Here’s to Kent Weixelman, a name you probably don’t know, who scored two of the biggest two points in Kapaun Mount Carmel basketball history.
They came on a tip-in with two seconds left in a game against Heights on Feb. 21, 1975, at Levitt Arena, now Koch Arena. Weixelman’s tip allowed the Crusaders to beat Heights 75-74 in a City League thriller that gave Kapaun a one-game advantage over Heights in the race for the City League championship.
Wins over South and North in the Crusaders’ final two games of the season clinched that title, by a game over Southeast and Heights. It’s the only City League boys basketball championship Kapaun has ever won outright. The Crusaders did tie Southeast for the championship in 2006 at 7-1 during a sad experiment in which only one game played against CL competition counted in the standings.
Kapaun is on the verge of winning its second outright City League championship, although the Crusaders failed to take care of business against East on Tuesday night in a game in which they could have clinched the title. East won 70-62, while Heights knocked off Southeast to move within a game of the Crusaders with one left to play.
That one game, for both teams, is tough. Kapaun hosts South on Thursday night while Heights is at home against East. South handed Kapaun one of its two City League losses earlier.
Kapaun coach John Cherne, who led the Crusaders to a second-place finish in the Class 5A state tournament last season, said he’s never talked to his players about winning the City League.
“Our main goal since last year was to try and get back to Topeka,” said Cherne, who won a state championship in his first season at Kapaun in 2011-12 and hasn’t had a losing season with the Crusaders. “We feel like there is some unfinished business.”
For sure, and business that has been weighing on the mind of Cherne and many of Kapaun’s players since an 87-84 overtime loss to Mill Valley in last year’s championship game.
“That’s been our goal all year long, to get back to the Expocentre,” Cherne said. “A City League title was never a goal, never in the plans, just an accolade that comes along with how hard these kids are playing.”
But winning a City League championship all its own — this is consistently the most-demanding league in the state, by the way — carries a prestige all its own.
“Us kids, we want to win it outright,” said senior Chris Meitzner, the City League’s second-leading scorer at 17.7 points per game. “We don’t want the opportunity to slip away. After losing the game (to East), it gives bigger meaning to the next game. Maybe even more pumped up.”
Kapaun also has the City League’s third- and seventh-leading scorers in Mitchell Woodward (15.8) and Tom Wells (14.9). And there is talent beyond the Big Three, led by junior Mark Hutton.
“We’re relentless on the offensive side,” said 5-foot-9 senior guard Wells. “After we make a mistake on defense and the other team scores a bucket, we immediately want to get the bucket back and push the tempo. Normally, Kapaun basketball isn’t one who likes to run with Southeast, for example. But when we play Southeast we work that into our game, too.”
Kapaun finished in a fourth-place tie in the City League last year at 8-8, but caught fire in the postseason and were 16-9 overall. They’re 15-4 this season and have not lost at home, which bodes well for Thursday. But South is one of the biggest teams in the City League, which creates a problem for the undersized Crusaders.
“We definitely want to get back to the state tournament and win, but it would be pretty cool to win the City League championship,” said the 6-3 Woodward, a junior. “But the bigger picture is to get back to Topeka.”
But winning a City League championship has to be right up there. This league is perennially loaded with top talent, outstanding coaches and a tradition like no other league in the state.
“Don’t get me wrong,” Cherne said, “you’re looking at some of the largest schools in Kansas in our league and there are phenomenal athletes. My original goal when I came here to Kapaun was just to finish in the top four.”
The Crusaders have done a lot better than top four this season. But they haven’t secured top one yet, at least not to themselves.
For now, a 1974-75 team led by All-City players Mark Boswell and Tim Hutchens, one coached by Jim Rheem, one that used dramatic late-season wins over Southeast and Heights to pull into first place, is the sole Kapaun team to win an outright City League basketball championship.
I’m guessing they’re itching for company.