It was in the waning days of 2014 that we got the biggest story in small-colleges sports in Kansas in 2014, but that wasn’t all that went down in the past year.
Here’s a look at the Top 10 small-college stories in 2014:
1. He’s gone — Butler Community College coach Troy Morrell’s decision to resign after 15 seasons, three NJCAA titles and 12 Jayhawk Conference titles came out of nowhere. Butler announced the news Tuesday, with Morrell citing a desire to spend more time with family and his growing frustration with rule changes in the Jayhawk Conference as his reasons for leaving.
Athletic director Todd Carter has a tough task in replacing Morrell, one of the best coaches in NJCAA history.
2. Not your average Joe — Friends senior guard and Wichita native Joe Mitchell’s circuitous college career ended in high fashion. Mitchell started his career at Hutchinson Community College, transferred to Ohio and then Wichita State before landing with coach Dale Faber at Friends, and it was the right fit.
Mitchell led the country in scoring at 32.3 points per game last season, led Friends to the KCAC regular-season title, the NAIA Division II quarterfinals and capped it off by being named NAIA Division II Player of the Year.
3. Blue Dragons on top — Hutchinson Community College’s football team brought home its first Jayhawk title since 1995 and first outright title since 1969. The Blue Dragons beat Butler for the first time in 23 seasons and finishing the season with an 11-1 record, a 53-7 win over Hudson Valley in the Salt City Bowl and a No. 4 ranking in the final NJCAA poll.
Only a 58-34 loss to eventual national runner-up Iowa Western on Oct. 25 prevented Hutchinson from playing for the NJCAA title for the first time. With Morrell gone at Butler and a potential drop-off coming for the Grizzlies, this could be the start of a long reign for the Blue Dragons and coach Rion Rhoades.
4. Bluejays in Idaho — Former Wichita State star Mark Standiford led Tabor’s baseball team to not only the best season in school history, but the best season by any baseball team in KCAC history. The Bluejays swept the KCAC regular-season and tournament titles, then headed to the NAIA World Series in Lewiston, Idaho. Wins over Southern Poly and Gwinnett were the first by any KCAC team at the World Series, and Tabor was eliminated by regional rival Oklahoma Christian, 10-9 in 12 innings.
Tabor finished the year ranked No. 10 in the final NAIA poll and is the preseason No. 7 headed into 2015.
5. Kate’s big year — Fort Hays State center Kate Lehman had a junior season that turned heads all over the country. The 6-foot-4 Newton product was the MIAA Defensive Player of the Year and All-MIAA for the second straight season, averaging 16.5 points and 11.2 rebounds while leading NCAA Division II with 5.3 blocks per game.
Lehman is averaging 21.2 points. 10.2 rebounds and 4.6 blocks so far this season and the Tigers are 10-1 headed into MIAA play.
6. Gorillas deliver — Pittsburg State’s football team missed the NCAA Division II playoffs in the two seasons after winning the national championship in 2011, but came back in a big way this season. Led by senior quarterback and Harlon Hill Trophy finalist Anthony Abenoja, the Gorillas won the MIAA title and lost to eventual national runner-up Minnesota State-Mankato in overtime in the second round of the NCAA Division II playoffs.
7. Ontjes’ reign — Hutchinson Community College’s women’s basketball team kept up its unprecedented run under coach John Ontjes. The Blue Dragons went 35-0 before suffering their first loss of the season in the NJCAA championship game to Trinity Valley (Texas), its second title game loss in three years. Hutchinson was led by a local product, Jamie Patrick, who set the school’s career and single-season scoring records before signing with Colorado State.
8. Welcome, Iowans — The first year of what could be a long-term scheduling agreement in football between the Jayhawk Conference and three Iowa junior colleges — Iowa Western, Iowa Central and Ellsworth — went off without a hitch.
Only Iowa Western ran the table, going 8-0 against Jayhawk schools. Ellsworth went 3-5 and Iowa Central went 2-6.
9. Capper for Kadeem — Hutchinson Community College’s men’s basketball team was decimated by injuries last season, but that didn’t deter sophomore guard Kadeem Allen from being chosen an NJCAA All-American for the second straight year and bringing home NJCAA Player of the Year. Allen, who is redshirting at Arizona this season, averaged 25.9 points, 5.9 assists and 2.3 steals last season.
10. Jets running right — The Newman men’s cross country team was a beacon of light in an otherwise dismal year for athletics at NCAA Division II Newman. The Jets won the Heartland Conference title for the second time in three seasons, and did it with a big performance at the Heartland Championship in Wichita, placing five runners in the Top 10, led by sophomore and Andale product Jacob Wallace, who finished third.