The Nebraska girls state basketball tournament begins on Wednesday morning at 9:00 in Lincoln with (gulp) another new format for 2023, but hopefully that should last for a while now.
The tournament survived 2020 by ending the week before the Covid-19 outbreak (with the boys having limited attendance). Due to lingering Covid concerns in 2021, the tournament moved to a 5-day format. All Class A and two Class B games on Tuesday, the remaining two Class B games with the rest of the first rounds (all at different high school sites) on Wednesday and all semifinals at Pinnacle Bank Arena over Thursday and Friday. Last year, because of the Big Ten wrestling championships a one-week combined boys and girl’s tournament was held in Lincoln.
This year’s new 4-day format came about because of positive feedback that was learned at the previous tournaments spread out because of Covid. Mostly, that most member schools wanted to get tournament games out of Lincoln high schools to better accommodate crowds. Member schools were surveyed about possible changes after last year’s state tournament.
“Sometimes you get to try things out of necessity, and it can give you new and fresh ideas,” NSAA assistant director Jon Dolliver said. “So, some of the things we have implemented over the last few years will help the tournament in the future.”
This year, for the first time in the modern era of the tournament, no Lincoln high schools will be used for competition, except for the third-place games in Classes C-2 to D-2 on Saturday at Lincoln Northwest. Classes A, C-1 and D-1 will begin the tournament today and Classes B, C-2 and D-2 will play quarterfinals on Thursday, with a normal return to the semifinals on Friday and finals on Saturday.
The tournament bid — that has been exclusively in Lincoln for over 50 years — is up for renewal after this year’s championship.
“Ultimately we’d like to keep it four days,” Dolliver said. “But we are excited to see how this new format will work for our schools.”
A look at each class and stay for The List with Ella. We’ve seen a few games this year.
The Patriot Way? Is it finally time for Millard South to leave Lincoln with a championship trophy for coach Bryce Meyers? On paper, sure, but we do play the games. The Patriots great triumvirate of Cora Olsen, Mya Babbitt and Khloe Lemon has been fantastic all season (for four years, really) with each scoring over 400 points. At 24-2, MS has not lost since the Metro final where they were defeated 55-53 by Bellevue West; a loss they later avenged 93-91. A rematch could be waiting in Friday’s semifinals.
Storylines. Could the balance of Millard North play out? They have seven players with over 125 points and just losses to BW and MS on their resume. Lincoln High has won 22 straight with three players right around 12 points per game including 6-2 post Jailynn Brill. They could play the most battle-tested team in the field in Millard West, led by twin sophomores Neleigh and Norah Gessert.
Upset Alert? The gap between No. 1 Omaha Skutt, No. 2 Elkhorn North and the field is pretty staggering. Skutt knocked off the two-time defending champions 42-35 in the second game of the year. After that, North bumped up to beat Class A, No. 1 Millard South with their closest other Class B game a 50-37 win at Norris. The Skyhawks closest game in Nebraska is also a 58-41 win over Norris, which as the 8th-seed may be one team that can give either team a scare. They get their third shot at Elkhorn North on Thursday afternoon.
Star Power. If your young girls like watching basketball, North’s Britt Prince is a must see. At 23.6 points, 8.7 rebounds with 149 assists and 89 steals she can do a little bit of everything. She holds over 20 Division I offers. Not far behind is Skutt’s Peyton McCabe, who is averaging 16 points per contest.
1980 Olympic Hockey. I wrote earlier this year that any final other than Omaha Skutt and Elkhorn North would be like USA Hockey upsetting the Soviets in 1980 at Lake Placid. Do you believe in miracles? What will it take — a perfect game plan; a team unwilling to back down from pressure and that attacks a press for layups; a relentless effort rebounding the basketball; getting fouled and making free throws. Can it be done? Sure. And we’d love that just as much as a historic finals’ matchup.
Sister Act. You probably know about the Loomis-Goltl sisters at Bridgeport. You may also know the Emanuel sisters in North Bend. And, if you are a big fan, you have a bead on the Scott’s for Adams Central. In a class where many believe that we are headed toward a Bridgeport, North Bend final don’t write off everyone else so fast. These three sets of sisters (and others) could have a big say.
Anatomy of a Championship. What will it take to win Class C-1? Mercy. Three days of great, unrelenting basketball. Who can do it? We think any of the eight teams here. Yutan has seen North Bend and knows what to expect, surely that helps. Wahoo and Malcolm are in for round three, but both have also seen the Tigers. On the other side? Lincoln Christian — a 22-3, No. 7 seed!! — has ball handlers and sophomore post Kenadee Ailes (17 points and 10.5 rebounds) might be the best player you haven’t heard about yet. Don’t expect them to back down from Bridgeport. Gothenburg? Plenty of film from a previous December matchup with Adams Central.
The Northeast Nebraska Invitational. With much respect to Cross County and Southern Valley, the other six teams in the field could almost throw a blanket on each other in northeast Nebraska. Perennial powers abound in Ponca, Crofton and Guardian Angels Central Catholic. The three best teams — Oakland-Craig, Pender and Clarkson/Leigh — after North Bend in the brutal East Husker also make an appearance. All six have their sights set on a state title.
First round stunner. Oakland-Craig and Ponca is worthy of a title bout if we are being honest. And, they have played many a meaningful postseason games against each other before. This one will likely be added to the list. These semifinals will be absolutely rocking.
Quit Complaining. The author notes he spends too much time on Twitter trying to get the postseason format changed. Then, he looks at the state tournament bracket and sees in almost every class that nearly all of the teams can lay a path and plan to winning the whole darn thing. Noted. So lays the claim in D-1 as well, where the Hall-Buffalo County border war with Ravenna and Centura is front and center. Ravenna leads the season series 2-1. A fourth game would be for a state championship.
Who else? Well, everyone, quite frankly. EPPJ beat No. 3 Maywood-Hayes Center in the district final. S-E-M — after losing to Centura in the sub-district SEMIFINALS — topped No. 6 Alma in the district final. Hastings St. Cecilia and Cedar Catholic have no Class D losses. Surely Elmwood-Murdock remembers last season’s tournament.
Luck of the Irish? Can Falls City Sacred Heart pull a repeat? At 23-3, they might be the odds-on favorite, but there is plenty to like behind Luke Santo’s machine. In the first round they get Leyton — not a town — which completely dismantled Parkview Christian in a district final (Zaili Benish pours in over 22 points a game). At 24-2, McCool Junction brings the best scorer in the field in McKenna Yates, who went for a cool 39 in the district final.
Bottom side. Shelton, off a D-1 runner-up finish last year, was No. 1 most of the year until a January 24 loss to Overton, who missed the field after losing to Wynot in the district final. The next night, the Bulldogs blitzed first round opponent Wilcox-Hildreth 52-30. The game of the day on Thursday might be the nightcap at the Bob — St. Mary’s can score it in bunches. Their opponent, Wynot, makes their 13th appearance in 14 years and has been to the finals 10 times in that stretch. Decent.
A definitive list of players — by class — we have seen this year that you should see. And players we can’t wait to see hoop it up this weekend. They may or may not have gaudy numbers. But we like them because they play with great joy and do whatever they can to help their team win.
Kennadi Williams (Lincoln Southwest), Naomi White (Bellevue West), Mya Skoff (Bellevue East), Briauna Robinson (Lincoln High), Prince (Elkhorn North), McCabe (Omaha Skutt).
Kaitlyn Emanuel (North Bend Central), Lindsey Emanuel (North Bend Central), Kathryn Gaughen (North Bend Central), Ruthie Loomis-Goltl (Bridgeport), Olivia Loomis-Goltl (Bridgeport), Halle Dolliver (Malcolm), Ailes (Lincoln Christian).
Caitlyn Guenther (Crofton), Sadie Nelson (Oakland-Craig), Chaney Nelson (Oakland-Craig), Samantha Ahlers (Ponca), Ashlyn Kingsbury (Ponca), Maya Dolliver (Pender), Chloe Hanel (Clarkson/Leigh).
Makenna Noecker (Cedar Catholic), Ryann Sabatka (Hastings St. Cecilia), Tatum Backemeyer (Elmwood-Murdock), Taya Christensen (Centura), Keyera Eisenhauer (Elgin Public/Pope John), Olivia Eickhoff (Falls City Sacred Heart), Makenna Willis (Shelton), McKenna Yates (McCool Junction), Alissa Brabec (St. Mary’s).