Year of the Jackrabbit: Greeley County Jackrabbits are Back to Back State Champions


The Greeley County Jackrabbits swept the state tournament again this year, claiming a 49-43 win over the Lebo Wolves to earn the 2023 1A-Division II Championship game for the second year in a row. The team entered the tournament as the number one seed, with a record of 22-1. 

Game 23

Thursday, March 10

Tribune Jackrabbits vs. Southern Cloud Warriors

Though conditions were cold and misty for the Thursday morning send-off of the state-bound Jackrabbit men’s basketball team, the dreary weather had no impact on the players, the fans, or red and white pride that crowded the gym at Barton County Community College. 

From the opening tip-off to the final buzzer, the Jackrabbits confidently held the advantage throughout the game against the number eight seeded South Cloud Warriors. 

Titus Sherer put up a three-point shot to get the Jackrabbits on the board, and the team’s tough press defense, coupled with their fast-paced, scoring-in-transition style had the Jackrabbits up by 19 at the end of the first quarter.

The Southern Cloud team had limited man-power, with only seven players, only six of which saw court-time.

Sophomore guard Lincoln Shafer was assigned to defend the Warriors’ lead guard, and Gooch was impressed, as always, with Shafer’s defensive skills.

“Lincoln shut him down and did a phenomenal job, holding him to just six points,” said Coach Gooch. “I knew going into that game, that if our defense was even halfway good, we were going to be fine.”  

Not long into the second quarter, Coach Gooch began subbing three players in and out at a time. He relaxed his press and by halftime, the team was up 41-10. 

“After the first quarter, I subbed pretty loosely,” said Coach Gooch. “We had three back-to-back games, so we didn’t need to run and gun when we were already up by 20.”

Jaxson Brandl led scoring for the Jackrabbits with 23 points, which is also the number he wears. 

“Jaxson had a great start to the game,” said Coach Gooch. In the first quarter alone, he added 14 points for the team. 

The Warriors outscored the Jackrabbits 23-15 in the second half, but Coach Gooch wasn’t worried. 

“It was a good game to get our feet wet and get acclimated to the state environment,” he said. “Titus had a great game, Isaac had a good game, as did Carson.”

All of the Jackrabbits saw court time and nearly everyone who shot added some points for the team. 

The 56-33 win moved the Jackrabbits onto Friday’s semi-final game, where they would take on South-Central/Coldwater, who defeated Stafford in the initial round of play. 

Game 24

Friday, March 11

Tribune Jackrabbits vs. Coldwater-South Central

Preparations for the game began as soon as Coldwater-South Central claimed their Thursday win. 

“This one had the implications of being a tough game. The team had received a fair amount of press throughout the season, with evidence they had been competing well, beating some good teams,” said Coach Gooch. “Their league is a very good one. As we watched film Thursday night, it became evident that they are a young, fairly inexperienced team. That both helped them and was a liability for the team. At times, they were out of control and didn’t make good decisions, even when they weren’t pressured. I thought our press could bother them and the boys did, too.”

The Jackrabbits started out in the press and used their speed to their advantage. 

“We hurried them up, forced them into some turnovers and bad decisions. “Lincoln and Jariath hit some timely threes in there to give a little boost. We outscored them 17 to 5 in the first quarter. They didn’t transition back into defense very well,” Gooch said. “In the second quarter, it was more of the same.”

To save the boys’ legs, Gooch backed off to a half court defense. The Timberwolves put up 12 points in the second quarter and Coach Gooch said they made a few defensive adjustments during the halftime break, which the Jackrabbits entered leading 37-17. 

Coach Gooch was especially pleased with the team’s shooting against South Central, noting that they were 12 for 21 from inside the arc and 11 for 21 from behind the three-point line. 

“Man, it was exciting. The kids were dialed in all week, all weekend. During the Coldwater-South Central game, they knew what they needed to do and they locked in and shut down the kids that they needed to. They held South Central’s best player to seven points, and others to their season averages,” said Coach Gooch. 

The JV players again saw some court time and Kasen Felty and Jesus Chanez each contributed a 3-point shot to the team’s eventual 64-41 win. 

“Isaac had a three that was pretty much the dagger that deflated South Central’s balloon,” said Coach Gooch. “Titus had some timely shots in the third quarter for us, too.” 

Gooch appreciated the boys’ focus and the opportunity to coast in the second half. He also applauded South Central’s effort and noted that the team had no seniors, which means they will likely remain competitive in the years to come.

Jaxson Brandl led scoring for the Jackrabbits, putting up 26 points and pulling down 12 rebounds. He also had seven deflections and six steals for the team. Jariath Yanez had 12 points for Greeley County, and Lincoln Shafer and Titus Sherer each had six. 

Again, the Jackrabbits had to wait through the next game to see who their opponent would be in Saturday’s championship game. When #6 seeded Lebo soundly defeated #2 seeded Axtell, who had been favored to win, Gooch and Assistant Coach Drew Zerr set to work to learn more about their opponents.

“I had watched Lebo creep into the top 10 and had been paying attention to their scores. They play in a tough league, with Olpe, who they had lost to all three times they played. They play some bigger schools, too, including Osage City. I knew their record was deceiving because they play in a bigger league, against bigger schools,” said Coach Gooch. “They were able to do whatever they wanted against Axtell and a couple of their players put up some impressive point totals.” 

Immediately after the game, Coach Gooch made a call to a couple of coaches and he and Coach Zerr began dissecting film. 

“Drew did a fantastic job cutting down film, and analyzing it like we’ve been doing,” Gooch said. “He did three to my one, as I checked on the boys, visited with Mr. Niehues and Mr. Cook, and took care of the other things that needed to be done.”

They spent some additional time in the morning looking at additional film and developing a solid game plan, which a conversation with another coach helped reinforce. 

“We were much more confident about our game plan after walkthrough and the kids were ready,” said Coach Gooch. “The biggest thing at that point was just if we would have enough energy, enough fuel left in the tank to play the game and finish it.” 

After looking at the stat sheets, Coach Gooch also knew that Lebo’s boys weren’t used to playing the entire game, and he thought they would eventually hit a wall. 

Game 25

Saturday, March 12

Tribune Jackrabbits vs. Lebo Wolves

After a wall of red filled both sides of the stands at Barton Community College, the Jackrabbits won the tip off and put the first four points on the board.

“Jaxson went on a nice little 9-0 run of his own, but then Lebo came back with a 7-0 run of their own to be at 11. Jariath hit a three at the end of the quarter to give us the lead going into the second,” said Coach Gooch. 

The Jackrabbits lead 12-11 at the end of the first quarter.

The Jackrabbits held that lead for five and half minutes in the second quarter, then Lebo tied it up at 17 before hitting a three to pull ahead. 

Gooch and Zerr had urged Valentin (Val) to take over when the Wolves worked to shut down and shadow Jaxson. 

“Val hit a couple of lay-ups and started being a little more aggressive. He did a fantastic job.” said Coach Gooch. “We went into halftime just down four (21-25), instead of even worse than that.”

During halftime, Coach Gooch told his boys to keep digging, to keep fighting, to continue battling. 

He told them to stay positive, to keep executing, to try to run on the Wolves. 

“We had to shut their big man (Oswald) down. He had nine at halftime. We had to keep Grimmit and Shoemaker in check, who had five and nine. And, we needed to keep them off the free throw line, as they were 7 for 8 from there,” said Coach Gooch. “We needed to hold down the fouls, and keep them off the offensive rebounds.”

The Jackrabbits outscored the Wolves in the third quarter, 10-8, pulling within two. 

“I knew we were just right there, we were just a few plays away from getting it tight or even taking the lead,” said Gooch. 

The Wolves scored at the beginning of the fourth quarter, but then Jaxson Brandl hit a three to pull the Jackrabbits within one. 

“We just needed to get a stop and then a score,” said Gooch. 

With four or five minutes left in the game, the Jackrabbits regained the lead. The score went back and forth for a bit, before being tied up at 39 after a made free throw by Jaxson.

“I subbed in my all-guard line-up, putting Val in for Isaac, knowing they couldn’t guard us from half court,” said Gooch. “They couldn’t defend all five of us, especially with two of their big men out there.”

Titus took a charge from Shoemaker, who voiced his frustration, resulting in a technical foul against the Wolves. 

“It was nice being on the beneficial side of the technical,” said Coach Gooch. “Jaxson knocked down two free throws and then we got the ball back with the lead and under three minutes left in the game.”

“Val took it to the hole and they collapsed in on him,” said Coach Gooch. Val kicked it out to Titus, who hit the three. 

Coach Gooch said he wasn’t sure it was the right time for the shot, but when it went in, he knew it was the “nail in the coffin.” 

“It was a huge momentum swing for us, and we could feel the pressure lifted up,” he said. “We knew it wasn’t over; they were one or two shots away from getting back in the game. We did a great job of not giving them anymore shot opportunities and we got a few steals there in the last couple of minutes. We did a phenomenal job of passing around, playing keep away. Some of the kids asked why they didn’t foul us then and I said it was because they moved the ball around so fast.” 

The Jackrabbits went on a 10-2 run to claim the victory, 49-43. 

“Once we got that lead and had the ball in our hands, I was very confident in our kids of doing the right things and taking care of business, and we did. We came home with more hardware and it makes last year’s win that much sweeter,” said Coach Gooch. “This two year stretch is just unbelievable. We had three losses and 49 wins, if you count the byes. It’s just unbelievable.”

Though the stat sheets show no points for Lincoln Shafer in Saturday’s game, Coach Gooch credits him with a 24-point difference, after he held Grimmett, who scored 33 Friday, to just nine in Saturday’s game. 

He also complimented Jariath on his great job of handling the ball and playing good defense. 

“Carson and Isaac did a great job playing defense on both sides, too,” he said. 

In an emotional celebration, the Jackrabbits were named the 2023 1A-Division II Champions, and are the first in the history of boys division II basketball to claim back-to-back titles. (Division II was established in 2011, when Greeley County won the title.) This win also propels the Jackrabbits to the top of the leaderboard of total Division II titles. They had been tied with neighboring Wallace County with two each. 

Coach Gooch is grateful to the community for its incredible support and hopes everyone knows how much he and the team appreciate them.

The team’s post-game photo, with one side of Greeley County fans roaring in the background, is a reflection of that sentiment.

“I wanted this to be a community state championship,” said Coach Gooch, “and it’s awesome that they’re all posing for it, too, holding up the number one.” 

Throughout the week, empty seats became harder to find, and even behind the bench, team managers had difficulty finding a seat. 

“Being from Tribune, it’s just so nice. It’s remarkable. It’s unbelievable that I’m able to do this or be a part of this,” Gooch said.  

After being congratulated on the court and cutting down the nets, the Jackrabbits were welcomed home to Tribune with an 11:15 p.m. police, fire, and EMS escort and celebration at the four-way, complete with confetti as well as their very own fireworks show. 

While it was an incredible journey, Coach Gooch says it may take a while for it to all sink in.

“It feels like we’re not done yet, like we’ll have practice on Monday or shoot around on Sunday. There’s going to be another game next week. It just doesn’t feel like it’s over yet,” said Coach Gooch. “I’ve never had this large of a senior class leave. It’s going to be different, but I know how magical it was.” 



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