Mike Patterson takes a look at the top ten Nebraska girls basketball teams.
* * *
1. Lincoln Southeast: The Knights have several factors working in their favor this season, with the most important being the return of senior guard Alexa Kastanek and sophomore center Jess Shepard. Add the major motivation of a Class A runner-up finish last year and a second year under coach Kara Graham, and Southeast is poised to have another outstanding year.
2. Omaha Central: The Eagles return eight players from last year’s state champion, but only three had significant playing time. The return of high-scoring forward Sylvia Smith-Gatson is a positive, but Central’s bigger issues are replacing All-Nebraska center Brianna Rollerson and playmaking point guard Emily Gamble. Junior guard Abigail Niebrugge is a 3-point threat at any time.
3. Seward: The Class B Bluejays have won 101 games in a row — 10 short of the state record set by West Point Central Catholic. Seward graduated four from last year’s state championship team, but one was All-Nebraska point guard Beth Bohuslavsky, the heart and soul of the team. The return of NU recruit Hannah Tvrdy and Northern Colorado recruit Kourteney Zadina is big.
4. Bellevue East: There are some lingering questions concerning the Chieftains, who still reached the Class A state semifinals last year despite having three players sidelined with knee injuries. The playing status of former All-Nebraska guard Jayla Hobza also remains in doubt because of personal issues off the court. With or without Hobza, Bellevue East returns enough firepower to be a factor.
5. Bellevue West: Perhaps an ambitious rating for the Thunderbirds, who will carry on this year without former head coach Matt Fritsche and graduated All-Nebraska guard Chelsea Mason. The new coach is former assistant Marc Kruger, and he welcomes back four starters from last year’s 17-8 team. Watch for freshman Chloe Akin-Otiko, whose older sister Alexis was a two-time all-stater.
6. Lincoln Southwest: The Silver Hawks graduated six from last year’s state tournament squad, but several key players return for head coach Lis Brenden. Leading the way is 5-7 senior guard Lauren Works, a Creighton recruit who led the team in scoring last year with a 12.5-point average. Also back is junior guard McKenna Dodd, who averaged almost 10 points per game.
7. Omaha Benson: Exactly where the Bunnies fit into the Top 10 is tough to say, but the presence of sophomore Kianna Ibis automatically makes this team one to watch. The 6-foot forward made a huge impact as a freshman, averaging 15.4 points and a Class A-leading 12.8 rebounds per game. Junior forward Zabrina Kentch also is a top returnee.
8. Millard North: The Mustangs came up just short of the state tournament last year, losing to Columbus in the district final to finish the season 16-9. The return of 5-7 senior guard Mary Dineen (13 points per game) is a plus, though she’ll be out until January because of injury. Millard North is hoping to follow a successful fall that saw the volleyball team qualify for state.
9. Millard West: The Wildcats saw their six-year string of state tournament appearances come to an end last year in a five-point loss to Papillion-La Vista South in the district final. That should serve as serious motivation for coach Kip Colony’s squad, which returns four starters. Junior guard Sam Waldron (13.7 ppg), sophomore guard Marisa Lowe (10.0) and senior guard Dani Saenz (8.7) know how to score.
10. Lincoln Northeast: The Rockets will be without graduated All-Nebraska guard Brianna Craig, who averaged almost 19 points a game. Among the returning starters are junior center Toni Tupper (9.2 points, 7.5 rebounds per game) and senior guard Devin Edwards (6.2 ppg). Northeast might not put up the same offensive numbers as last season, but should be improved defensively.
FIVE MORE TO WATCH
Papillion-La Vista: Coach Dave Hubert always gets the most out of his Monarchs, and this year should be no exception. The return of senior guard Alex Nelson (12.6 ppg) is a plus.
Minden: The Whippets boast the high-scoring Kissinger sisters — Brooke and Jamie. Each averaged 16 points per game last season for the top-ranked team in Class C-1.
Omaha Marian: Sure the team was 6-17 last season and will be playing for a new coach (Lisa Schmidt), but the return of senior forward Annie Wolfe (17.9 ppg) is a major positive.
Norris: The Titans graduated just two from last year’s 20-6 squad that finished fourth in Class B. Top returnee is 6-foot junior Kasey Hohlen, who averaged 11.1 points and 10.4 rebounds a game.
Lincoln Pius X: The Thunderbolts make the move to Class A and that won’t be easy, but a strong senior class and the presence of 6-1 sophomore Maddie Simon will help.