The Hutchison News
By Brad Hallier
Jase Herl wants to get this much out of the way regarding the Northwest Kansas Tech men's basketball team. Full scholarships are not offered.
Herl, the coach of the first-year program in Goodland, said he has heard the rumors, the myths and the exaggerations from many people. But the fact remains, Herl said, that Northwest Kansas Tech's men's basketball players are not on full rides.
"That's far from the truth," Herl said. "Where that perception came from, I don't know. A lot of stuff about our school has been said. I'm sure it got started like most rumors do. It is what it is."
So what is the men's basketball scholarship situation at Northwest Kansas Tech? Herl said the average scholarship is $2,000. Pell grants are available, like at many colleges. But also consider that Northwest Kansas Tech is not a community college. It's technical school and does not receive federal funds.
OK, the scholarship issue is now known. It could change, but for now, it's settled.
Still, the Northwest Kansas Tech Mavericks are the gigantic elephants in the room. They're there, everyone's talking about them, but who are they? What are they?
Northwest Kansas Tech, which plays Hutchinson Community College in the first round of the Region 6 Tournament at 7:30 p.m. today, is not affiliated with the Jayhawk Conference. Like Division II schools Brown Mackie and Hesston, Northwest Kansas Tech is an independent but still plays in the NJCAA's Region 6 and opts to play Division I. Being an independent means Northwest Kansas Tech does not have to abide by the same rules that the 19 Jayhawk Conference schools do.
Herl said the school originally wanted to be in the conference but stayed independent. His program could also play Division II, as it does not offer full scholarships.
"I wanted these guys to compete against the best teams," Herl said. "For our guys, it's our goal to play against those types of teams."
There is not a single Kansas player on the Mavericks' roster. Jayhawk Conference rules state basketball rosters can only have six players from outside Kansas.
"We don't have any in-state kids, but it's not from lack of trying," said Herl, a Goodland native who played at Dodge City Community College. "You get books and tuition at other Jayhawk Conference schools. When we started recruiting, we knew it would be tough. We have no past history, but we talked to the guys about being a part of something new, something fresh at Northwest Tech."
Herl has pieced together a good team in its inaugural season. The Mavericks come to the Sports Arena 16-14 and having won 10 of their last 12 games.
Next year, preparation for Northwest Kansas Tech should be a bit easier. With no previous seasons, and a 25-year-old coach in his first season as a head coach, there is little information Hutchinson coach Steve Eck could find out about the Mavericks.
"It has been tough, but they are the hottest team besides maybe Seward (County)," Eck said. "I know they have good players, but it's been hard to get tape on them. We got some, but all you need to know is they are playing well right now."
Here's the result that should open the eyes of every Hutchinson fan not familiar with Northwest Kansas Tech - on Dec. 1 in Liberal, the Mavericks beat Jayhawk West champion Seward County 71-65.
"We played one of the tougher schedules around," Herl said. "That was another recruiting pitch. And these guys don't realize how good of a win that was at Seward. They probably don't know about Hutch either."
This brings up another question. If Northwest Kansas Tech is this good - it has also beaten Brown Mackie, Colby, Dodge City, Northeastern Colorado, Western Nebraska and Laramie County, Wyo. - why is it seeded so low?
After all, Barton is seeded third in the Jayhawk West. Why do the Cougars get to play a 6-24 Allen team today, but Hutchinson - the Jayhawk West runner-up - gets to play Northwest Kansas Tech?
HCC athletic Randy Stange is also the Region 6 director. He said during a spring 2012 meeting of the Region 6 athletic directors, the issue of how to seed Northwest Kansas Tech in Region 6 tournaments - the school also has women's basketball, men's soccer and women's soccer - came up. Stange said Northwest Kansas Tech was not represented at the meeting, and for basketball, the athletic directors voted to give Northwest Kansas Tech the seventh seed from the Jayhawk East, since the East has only six schools playing Division I.
"Going into the season, I'd say that was a fair place for us," said Herl, whose sister, Jade, plays for the Hutchinson women. "The only way we could have been seeded (appropriately) is if we played everyone in the East home and home, and those teams aren't coming out here to play us."
The last-place Jayhawk West team would be the eighth seed on the East side.
As a member of Region 6, Stange said Northwest Kansas Tech has to be given a chance at the championship. In soccer, the Mavericks had a playoff with the eighth-place finishers, and the winners played the conference champion in the quarterfinals.
With Herl's team having such a good team this season, Stange said the topic on where to seed the Mavericks next season would be priority.
"That will be up for discussion," Stange said. "It would be easier if they were in the conference (for seeding purposes). We'll have to come up with a plan. It won't be one person deciding that. It will be the whole body."
There was a time when Colby, Cloud County and Highland were independents and not part of the conference. In basketball, those three schools would play their own postseason tournament. The winner would then play either the Jayhawk West or Jayhawk East tournament winner, alternating in years. The winner of that game would play the other champion for the Region 6 title.
But those three schools had each other. Northwest Kansas Tech is the only Division I independent in Region 6. Other technical schools, however, could add sports. According to the Jayhawk Conference web site, Manhattan Tech is offering cross country and golf. Northwest Kansas Tech also has golf, wrestling, cross country and track.
Until other technical schools add basketball, if they will at all, finding an appropriate postseason seed for Northwest Kansas Tech will be a hot topic. Next season, Butler moves to the Jayhawk East for basketball, giving the East seven Division I teams and the Jayhawk West eight. Northwest Kansas Tech will fill the vacancy again in the postseason.
This year, the Mavericks have a chance at announcing their arrival to the rest of the region by playing Hutchinson.
"It's cool for our guys to go to that arena," Herl said. "For a first-year program to go there and play them? That's pretty cool. We'll be ready to go."
East 7 Northwest Kansas Tech (16-14) at West 2 Hutchinson (27-3)
When: 7:30 p.m. today
Where: Sports Arena
Tickets: Start at $5
Radio: KHUT-102.9 FM; KWBW-1450 AM
Internet: Live audio, video and stats at www.bluedragonsports.com
Twitter: Live updates and commentary at www.twitter.com/hutchsports
Bottom line: There really was no way to know that Northwest Kansas Tech would have a team that was good enough to win at Seward County. The Mavericks, a first-year program, were assigned this seed before the season, but they're obviously better than most of the teams in the Jayhawk East. A team with great guards and some dead-eye shooters - Markees Walker shoots 43 percent from 3-point range - this is a difficult first-round game for the Blue Dragons. Having said that, Northwest Kansas Tech hasn't played in a pressure-packed game this year, since the school isn't in a conference and didn't play any Region 6 seeding games. How will the Mavericks respond, especially considering these kinds of games are nothing new to Hutchinson?