There is plenty of tradition this season — and, heck, go back a few years, too — at the top of Class D-2 girls basketball.
Defending champion Wynot has been to the finals ten of the past 11 years with seven state championships. The past three seasons, Humphrey St. Francis, with Nebraska recruit Allison Weidner, has been to a pair of finals and had their season end to either Wynot or Falls City Sacred Heart.
Which brings the Full Court Press to Sacred Heart coach Luke Santo’s team that is 18-0 and ranked second in Class D-2. The Irish are fresh off a MUDECAS title two weeks ago and last week, knocked Class C-1 Auburn from the unbeaten ranks with an impressive 62-27 win.
“I am not sure that we expected to be undefeated at the end of January like we are,” Santo said Thursday morning ahead of a game with Johnson-Brock, which they won 47-21. “But, I think we always have high expectations and we did again this season. We have an experienced bunch of kids.”
The Irish lost three seniors off of last year’s state semifinal team that defeated Mullen for third place at the state tournament. And, Santo’s squad has advanced to the state semifinals each of the past eight seasons and to state in 12 of his 14 seasons as head coach.
You could say they know their way around Lincoln.
FCSH uses a balanced attack — Santo said in most games, they can play 10 deep — to average nearly 60 points per contest and they are also shooting at a 70% clip from the line on the season.
Junior Erison Vonderschmidt leads the team with scoring averages of 18.1 points per game and the post also brings down 7.1 rebounds. Santo made no bones about her being the focal point of what they do and she just scored her 1,000th career point last week.
“She is a really athletic player and active in the post for us,” the coach said. “The other thing she can do is open up the floor so we can get some open looks.”
Point guard Rachel Magdanz also brings in a double figure average with 11.6 points while also adding 4.4 assists and 3.6 rebounds per contest. Magdanz, Santo said, has made the move to point and handled it well after playing a shooting guard position last season.
“She does a great job of getting us set up and knowing what we need to be doing,” Santo said. “She’s like a coach out on the floor for us.”
Olivia Eickhoff (5.8 points, 1.9 rebounds) and Jessica Wertenbeger (6.1 points and 2.8 rebounds) have also started each game for the Irish.
“Olivia is our best defender,” Santo said. “And, Jessica is just a sophomore who played a little bit for us last year in the post and we moved her out to the wing this year and she has done a good job.”
Junior Emma Littrell and senior Danielle Bippes have held down the other starter spot as Bippes has worked through a knee injury and is now slowly working her way back.
And, if you had any idea on if the Irish would be going anywhere? Bippes is the only senior on the roster. That doesn’t mean Sacred Heart is looking ahead at all, especially in an ultra-talented, 2021 Class D-2 field.
“We kind of knew from last year that winning a state championship this year was going to take a bunch of work,” Santo said. “Obviously everyone looks at St. Francis and they should. But, CWC is really talented. And Mullen with Samantha Moore is really good as well, we played them at state last year.”
Sacred Heart, St. Francis and Chambers/Wheeler Central all remain undefeated. In going a combined 48-0, the teams have played just 11 teams in Class D-2.
What will it take over a spaced out week in Lincoln to get it done this year? Santo isn’t completely sure, but he’s got some ideas.
“Luck, I suppose a little bit,” he said. “You always have to keep your fingers crossed there. We battled Covid a little bit right before the season started so you worry about that. And, I think for us it is relaxing and playing better in the really big games.
“We have really challenged our team do that this year both in those games and in practice.”