By Dion Clisso PrepsKC Managing Editor
In sports the word parity has become somewhat an ugly word. It has taken on the meaning that a group of teams are just kind of average, that they aren’t very good.
In reality parity can be something very good. It can mean that no game is a certainty. Everything is up for grabs. This year in Kansas Class 5A and 6A there is a lot of parity, not the bad kind the good kind. There are eight teams in class on the east side of the bracket, and almost all have the pedigree to go to the state championship game.
The usual suspects make up this year’s bracket with one notable exception. Gardner-Edgerton is the new kid on the block, moving up after being one of the top teams in 5A the last few seasons. The Trailblazers have been to a title game in the last three years and have fared well with the 6A teams they have played.
Gardner-Edgerton is in, but missing are the defending state champs. Olathe South lost its last game to Olathe North, and the Eagles joined Gardner-Edgerton coming out of that district. Olathe North enters with a 3-6 mark but is playing its best football of the season.
The other three districts all sent quality teams to the playoffs, led by Lawrence Free State and Shawnee Mission West. The Firebirds and Vikings each have 8-1 records, but Free State earned the top seed due to its win over West earlier in the season. Olathe East is the other district champ with Lawrence, Shawnee Mission East and Blue Valley Northwest coming in with the second spots in their districts.
West opens up with Blue Valley Northwest, and Vikings coach Tim Callaghan said every team is capable of winning three games and making to the title game.
“I think all eight of those guys have a chance,” Callaghan said. “It’s one of those times where there is no easy game on that schedule for sure.”
Some years the first round games are simply a warm-up for top-seeded teams, but not this year. Free State is the top seed and draws Olathe North in the first round. The Eagles are led by veteran coach Gene Wier and he and Free State coach Bob Lisher know each other very well.
Other outstanding games are Shawnee Mission East at Olathe East and Blue Valley Northwest at Shawnee Mission West. The winner of the Free State-North Game will play the winner of Shawnee Mission East-Olathe East and the winner of Lawrence-Gardner-Edgerton will play the winner of West and Northwest.
The past few years Blue Valley, Bishop Miege and Gardner-Edgerton have ruled the 5A playoffs. Gardner-Edgerton played in the title game in 2009 while Blue Valley won the 5A crown in 2010 and finished second in 2011.
This year St. Thomas Aquinas returns to the playoffs for the first time since 2009. The Saints earned the top seed with an 8-1 record and could be ready to pick up right where they left off. For almost 10 years Aquinas was making runs to the quarters and semis and this year’s team could be ready for that kind of run. The Saints open with Lansing who finished second to Mill Valley and has a 3-6 record on the season.
Mill Valley may be the hottest team heading into postseason. The Jaguars have won eight straight and earned the No. 2 seed on the opposite side of the bracket. Mill Valley will host Bishop Miege and the two teams are very familiar with each other. The last two years the teams shared a district and this year they draw each other in the first round.
“Miege is going to be very, very challenging,” Mill Valley coach Joel Applebee said. “We’ve lost to them the last two years in district play. Our kids understand that and understand the challenge that’s in front of them. I think they are going to be very focused in this week of practice, and it is going to be exciting to see this game.”
The No. 3 seed on the same side of the bracket with Mill Valley is Blue Valley West. The Jaguars are 7-2 on the season and will host Topeka Seaman in the first round. West is playing some of the best football in the Metro and is fresh off a 45-21 drubbing of rival Blue Valley last week.
The No. 4 seed is Shawnee Heights who will host Blue Valley in the first round.
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