly hard to stay supreme, beating Heights in December.
But when Evan Wessel returned from a broken hand in January, Heights got focused and blossomed in its role as the league's target. Every opponent after Southeast misfired, and BV Northwest was never a factor against a Heights team that saved the little energy it had for an overwhelming defensive effort.
"It was a game where we had to be very mature defensively," Heights coach Joe Auer said. "But that's how this team is. We scored 83 (Friday night in a semifinal win over Leavenworth), we have no legs today and we come back and play great defense against a team that moves all over the place and jacks up threes all the time."
Heights didn't make much of an effort to speed the pace. Playing fast is one of the Falcons' trademarks, but it would have played into BV Northwest's strengths, too.
Heights instead opted for a halfcourt game in which the offense ran through Ellis, its 6-foot-8 center who had a two-inch advantage on counterpart Brett Bond and was at least four inches taller than every other Huskies player.
When the Falcons sputtered from the perimeter early, Ellis was there to steady them. He scored eight points in the first quarter, when his teammates collectively made 1 of 13, including seven misses from three-point range.
"I told them to get the ball to me early," Ellis said. "That's what I told them before the game, to set the tempo."
The offense never quite reached its peak, but the Falcons' defense was constant. It allowed them to begin to pull away in the second quarter, when Heights turned a one-point lead into a 12-point halftime advantage. Riley scored the last basket and the 16-point win represented Heights' biggest lead.
Heights prides itself on rarely showing emotion in a business-like approach to basketball, and the Falcons' celebration after the buzzer fell in line with those ideals. Many smiles, some hugs, then shaking hands with the defeated.
"There's nothing anticlimactic about it for us," Auer said. "It was very tiring. We are absolutely exhausted. Three games in three nights, especially after the semifinal we had, we're drained. Absolutely drained."
Talks of a four-peat can continue. The sophomores embrace that expectation, but the Falcons' philosophy is to first look at the small picture.
"I'm thinking about that," Moore said. "But you take it one at a time. Next is three, then we'll see about the fourth."