Clark’s Corner, 9/13: Thanks to a young and talented group of softball players, including a rising sophomore pitcher, the Gretna Dragons are on fire again.
Last year’s Metro Conference Tournament championship run was special for many reasons for the Gretna softball team.
It was the Dragons’ first Metro title. It also helped erase the bad taste of the 2020 season when Gretna missed the state tournament for the first time since 2013.
As the Dragons learned Monday night, back-to-back Metro titles has a nice ring to it, too. A 9-1 win against Omaha Marian was capped with the team in green making room on the bus for another title. It also pushed the record to an impressive 19-0 (no easy feat, especially in Class A).
Just as impressive: Gretna defended its Metro title with a much different cast.
“I think probably what makes this one different is we’re just so young,” said Gretna coach Bill Heard, noting the Dragons started two freshmen and four sophomores against Marian. “They can play. They’re just so young, so everything is kind of a new experience for them.”
It’s the play of sophomore Alexis Jensen that has Gretna breathing a hot streak. After showing great flashes a freshman, Jensen has emerged as one of the state’s top pitchers.
She’s a softball player first, Heard notes.
On Monday, Jensen (19-0) struck out 17 in a 6-1 win against Elkhorn South and then turned around and fanned 13 Marian hitters. Jensen told Heard after the championship game that she’d be ready to go Tuesday night against Omaha Bryan.
“She wants the ball every single night,” Heard said of Jensen, who also bats in the middle of the lineup. “Honestly, I think she gets better the more you throw her. There’s a line and we got to be careful with that.”
Metro Champs!! Congratulations Dragons! pic.twitter.com/cMyVeRYnvH
— Gretna HS Activities (@GretnaDragonAD) September 13, 2022
A young Dragon team has a strong group of seniors to rely on, including infielder Faith Mills, who continues to get stronger after sitting out the entire offseason because of Tommy John surgery. Ansley Gydesen, Kimberly Rodriguez and Skylar Wintle are the other seniors.
Their hope is to keep the hardware tour going.
Last year, Gretna won 20 of its first 22 games and was one of the favorites to win all the marbles. But the Dragons, hampered by key injuries, were knocked off in district play and then fell short at state, placing third.
It’s a different team – one with a lot of pups – and the coaches expect the Dragons to keep learning. Heard doesn’t talk like his team is satisfied yet.
“I think we got to get better,” he said. “Obviously we got to stay healthy, that’s step one. We can’t look at it as a finish product because we’re not.”
Norris reloads in volleyball
Norris volleyball had some big voids to fill after last year’s state runner-up finish – a run spearheaded by seniors Ella Waters, Sydney Jelinek and Maisie Boesiger.
The Class B No. 3 Titans haven’t missed a beat. They won their first 11 matches of the season without dropping a set. They improved to 12-0 with a four-set win against EMC rival Waverly on Tuesday night.
The schedule gets tougher. The Titans are in this weekend’s Class A-heavy LPS Classic, and an EMC showdown with Elkhorn North awaits next month.
Though it lost three critical pieces from last year, Norris is benefitting from experience and versatility.
Anna Jelinek, who played libero last year, is now at outside hitter. Gracie Kircher, a pin hitter last year, is one of two setters – the other Liv Hausmann – in the Titans’ 6-2 system. Of course, a staple of Christina Boesiger’s teams is defense, and this year’s squad has several players flying to the floor to keep rallies going.
Party like it’s 1991
There was a little extra celebrating Friday night in Ainsworth where the Bulldogs defeated Burwell 34-12 to improve to 3-0 for the first time since 1991.
Carter Nelson – if you don’t know the name, you will soon – had a big hand in the win. The junior, who has a football offer from Nebraska, rushed for two touchdowns and caught two more scores.
Speaking of 3-0 …
Thanks to this wild touchdown run by senior Owen Brennan, Omaha Gross topped Elkhorn 21-14 in a top-five battle last week. Now the Cougars are 3-0 for the first time since 2008 ahead of Friday’s showdown with No. 3 Blair.
Gross started 0-3 (2015), 0-4 (2016), 1-3 (2017), 0-2 (2018), 0-2 (2019), 1-3 (2020) and 1-4 (2021) over the previous seven seasons.
The Cougars, who jumped up to No. 1 in Class B, are getting it done this young season with a stout rushing attack that is led by senior Jake Garcia, who had 294 yards against Beatrice and 148 against Elkhorn.
A good weekend for Westside
First, Omaha Westside football rolled up 56 points in a signature win against Bellevue West on Friday night. On Saturday, former Warrior Cole Payton scored a touchdown in North Dakota State’s 43-3 win against North Carolina A&T.
Payton, who is getting reps behind starter Cam Miller, is in his second season with the Bison.
“Man, I’d love to watch Payton play on TV,” you say? You’re in luck! NDSU plays at Arizona at 10 p.m. on Saturday (FS1).
Four guys to block four guys and the fifth guy is Cole Payton. Doesn't seem ideal for A&T. pic.twitter.com/B241eaq9Az
— Bison Report (@BisonReport) September 12, 2022
Kolbas finds college home
The state’s top girls golfer will be a Hoosier. Lincoln Pius X senior Nicole Kolbas announced her commitment to Indiana after visiting the school over the weekend.
Kolbas has rolled to two Class A state championships, and will shoot to become the first three-time state champ in Class A since Lincoln Southeast’s Angie Wilson won four from 1985-88.
— Nicole Coco Kolbas (@NicoleKolbas) September 11, 2022