They didn’t need any time to think.
Eisenhower’s Dylan Vincent, Jeff Wake and Tanner King answered who they would like to play in this week’s AV-CTL/GWAL Challenge at the same time: Heights.
None of the three seniors will get a chance – Eisenhower isn’t among the teams involved in the Challenge. But City League athletic director J. Means said the Tigers and two other AV-CTL schools will be in starting in the 2018-19 season.
Eisenhower, Campus and Newton have accepted invitations into next year’s challenge, replacing Hutchinson, Arkansas City and Salina South, Means said.
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“It was time,” Means said. “I hated the day I went to those three (athletic directors).”
Eisenhower (7-0) is the only team in the top two AV-CTL divisions with a winning record that won’t play in the Challenge starting Thursday. Since the event was created in the 2012-13 season, the Tigers have won 100 games, 58 more than the next closest non-participant in the top two divisions.
With coach Steve Blue’s team the only undefeated Wichita-area team left in Class 5A and 6A, Means said the Tigers would have definity added some extra pop to this year’s challenge.
Blue said playing in the challenge is something he and his players are looking forward to.
“If you wanna get to the highest level, you gotta play the best teams,” Blue said. “Being in the challenge will give us the opportunity to play some of those best teams.”
Unfortunately for the seniors on the added teams, they won’t get a chance. Vincent said that not playing in it is hard enough, but learning the Tigers will be in the year after he graduates is even more difficult to deal with.
Eisenhower beat Carroll in the Class 5A tournament last year and beat Heights 64-57 in the third-place game. This year Eisenhower has a half-game lead on the Falcons in the Class 5A standings, but Heights is still ranked ahead of the Tigers in the latest Kansas Basketball Coaches Association rankings.
Second place only makes a would-be place in the challenge more valuable.
Wake said getting another opportunity to experience the speed and athelticism the City League during the season would be extremely valuable rather than playing against it for the first time in the state tournament. Vincent said much of the same.
“We just want to represent the AV-CTL,” Vincent said. “We’re one of the better teams, and the AV-CTL isn’t always represented very well.”
Means said getting Eisenhower into the Challenge wasn’t as simple as cutting and adding. Hutchinson, Salina South and Arkansas City committed to the Challenge before it gained the popularity it has gained six years later. Means said because of those schools’ commitment, he strived to keep them in as long as possible.
But those teams have struggled, are relatively far from the Wichita metro and because of the geography, don’t draw large crowds to Koch Arena.
The three former schools are an average of 64.5 miles away from Koch Arena, and the three new ones are 19.9 miles away, on average.
Means said multiple schools have sent the City League office inquiries about entering the Challenge, and there might be more changes coming in the future. With budget cuts from the Kansas Legislature compounded with no title sponsor this year, the event is becoming more challenging to finance.
“When I got this position, this is one of the things I wanted to try to do,” Means said. “It’s a lot of fun, and it’s evolved over the years.”
This move is just part of that evolution.
*last two seasons