By Brent Maycock – KSHSAA Covered
The 2022-23 season has been a long time coming for the Clifton-Clyde boys’ basketball team.
In more ways than one.
When the Eagles wrapped up their regular-season schedule with a 63-31 win over Centralia on Feb. 17, they clinched their first Twin Valley League title in more than 20 years – the last crown coming in 2001. The victory also completed an undefeated run through league play, a first for the program.
“It means a lot, and I told the boys they won’t realize what they did for a few years,” said Clifton-Clyde coach Justin Steinbrock, whose team is 18-2 overall and is the No. 1 seed at the Class 1A Division I sub-state at sub-state hosted by Washington County. “Every year in this league, the top two, three, four teams of this league are always tough outs when it comes to the postseason. … It’s pretty special and there’s not a lot of teams that do this. It’s not an every-year occurrence for sure. Down the road, it will be something cool to look back at.”
With a large portion of this year’s squad made up of juniors and sophomores, the foundation for Clifton-Clyde’s championship season was laid years ago.
“They’ve been playing together since second, third grade and I coached them since they were little,” Steinbrock said of his underclassmen. “We’d play 20, 25 games every year when they were little and in the summer we played. There was definitely some talent there. And then you add in our senior, Seth LeClair, who played with us some.
“These kids have really bought into it and I thought if we could stay healthy because we don’t have a lot of depth, we could really make a run this year.”
After starting the season with a 50-47 loss to 2A Sacred Heart, Clifton-Clyde ripped off nine wins before the first bout of adversity hit. Just before the start of the league tournament, junior standout Trent Long – the team’s leading scorer – went down with a broken arm.
The Eagles lost in the tourney semifinals to Axtell, but bounced back to beat Hanover in the third-place game. Clifton-Clyde hasn’t lost since with Long returning for the final two games of the regular season, punctuating his return with 23 points on five 3-pointers in the season finale against Centralia.
In league play, the Eagles were dominant. Of their 12 league victories, only two were by less than double digits – a 72-64 win over Blue Valley-Randolph and 50-41 win over Axtell in early January. Their average margin of victory in league play was just over 20 points per game.
Balance has been Clifton-Clyde’s biggest strength.
While Long leads the team at 12.9 points per game, he’s one of four Eagles averaging between 11.4 and 12.9 points per game along with Jack Skocny (12.3 ppg), LeClair (11.9 ppg) and Coy Steinbrock (11.4 ppg). All seven regulars have scored at least 14 points in a game this season and all but one have hit at least three 3-pointers in a game.
All seven regulars have at least 24 assists and six of the seven have at least 24 steals. Three players have at least 100 rebounds, led by LeClair’s 113.
“It’s critical to our success and in a way it gives the boys a lot of confidence,” Steinbrock said of his team’s balance. “That’s the luxury I’ve got with this group. Everyone’s happy for each other when they succeed and it’s kind of a coach’s dream.”
Hanover’s girls duplicated Clifton-Clyde’s undefeated run through the Twin Valley League. Two of the Wildcats’ biggest tests came from Doniphan West – a 71-61 win in the league tournament finals and a 62-53 overtime win on Feb. 10.
The Wildcats are 20-0 overall and the top seed in the Class 1A Division II sub-state at Axtell.