UTICA, Neb. — When the Centennial Broncos girls basketball team steps on the court for state basketball action at Lincoln Southeast High School on Wednesday, it will have been a long time coming.
The last time the Centennial girls program made state was in 1999, so it’s been awhile. People were freaking out about Y2K back then. The Broncos’ current players weren’t even born yet.
So it will be a special time for everyone dressed in blue when the Broncos (23-2), the No. 8 seed, take on top-seed Crofton (23-3) at 11 a.m. But it’ll also be a cool moment for one of its nine seniors on the team. Asia Nisly will be in the starting lineup against the Warriors, and what she’s had to battle through to get to this point in her prep career, well, some would’ve called it quits if it happened to them.
Before her junior year on the basketball court, Nisly heard a pop in her knee while playing in an open gym.
“I was going in for a layup and landed wrong. Just walking on it hurt, so I knew something was wrong,” she said.
Nisly sustained a knee injury, the kind where the knee cap and tibia knock together through hyperextension and breaks cartilage off. She missed her entire junior year on the basketball court.
Centennial wound up making a district final that season, but lost to Hastings St. Cecilia. Nisly knew she would’ve helped her team.
“It just sucked. The junior year is usually the time when people begin to peak, and then knowing I wasn’t going to be playing with my teammates, especially the seniors, it just sucked,” Nisly said.
Nisly, who said she is not a morning person, went through a grueling rehab process that lasted around three to four months. She routinely woke up at 5 a.m. to go to York for physical therapy, then went back to Utica for school. Then she’d do more work in the weight room at school.
After rehab and even more time learning to trust her knee again while playing full speed, disaster struck yet again this past summer. The same injury happened while playing in an open gym over the summer.
“It’s a pretty rare injury according to our trainer,” Centennial head coach Jake Polk said, “and it happened to her twice. Once in each leg.”
Nisly, who’s also one of the better softball players at Centennial, couldn’t get on the diamond for her senior year. But thanks to a lot of work, she made it back to the court for every game and is a pivotal piece to Polk’s team. Nisly’s averaging nine points, five rebounds and 1.6 steals per game. She’s made the most 3s on the team (27) and scored a season-high 26 points in a win over Columbus Lakeview on Jan. 15.
“On the court, Asia transformed her game and has become a threat shooting the ball from the perimeter,” Polk said. “Prior to her injuries, she was primarily a post/slasher. Sidelined with injuries, she didn’t have much mobility, so she balanced on one leg and worked on her range.”
To put it simply: Nisly is balling out. The injuries are behind her, and now the Broncos are at state. Everyone on the team knows what Nisly’s been through, and that showed before the season.
Centennial’s coaches have individual meetings with players to talk about roles, goals, what they’re excited about, concerns, ect. But it was during senior Kate Hirschfeld’s meeting where Polk realized just how much Nisly meant to the team.
“When asked what she’s excited about for this season, the first thing Kate said was, ‘Getting to play with Asia again.’ Telling this to Asia in her meeting brought us both to tears,” Polk said. “Kate could have said she’s excited to score 1,000 career points, try to make all-state or make state as a team, but instead she was just happy to have her buddy back on the court with her.”
Said Nisly: “Just knowing the work I’ve put in to get back to playing means a lot. My teammates and my coaches were all there for me. I’m just excited and overwhelmed with happiness right now.”
Nisly knows Centennial has its work cut out for it on Wednesday. The Broncos need to be strong defensively. They talked about slowing the game down against a Crofton team that likes to play fast.
“When our offense isn’t working, we know we can depend on our defense to get the job done,” Nisly said. The Broncos’ lineup is filled with athletic players like Nisly who can guard multiple positions.
It’s sort of been a perfect storm for the Centennial girls this season. It’s a senior-heavy squad that’s played together for a long time. A state tournament run has been building. That’s the best part about the whole thing, Nisly added.
“We’ve been playing together forever, as long as I can remember,” she said. “Knowing it’s all seniors out there for us, making state together is an amazing feeling.”