Dave Kuhlen remembers the play well. Everyone in Bayard’s gym the night of Dec. 3 probably still does, too.
It was the season-opener for the Bridgeport girls basketball team. The Bulldogs won 75-42 behind a dominating double-double performance from their star sophomore forward Ruthie Loomis-Goltl — 25 points on 80 percent shooting, 10 rebounds and six blocks.
The excellent outing from Loomis-Goltl — pronounced girtle — wasn’t what got the team fired up, though. After averaging a double-double with 17.6 points, 10 rebounds and 4.6 blocks as a freshman, her stuffing the stat sheet in another win wasn’t anything new.
Instead, it was one of Loomis-Goltl’s blocks that got attention. A Bayard guard had beaten her defender and drove into the paint. Loomis-Goltl rotated to help and pinned the ball against the backboard.
Blocks happen all the time in basketball. But pinning them against the glass? That’s more rare, especially at the high school girls level.
“Our book keeper is a basketball junkie,” Kuhlen, Bridgeport’s head coach, said when describing the block. “As soon as that game was over he rushed up to me and was like, “I’ve never seen anything like that here in my life.’ It’s just a different level that you’re used to seeing.”
That play demonstrates just how athletic Loomis-Goltl is. At 6-foot-3, she led the volleyball team with 323 kills last fall. On the basketball court, she guided Bridgeport to the Class C-2 state semifinals and a fourth-place finish while averaging 19.4 points, 8.1 rebounds and four blocks.
She’s quicker and smoother than others her size. She has solid footwork in the post, nice touch around the rim and is explosive.
— NOCO TRIPLE THREAT BASKETBALL (@NTripleThreatBB) July 10, 2021
Footwork and conditioning are important parts to Loomis-Goltl’s game. She takes pride in how to control her feet and body once she gets the ball in the post. She also credits her rim-running ability and outrunning opposing post players as reasons why she’s seen so much success early in her career.
Those are both areas of her game that her dad, Pat, taught as she was learning how to play.
“We work a lot on me being able to run the floor. And footwork is something my dad has instilled in me ever since I was young,” she said. “Just being able to move well without the ball will create so much more for me. So, yeah, I can be a threat and be able to seal defenders just by sitting on the block, but also being able to move and cut and get open without the ball is super hard to defend, too.”
College programs are taking notice. Nebraska-Omaha was the first to offer Loomis-Goltl in June. Oklahoma State, Colorado State, Utah State and Wichita State all followed in July.
Loomis-Goltl said she’s grateful and excited about the recruiting process. Coaches have been getting to know her since she was a sophomore.
It’s no secret that it’s harder for Nebraska’s small-school student-athletes to get recognition, let alone recruiting attention, if they’re outside the Omaha-Lincoln area. But Loomis-Goltl and her teammates want to change that. They want to make more noise next season.
“We’re definitely not as well known, which honestly I think coming into the state tournament gave us a big advantage because people see small western Nebraska schools as their matchup and they think it’ll be an easy win,” she said. “Honestly, a lot of times the competition isn’t as tough out here just because it’s smaller. But I think we’re starting to wake people up a bit and put Bridgeport on the map.”
The bad news for Bridgeport’s opponents is that there are usually two Loomis-Goltls on the court.
Olivia, Ruthie’s little sister, started as a freshman last season and averaged 17.3 points, 6.6 rebounds and 3.7 assists. Her recruitment is starting to heat up as well. Now that college coaches are getting to see Olivia and her sister play on their AAU team, NoCo Triple Threat out of Fort Collins, Colo., she was offered by UNO and Colorado State.
“It’s really awesome to work hard and see it pay off after so much time that I’ve put into the game,” Olivia said.
On the court, Olivia can do a lot. At 5-10, she understands how to use her size to post up in certain situations. She’s always working on her handle, driving skills and 3-point shot, which is a work in progress. She shot 28 percent (10-of-38) last season.
“I just try to be an all-around player. Do things that not all point guards can do I’d say,” Olivia said.
Added Kuhlen of the younger sister: “She’s 5-10 and very, very strong with a ton of natural ability. The fact that she’s left-handed, I think, helps her tremendously.”
A benefit of playing with a sibling who you grow up with is chemistry. There’s plenty of it on the court. Ruthie compared it to playing the same team every single week. Eventually you’re going to know what they’re going to do, which helps when you’re on the same team.
“Growing up and playing one-on-one with her (Olivia), I know exactly what she’s going to do. What play she’ll try to make based off what move she’s trying to do,” Ruthie said.
“We know what each other is going to do and we know each other’s strengths,” Olivia said. “I know where to pass it to her and she knows where I want the ball, or what I’m going to do while driving. We just get along really well. Ruthie is really athletic, so it’s really fun.”
But sometimes siblings get after each other, too. At times, it’s a bit more direct when it’s your sister.
“I don’t want to ask somebody else to do something I wouldn’t do myself, but with Olivia I can be a little more firm with her,” Ruthie said. “I try to treat her like I would any other teammate.”
Said Olivia: “Sometimes we’ll argue a little, but it’s never really a fight. We’re just telling each other what to do I guess. We are kind of harder on each other, but we expect more from each other.”
Ruthie and Olivia have always lived in Bridgeport, located in the panhandle and about a 35-minute drive from Scottsbluff.
Off the court, the sisters share similarities. Both like to longboard and paddleboard at the lakes near Bridgeport. They have the same favorite musical artist in the late rapper Mac Miller — Ruthie will take credit for introducing Miller’s music to Olivia, by the way.
There are slight differences, too. Ruthie watched a lot of The Office when it was on Netflix — Dwight as her favorite character. Olivia would rather turn on shows like Outer Banks or All-American.
Ruthie loves potatoes. It’s her favorite food. Any kind really. Fry them, mash them, she’ll eat them. For Olivia, it’s dill pickles.
Eyes on the prize
After losing just one senior from last season, Bridgeport will be a team to watch again in 2021-22. While Ruthie will likely have the same role next season — why fix what isn’t broken — Olivia may have a slightly different one.
Against zone defenses last season, Olivia usually played at the high post. If she wasn’t attacking the rim or finding Ruthie, she was distributing to others on the perimeter for 3s.
Then-senior Sydney Nein made and took the most 3s on the team (58-of-187). Junior-to-be Mackenzie Liakos was the top sharpshooter at 36 percent (36-of-101). Sophomore-to-be Brooklyn Mohrman went 32-of-138 from deep.
Kuhlen believes he now has others on the roster who can play that at the high post against zones. So Nein’s departure opens the door for Olivia to play more on the perimeter.
“She’ll be shooting quite a bit more threes here in the future,” Kuhlen said.
Expectations are naturally high coming off a strong season and the returning production.
“It’s state championship or bust. We want it all,” Ruthie said. “We’ve watched the film of the Crofton game that we lost in the semifinals, and we just want the state championship. That’s the mentality of the team right now.”