Keithley, Hibner from tri-champ Lady Hornets, Brandsgaard, Pfaff from second-place Hornets selected by Midland Empire Conference coaches in 2019-20
By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
ST. JOSEPH, Mo. — Four seniors from the outstanding 2019-20 Chillicothe High School basketball Hornets and Lady Hornets – C.J. Pfaff, Jordan Hibner, Hunter Keithley, and Westley Brandsgaard – have been voted by league coaches to the Midland Empire Conference’s all-conference first teams.
The past season’s all-MEC squad officially was released to the public after the final league team in competition – St. Joseph: Lafayette’s Fighting Irish – was eliminated from the Class 4 state tournament in the quarterfinals.
For Keithley and Brandsgaard, the 2019-20 first-team honor is their third in a row. Pfaff was chosen to the league’s top boys’ squad a second-straight time. Hibner moves up to the first group after two years of honorable mention.
Three Chillicothe players are on this year’s all-MEC hoops honorable mention lists. Senior Bradley Riley is among the boys who received voting support, while sophomore Essie Hicks and freshman Jessica Reeter are girls who received some degree of consideration from the coaches of the other seven teams in the loop.
2019-20 is the second season in a row that Chillicothe, whose girls shared the conference title with Kansas City: St. Pius X and Maryville and whose boys took second place behind Lafayette, has had two representatives on each gender’s first team. A year ago, it also was Pfaff and Brandsgaard for the Hornets, while Keithley and then-senior Kennedie Kieffer represented the Lady Hornets.
As a sophomore, Keithley was the only CHS girl on the 2017-18 all-MEC first team. Brandsgaard and then-senior Walker Graves repped the Hornets that year, one year after Cade Snyder was the lone CHS player on the 2016-17 boys’ first team.
Based on the traditional listing order of the all-MEC first team selections, it appears Brandsgaard – the fourth-all-time leading scorer in Hornets history with over 1,500 career points – either was the top vote-getter on the boys’ side or shared that distinction with at least one other player.
That broad level of support was well-earned by the bruising, redoubtable, 6’3” CHS veteran, who took over a starting role nine games into his freshman year after being a top reserve the early part of that campaign.
This season, he produced a team-high scoring average of 20.3 points, either leading or sharing the lead in points in 17 of the 21-5 Hornets’ 26 contests. In 15 of those 17, he reached at least 20 markers, topped twice by a career-high 30 points (Dec. 17 at Macon and Feb. 27 vs. Brookfield). He shot 56 percent overall from the floor and 76 percent at the foul line, where he made 144 of 189 attempts.
Brandsgaard also was second on the Hornets in assists, steals, and rebounds per game and total 3-points baskets.
Pfaff – a non-pareil 6’4” or 6’5” player who spent most of his time as point guard, yet also jumped center at the games’ start and was a dominant player in the low paint on the defensive end – scored nearly as frequently as “running mate” Brandsgaard, while leading the squad in all non-scoring averages.
Netting 469 points on the season, he climbed over the 1,000-points threshold for his career late in the season while netting a team-best 49 3-points buckets (41 percent success rate) and 18 points a game average. A 64 percent shooter from 2-points range – the same as Brandsgaard, Pfaff hit 55 percent overall – uncannily finishing with the exact same number of overall field-goal attempts as his teammate and making three less. His 28 points in Chillicothe’s Jan. 25 win at Camdenton was his career peak.
He used his height, long arms, and jumping ability to corral nearly nine rebounds (8.7) per contest, while his uncanny anticipation and spider-like arms led to an average of 2.1 steals – a number of which turned into breakaway dunks. Pfaff also handed out 3.3 assists a night while rejecting nearly two opponent shots a game. Nine times during the season, he posted a scoring/rebounding double-double and once did it in assists and points.
Lady Hornet Keithley finished third in the overall girls’ all-conference voting after pacing the 20-8 district-champion Chillicothe squad in scoring (12.8 points per game), assists (3.6), steals (1.2), and field-goal percentage (48 percent).
A sharp perimeter shooter – hitting 39 percent from outside the arc – who also could score off the drive and the offensive glass, the smooth 5’8” CHS ace topped the Lady Hornets’ scoring 18 times this season, topped by a 22-points performance in a win over Platte County in the Kearney Classic tournament.
The 5’4”Hibner defined a 3-points shooting specialist, making a school-record 71 treys (43 percent) as a junior and breaking that with 73 (45 percent accuracy) this past season, while attempting a mere 45 2-points shots the past two years combined.
CHS’ trifectas record-holder for a game, season, and career, she also pulled her weight at the defensive end of the court. Statistically, she shared the team lead in steals (1.2 per game) with Keithley this season, but regularly was tasked with defending the opposition’s top guard, regardless of the foe’s height.
Although with many fewer attempts, Hibner finished a close second to Keithley’s sterling 80 percent free-throw shooting, netting 79 percent of her tries from the stripe. Three times during the season, she paced the Lady Hornets’ scoring in a game, including a 22-points night – three off her career-high – in CHS’ December loss at state quarterfinalist Macon.
Among the three Chillicothe honorable mention all-conference selections, Lady Hornets underclasswomen Hicks and Reeter had nearly-identical scoring averages – point guard Reeter 7.3 and forward Hicks, with a strong finish to the season, 7.2.
Despite being new to high school, Reeter started every game except the “Senior Night” contest at the critical point guard spot and averaged nearly three (2.8) assists and one steal (0.8) a contest. She also shot 37 percent from 3-points distance and fired in a season-high 20 points against Lawson in early January.
Hicks, who averaged scoring in double digits the last half-dozen games or so, finished third on the team (behind Keithley and Hibner) in total field goals (73). She matched those two in having the CHS girls’ single-game scoring high of 2019-20 when she hit for 22 in a comeback win at Cameron Feb. 1.
The 6’4” Riley, a wing guard previously in his career, was shifted to an inside post position this year and made a very effective transition.
His per-game averages of 6.9 points and 4.7 rebounds were third on the Hornets behind his heralded senior classmates. He hit 51 percent of his shots from the field, including 58 percent from 2-points distance.