Is this Mill Valley's time?
By Dion Clisso PrepsKC Managing Editor
There is a different feeling around Mill Valley these days. As the Jaguars begin their 13th season there is a sense the program is ready to become a consistent football power.
When the school began 12 years ago as the second high school in the DeSoto district it was designed to be a smaller Class 4A or 5A school. That has changed and now Mill Valley is knocking on the door of 6A. The school and community around it are growing. The fans are passionate and now the football success on the field is starting to match the enthusiasm of the community.
“Every year to us is another year where we take another step,” third-year coach Joel Applebee said. “Eventually we hope to get to the point where each year we are at a high level. We feel pretty good about this group because of experience more than anything. I don’t thing our mindset has changed but we are just going to keep working hard and hopefully we can improve and be playing our best football at the end of the season.”
The Jaguars have been to the playoffs several times in their history including the last four years but wins have been hard to come by. In the history of the school only a win over Sumner in the first round of the 5A playoffs in 2007 is the one time the Jaguars have tasted postseason success.
The last two years the Jaguars have been stopped in the first round by Shawnee Heights but this year there is a feeling that things are going to be different. There is a commitment to football from the administration, the community, the coaches and the players.
In an area that is marked by subdivisions not necessarily a town Applebee hopes the football program can become the center of the community.
“It is very unique,” Applebee said. “West of 435 there is a sense of community. That’s what we are trying to do. Friday night is nice because people are lined up around the fence. That’s what I want. I want this to be the center of the community since we don’t really have a center of the community.”
The Jaguars have gone through a lot of changes the last few years since Applebee took over. There has been an increased commitment to the weight room and Applebee said he can see the difference in the players and how they are able to compete on the field.
“I think one thing is we are in a lot better shape than we were three years ago,” Applebee said. “I think our weight room has improved our kids on the field with their strength and with our speed. Also our kids know our system so much better so they know our expectations on the field and off the field. Now we aren’t teaching those we are just working on those little things that will help us improve and get over the top and start winning some playoff games.”
Mill Valley has also upgraded its schedule opening the season with Class 6A Manhattan. The Jaguars lost that game on the road 43-21 but the tough game against a team ranked in the top five of 6A will do nothing but benefit Mill Valley.
As the season continues the Jaguars have a good schedule filled with the 4A and 5A teams in the Kaw Valley League. As it happens this season the strength of the league lies with the 4A teams like Piper, Basehor-Linwood and Bonner Springs. The 5A schools in the league appear to be down and Mill Valley’s district features Schlagle and Washington from the KCK League.
This past week the Jaguars took on Basehor-Linwood. The last few seasons the Bobcats have ruled the conference going 18-0 in the regular season. Last week Piper handed Basehor-Linwood its first conference loss since Mill Valley beat them in 2009. Mill Valley dominated the Bobcats 47-6 to grab control of the Kaw Valley race just three games into the season.
Every game is important but the win over Basehor-Linwood might have been a hurdle that is important for Mill Valley to get over as they take steps to the next level.
“We don’t look at it like we have to beat them type of game,” Applebee said. “It is another opponent in our league. It is another chance to get better this week and Basehor is still a very good football team. Our league from top to bottom is much improved. That’s what you want. You want it be to be a test. Basehor is another one of those tests. We feel like it is an opportunity to get better.”
No matter how the season ends up Mill Valley is a team and community on the rise and Applebee said he wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
“The community here has been outstanding, they are very supportive,” Applebee said. “The support here I can’t say enough about it. The administration at the high school has been unbelievable.”
“This is the fourth school district I’ve worked for and this is by far the best district and I’m not just saying that because that is where I work now.”
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