Wichita Heights takes down last year’s state runner-up
Laniah Randle watched the seconds drip away as she celebrated with a shimmy toward her bench.
Heights kept its undefeated start to the 2018-19 season alive with a 45-35 home win over Bishop Carroll on Tuesday night. The Falcons are 8-0. The Golden Eagles were last season’s Class 5A runners-up.
But the Falcons still haven’t seemed to gather the respect of the Kansas coaches. In the latest Kansas Basketball Coaches Association rankings, Heights came in No. 8 in 5A — behind one-loss teams Maize and McPherson and even behind two-loss Topeka Highland Park, which lost again Tuesday.
Heights has the most wins in the class and is outscoring opponents by almost 23 points per game. They are two games clear atop the City League and have a win over Kapaun, the second-place team, by more points (35) than the Crusaders scored (33).
Coach Ken Palmer said there is one therapy for a lack of respect.
“We’ve just got to take one game at a time and keep getting that W until they figure out, ‘This team is a winner. This team is good,’” he said. “I tell the kids, ‘Just keep winning. Put a notch under your belt every time.’ As we keep winning, they’ll start recognizing. Right now, we haven’t won enough games yet.”
Heights is loaded with talent. Randle is the Falcons’ most promising asset. A 5-foot-9 sophomore guard who plays well above her height and can slash to the basket. At 5-4, junior guard Taylor Jameson is often the smallest player in the game, but she reads the court as if she is standing above it. They are the two producers, but it doesn’t end with them.
Freshmen Cayanna Stanley and Zyanna Walker and sophomore Derryana Cobbins round out the starting five and are good bets to add at least a handful every night.
Heights doesn’t have a player signed to play Division I basketball like at Derby or Maize. The Falcons haven’t won a City League title since before Wichita South won six straight under former coach Antwain Scales. But they are coming. In fact, by the looks of their start to this season, they are already here.
“Last year, we didn’t really have chemistry, so to see us getting along and playing as a team feels really good,” Randle said. “I feel like we have a chance at a state title this year.”
Playing in the Heights gym as a girls basketball program has its natural struggles. Under boys coach Joe Auer, the Falcons have won five state championships since 2009. Many of the students show up during the girls game to make sure they have a good seat to watch the boys.
The gym has signs that read “Auer House,” and a student even went to the Wichita Southeast game with a dress shirt and tie painted on his body with Auer’s name on the back.
But since 2002, the girls program has won six state championships, including back-to-back titles in 2011-12.
Palmer took over for Kip Pulliam three years ago. He said the work Pulliam did with the program was outstanding, especially because of the atmosphere he had to coach in front of with Auer’s program following as the main event.
“I’ve got to try to duplicate it or come close, and it’s tough,” Palmer said. “He’s got all these state championships, and I don’t have one. I got two as an assistant with him; I’m riding his coattails then. But to do it on my own is a lot of work.”
The Falcons’ ranking this season might be a product of slow-building success over the past few seasons. Last year, Heights finished 14-8 and fourth in the City League. The Falcons weren’t to be taken lightly but went 0-7 against the three teams that finished ahead of them.
This year, Heights is 3-0 against those teams, and that has the Falcons believing beyond their first City League title since 2012.
“We are going to show them that we are worth watching,” Jameson said. “We are the team you need to be on. We are the team all the college scouts need to come look at. We are the team all the teams everywhere else need to fear because we’re putting in that work behind closed doors, and it’s showing out ont he court.”