OAKLAND — They always say you can hear the smile in someone’s voice. And, Oakland-Craig girls basketball coach Joe Anderson has a big one.
Heck, we might have to pinch the coach to wake him up. His Lady Knights are 22-0 after a win over Fremont Bergan on Tuesday night and top-ranked in Class C-2 after finishing third in Lincoln in 2019.
Anderson, who also coached the O-C football team to an undefeated state championship, is perfect in 2019-20. His Knight football team went 13-0. The Starting Five is uncertain if any coach has ever had a football / girls basketball double since the legendary Bob Schnitzler at Battle Creek.
“The culture of our whole school is really high right now,” Anderson said on Tuesday before that date with Bergan, ranked 5th in Class D-1. “Kids want to be held accountable. They want to be coached hard and we are lucky to be able to get to coach them.”
The Knights aren’t really a basketball juggernaut steeped in tradition. Last season was just their second state appearance in school history and their first was in 2016. That year, Anderson thought his program was ready to go on a run.
“That 2016 team really got us over the hump,” he said. “A great group of kids who worked their tails off.”
A big group of freshman played key minutes that year, but luck was not on the Knights side in getting back to state. In the 2017 district final, Ponca hit a 3-point shot at the regulation buzzer and then won in overtime. That summer leading scoring Dacey Nelson tore her ACL playing on her All-Nebraska Attack summer team.
Still, without Nelson the Knights had plenty of pieces. They were off to a 12-1 start in 2018 before Kennedy Benne — now a senior — tore her ACL while leading the team in scoring. “I think we went 1-10 after that,” Anderson quipped.”
With Nelson (she led the state in scoring last year) and 41 points and four seniors gone, Anderson thought he had a team that could build around Benne and senior point guard Mya Guzinski. But, he’ll be the first to tell you 22-0 was not in the plans. O-C gutted out a second win over Class C-1, No. 2 North Bend Central in the East Husker final last Saturday.
In an 8-player rotation, the Knights play three freshman and the names are familiar. Chaney and Sadie Nelson combine to average nearly 15 points per contest, while Sydney Guzinski averages 7.5 points per game. Three juniors — Edie Anderson, Makenna Pearson and Jeaninna Blahek — combine for 11.9 points a game, with Blahek second on the team in rebounds at 5.9 per outing.
But, the coach always goes back to the seniors who make the whole thing go and have seen the hard games and the good times for Oakland-Craig.
Benne — a Briar Cliff commit — is averaging 20.9 points per contest. Anderson enjoys another stat the most: 5.9 steals per game.
“She’s done everything we asked of her since she was a freshman,” Anderson said. “She plays so hard and can make so many plays for us, that even when she is having an off night shooting, she can still get to the line and score for us.”
The praise is equally high for the elder Guzinski who only scores 2.4 points per game. But check the other stats: 3.8 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 3.9 steals a game.
“She is our floor general,” Anderson said. “She guards the other teams best player. Unselfish. An uncommon players in today’s world.”
There seems to be a bunch of uncommon going on in Oakland right now for the Knights. Joe Anderson is just lucky to be involved in all of it. In O-C’s two previous trips to Lincoln they have been beaten by Hastings St. Cecilia — in the first round in 2016 and in the semifinals last year.
You don’t have to tell the Knights who the team behind them in the rankings is at 18-2 and most of that team back from last year, too.
“This has been a great group to coach and we have a lot of work left, but we have learned a lot from some of our close wins,” Anderson said. “These kids have great chemistry. They are competitive.”
And, still perfect.
On to the rankings.
- Millard South (21-0)
- Lincoln Pius X (18-0)
- Lincoln East (17-2): Not much to see, so we’ll type it here. Two losses by these teams this week. East to Pius. And Papio to East. No changes to the top five.
- Omaha Westside (17-3)
- Papillion-La Vista (18-3)
- Crete (20-0)
- Beatrice (17-2): Game of the week in Grand Island on Friday as the Lady Orange face No. 4 Grand Island Northwest.
- Bennington (18-2)
- Northwest (16-5)
- Norris (10-8)
- Lincoln Christian (17-2)
- North Bend Central (20-2): Not penalized for second one-point loss to Oakland-Craig in the East Husker finals.
- St. Paul (19-2): Needed overtime to beat Ord in the LouPlatte final, but a win is a win is a win.
- Broken Bow (20-2): Indians are second in the points.
- Chadron (18-2): Cardinals enter since they avenged a 35-34 holiday tournament loss to Valentine with a 48-17 win over the Badgers last week.
- Oakland-Craig (22-0)
- Hastings St. Cecilia (20-2)
- Crofton (18-3): Won the Mid-State Conference title, while GACC finished third.
- Ponca (17-3): Edge ahead of GACC after advancing to Lewis and Clark final, before losing to Wynot.
- GACC (19-3)
- Pleasanton (21-0): Bulldogs get their shot after winning the Fort Kearny Conference title.
- Weeping Water (21-1): Indians move up to the second spot after coming from behind to beat Class C-1 Malcolm 48-44 in overtime for the ECNC title.
- Chambers/Wheeler Central (20-1): Small drop for the Renegades, who lost to Class C-2 North Central in the Niobrara Valley final.
- Humphrey/LHF (18-4)
- Fremont Archbishop Bergan (10-9)
- Humphrey St. Francis (19-2)
- Wynot (18-4): Avenged a 39-38 loss to Ponca in the Lewis and Clark final and not penalized for a Tuesday night loss to Irene-Wackonda (SD).
- Lawrence-Nelson (22-0)
- Falls City Sacred Heart (21-2)
- Mullen (20-1)
- Bellevue West (16-2): If there is a seat at Bellevue West on Friday night for the game with Millard North you all should be ashamed of yourselves. Take your Valentine. And if they don’t want to go, well, you know what to do.
- Millard North (18-2): The Starting Five gets an up front look at the Mustangs on the Island on Saturday night when they get IMG Academy.
- Omaha Westside (14-5): Warriors still flexing their muscles.
- Omaha Central (14-3): Eagles are back after a tough win over Omaha South. The decision knocks our Creighton Prep who lost at the buzzer to Grand Island. Also sticking around is Papio South, who has three losses to Millard North.
- Omaha South (14-4)
- Omaha Skutt Catholic (17-0)
- Scottsbluff (19-2)
- Omaha Roncalli Catholic (16-4)
- Elkhorn Mt. Michael (16-4)
- Hastings (18-2): Shaking things up here and re-evaluating the Tigers who have played some rugged close games in the last 30 days and survived, until losing to Mt. Michael last week and then on Tuesday night at home to Adams Central 54-51. On Saturday, the Tigers take on C2, No. 1 BRLD which has won 42 straight.
- Auburn (20-0): Ogallala gets their shot at a top-five ranking on Saturday when they face Auburn in the Heartland Hoops Classic.
- Adams Central (19-1): Patriots look the part of a state finalist against Hastings on Tuesday night. Well coached. Fundamentally sound. Can run sets to score and open offense. Changing defenses a load to prepare for in the postseason.
- North Bend Central (19-1): Not penalized for loss to BRLD, but think AC deserves slight edge. Very slight.
- Lincoln Christian (15-4)
- Kearney Catholic (15-5)
- BRLD (20-0): 42 straight. East Husker title. Class B, No. 5 Hastings awaits in Grand Island.
- Grand Island Central Catholic (18-2): Despite loss to Wahoo on Saturday, the Crusaders move up based on win over Class B Lexington and their previous win over Adams Central which looks better by the day.
- Yutan (16-3): Fall after losses to Auburn in ECNC final and Wahoo Neumann on Tuesday.
- Sutton (18-2): Mustangs will need to win the Southern Conference tournament to hold this spot. They did.
- Ponca (17-3): Lot of options here including Bridgeport (16-4) and Doniphan-Trumbull (16-4). Opted to keep the Indians here.
- Humphrey/LHF (19-3): Lost to North Bend in EHC semi, but bounced back with win in 3rd place game of Class C-1 Logan View/Scribner-Snyder.
- North Platte St. Patrick’s (17-2)
- Laurel-Concord/Coleridge (18-4): Won the Lewis and Clark with a win over Ponca in the final. No chance to avenge loss to Osmond, who was defeated by Ponca in semis.
- Osmond (18-1)
- Southern Valley (15-4): Still undefeated in Class D-1.
- Humphrey St. Francis (20-0)
- Falls City Sacred Heart (21-1): Get D-1 Fullerton in the Heartland Hoops Classic opening game on Saturday morning.
- Loomis (18-1)
- Parkview Christian (14-6): Mullen and Parkview are both unbeaten in Class D-2.
- Mullen (14-5)