Coffeyville basketball's Jay Herkelman wins elusive NJCAA national title

Charles Chaney
Butler County Times Gazette
Coffeyville's head basketball coach Jay Herkelman celebrates as he cuts down the net after his team won the 2021 Men's DI Basketball Championship 108-99 against Cowley Saturday night.

HUTCHINSON, Kansas—For Coffeyville Head Coach Jay Herkelman, he’s been close to the promise land a few times, most notably in 2002 when his Coffeyville Red Ravens lost by a point to Dixie State by a point. 

“You get so close so many times, you wonder if it’s ever going to happen,” Herkelman said."

After 25 years of coaching, he can finally check that one off his bucket list.

Herkelman’s run at Hutch has always ended in defeat, whether it was in the Final Four or in the championship game mentioned previously. They have always had these good teams but never the one to get over the hump.

“I’ve been in a text group with the 2002 team,” Herkelman said. “They have been giving me words of encouragement all week.”

More:Coffeyville basketball wins NJCAA national championship for first time since 1962

In the historic career of Coffeyville’s leading man, he's won over 660 games, amassed numerous conference achievements and been to the NJCAA National Tournament 14 times. However, with the exception of last season's COVID ending season, they've all ended in heart break.

After missing out on a potential championship last season due to the cancelation of the tournament, the Red Ravens were poised to make it count this season as they started out the season winners of their first 13 games of the season. They showed why they were easily a top team in the nation, reaching as high as No. 2 in the NJCAA top 25 rankings.

More:Coffeyville outlasts the Butler men's basketball team, 76-66

Playing in the toughest conference in the NJCAA doesn't hurt, either. 

“It just shows how tough our league is,” sophomore Tylor Perry said. “Coach Herk coaches us hard and gets us prepared. You can tell he cares about us and that’s why we were able to do what we did today."

Which makes this win over Cowley a little bit more special than it would have been against any other team. Don’t tell Herkelman or anyone else as the Red Ravens were able to avenge their other loss. 

“That’s all Coach Herk,” Perry said. “Him an the coaching staff got us ready.”

More:Andover softball suffers first lost in split to Valley Center

Players like Blaise Keita dominated and Tylor Perry showed why he earned the first team All-KJCCC this season. 

From day one, the Red Ravens appeared to be head and shoulders above the rest of the league. Two slip ups, one to Independence that left you head scratching and another on the road to Cowley sent the Red Ravens to Hutch without a first round bye, providing the motivation they needed. 

“With the route we had to take, to win five games,” Herkleman said. “Then to play a team like Cowley and the pace they play on the fifth day, took tremendous effort.”

Coffeyville and Cowley had already played twice this season, both splitting each game on their home courts. It would be a team that had seen Cowley on numerous occasions with multiple opportunities to prepare for the tough press that coach Tommy DeSalme puts on the floor. It’s almost a Nolan Richardson’s “40 minutes of Hell” but on speed. However, Coffeyville broke the press time and time again, forcing Cowley to take low efficiency shots. 

More:Second-ranked Circle High School girls soccer beats Augusta 9-0

“One of the things I was curious about, would other teams be able to play against their style with short turn around preparation because hard to do,” Herkelamn said. “We are fortunate we were able to play them a couple of times and be a little bit more prepared for having this performance on this stage.”

The Red Ravens finish the season 27-3 and Herkelman wins had hit the 660-win mark coming into Saturday’s national championship game.  

“This team is great,” Herkelman said. “There’s no egos and they’re easy to be around. They enjoy being coached hard, which I do coach them hard.”

“That’s why we are able to celebrate what we are celebrating,” Herkelman said. 

Win No. 661 will always be the sweetest one of them all.

“What a rewarding feeling and it’s hard to put into words,” he said. “We are really going to enjoy this one.”

Charles Chaney has been the Sports Editor for the Butler County Times-Gazette since Aug. 2019. You can reach him at cchaney@butlercountytimesgazette.com or on Twitter at @ChuckChaneyBCTG.