Mullen's Trevor Kuncl leads the Broncos to state. (nebpreps photo / Ben Mohorn)

Under The Lights: Small School Players to Watch at the Boys’ State Basketball Tournament


After a full plate of Class A and B basketball at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Tuesday, the rest of the teams head to Lincoln on Wednesday. We break down the players to watch in the small classes tomorrow and Thursday in the semifinals if they stick around.

Class C-2

Grand Island Central Catholic
Dei Jengmer: The 6-foot-9 Jengmer heads into the tournament averaging 10.4 points and 5.8 rebounds for head coach Tino Martinez’s top-seeded Crusaders (22-4), who were runner-up in last year’s C-2 tournament. Jengmer has scored 10 or more points in 11 games this season, with a season-high 20 coming in a win over Norfolk Catholic on Dec. 5.

Marcus Lowry: Junior forward Marcus Lowry is averaging 9.1 points and 4.4 rebounds. He’s also shown an ability to hunt blocks well, as his 38 swats leads the team. The 6-3 athlete has scored 17 or more points in three games this season, and his season-best of 23 came in a win over Columbus Scotus on Dec. 11. He’s also the team’s top 3-point shooter at 42 percent (36 of 86).

GICC’s Gil and Dei Jengmer guard Lincoln Pius’ Sam Easley at the Heartland Hoops Classic. (nebpreps photo / Ben Mohorn)

Tri County
Cole Siems: Senior guard Cole Siems is the Trojans’ top scorer, averaging 16.5 points to go along with 3.7 rebounds and 3.8 assists. The 6-foot Siems, who’s the school’s all-time leading scorer, netted 20 or more points in eight games this season and poured in a season-high 33 against Hershey in the district final on March 1. The last time Tri County made state was 1988 — how far can Siems take the Trojans this week?

Colton Jantzen: The 6-3 Colton Jantzen averages 10.8 points and 7.4 rebounds for head coach Jeremy Siems’ Tri County squad. Jantzen has five double-doubles this season and had a 32-point, nine-rebound performance Feb. 9 in a win over Humboldt-Table Rock-Steinauer.

Holden Ruse: Senior forward Holden Ruse comes to Lincoln averaging 12.8 points and 5.9 rebounds for the No. 4-seeded Falcons (21-4), who open with No. 5 Hartington Cedar Catholic (19-6). Ruse is also the top playmaker with a team-best 67 assists, and is second in steals with 33, behind Josiah Wallman.

Carter Ruse: The other Ruse on Freeman’s roster can play, too. Carter is averaging 12.6 points and 6.4 rebounds. The 6-2 forward is also the top shot-blocker with 12 on the year for head coach Jim McLaughlin’s team.

Hartington Cedar Catholic
Myles Thoene: Senior Myles Thoene may be on the smaller side for a guard — he’s just 5-8 — but he plays bigger than his stature. Thoene is averaging a team-best 14.3 points and three assists for the Trojans. He’s a 43-percent 3-point shooter (66 of 152) and makes 81 percent of his free throws (56 of 69). Thoene has scored 20 points or more in eight games this season with his season-high of 27 coming in a win over Boone Central on Jan. 12 — that night he hit five 3s.

Jaxon Bernecker: The talented Jaxon Bernecker will enter the game with Freeman averaging 11 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. Bernecker, a long sophomore at 6-4, is able to stretch a defense as he’s a 41-percent 3-point shooter (12 of 29). He’s solid at the free-throw line, too, making 81 percent (42 of 52). Bernecker has recorded three double-doubles and scored a season-best 17 points in three games.

Brady Timm: All-state guard Brady Timm leads Yutan into the tournament. Timm, a 5-10 senior guard and Doane University commit, is averaging 21 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists. He also leads the No. 2-seeded Chieftains (22-2) in steals with 71. Yutan made state last year and was runner-up in 2019.

Samuel Petersen: Junior Samuel Petersen, a 6-2 forward, is averaging 9.4 points and five rebounds. He’ll be an important piece for first-year head coach Jesse Gardner’s team against No. 7-seeded Chase County (16-8).

Chase County
Mason Nordhausen: The 5-10 senior guard leads the Chase County Longhorns in average scoring with 13.2 points per game while also hauling down 4.6 boards. He’s scored 20 or more points in six games and netted 27, his season high, in a win over Hershey on Feb. 25. Nordhausen lets it fly from deep and is a 32-percent 3-point shooter (50-157). He’s drained four or more 3s in eight contests, and against Gothenburg on Jan. 15 he went six-of-nine from behind the arc.

Cedric Maxwell: One of Chase County’s top bigs is the 6-4 senior Cedric Maxwell, who’s averaging 12.6 points and 6.3 rebounds. Maxwell has shown he has strong court vision, too, as he leads the team with 99 assist this season — that’s 4.1 per game. The lengthy Maxwell also has 20 blocks, which is the most on head coach Chris Bartels’ squad.

Luis Garza: Bridgeport is back at the tournament after making state in 2019, and Luis Garza is a big reason why. The 6-4 senior is averaging 14.6 points and 6.1 rebounds per game. Garza has scored 20 or more points in seven games with his season-high of 30 coming in an 81-51 win over Perkins County on Feb. 19. Garza is capable of hurting a defense beyond the arc and is making 3s at a 33-percent clip (34 of 103). Garza has four double-doubles as he leads the No. 3-seeded Bulldogs (23-2) into the game with No. 6 Bancroft-Rosalie/Lyons-Decatur (18-4).

Bridgeport’s Luis Garza (32) guards Oakland-Craig’s Grady Gatewood in the district final. (nebpreps photo / Tony Chapman)

Lucas Vogt: After a runner-up finish in 2018 the BRLD Wolverines won back-to-back C-2 state championships in 2019 and 2020, and Lucas Vogt has been the engine behind the run. Now in his senior year, the 5-10 guard has guided BRLD to an 18-4 record while averaging 14.4 points, 5.9 assists and 3.5 rebounds. He also leads head coach Cory Meyer’s team in steals with 48. Vogt is no doubt one of the top players in the state tournament, regardless of class.

Dylan Beutler: The 6-5 senior Dylan Beutler is the player to watch for the Wolverines. The dynamic forward is nearly averaging a double-double with 18.9 points and nine rebounds. Opponents better watch their shot if he’s in the area — he has a team-high 30 blocks on the year.

Toriano Bohannon: Toriano Bohannon is a 6-foot forward for BRLD averaging 11.5 points. He’s also second on the team in assists and is active on defense with 36 steals.

Class D-1

Barak Birch: The Burwell Longhorns head to Lincoln as the undefeated No. 1 seed of the D-1 tournament, and 5-10 senior Barak Birch is a big reason why. Birch, who enjoyed a strong football season in the fall, is averaging a team-high 15.6 points while also grabbing 5.7 rebounds. The 5-10 guard also dishing off 4.1 assists per game. Birch has scored 20 or more points in nine games with a season-high 26 coming in a win over Palmer on Jan. 18. Birch isn’t afraid to step out behind the arc, either, and is a 42-percent (58-139) 3-point shooter.

Carter Mann: Burwell’s 6-3 big in the middle is junior Carter Mann, and he’s averaging a double-double with 13.7 points and 9.9 rebounds. Mann has 12 double-doubles this season and may have had his best game come against an always-tough Humphrey St. Francis team on Jan. 9 — that night he recorded 28 points and 15 boards.

Dillon Critel: Burwell’s 5-11 junior guard Dillon Critel is averaging 12.6 points and 4.7 rebounds for head coach Adam Stolzer’s team. Critel’s season-high is 26 points, which he scored against Anselmo-Merna on Feb. 23. Critel is a 32-percent 3-point shooter (41 of 131) and is 81 percent from the line (34 of 42).

Central Valley
Ty Nekoliczak: Nekoliczak leads No. 8 seed Central Valley (17-6) into Lincoln as the Cougars’ top scorer at 19.7 points per game. The 5-10 senior guard also averages 5.2 rebounds and is the top assister (4.9 per game) and steal getter (49 on the season) on the team.

Trevor Cargill: Central Valley’s 6-3 senior forward Trevor Cargill is averaging a double-double with 18.5 points and 10.7 rebounds per game. He can see the court well, too, and ranks second on the team with 44 assists. Defensively he’s snatched 45 steals, which is only behind Nekoliczak.

Blake Sindelar: Howells-Dodge’s 6-2 junior guard Blake Sindelar does it all for head coach Kevin Janata’s Jaguars (18-8), who come into the tournament as the No. 4 seed. Sindelar leads the team in averaging scoring (19), rebounding (8.2) and assists (4.2). Sindelar also has the most steals on the team with 64.

Richard Bayer: Howells-Dodge junior Richard Bayer is averaging 12.7 points and 5.8 rebounds. The 6-1 forward has 27 steals and eight blocks on the year, too.

Kaden Sheridan: The Walthill Bluejays are at the state tournament for the first time since 2016, and they’re looking to make noise. Leading head coach John Parker’s team is 5-8 senior guard Kaden Sheridan, who’s averaging a team-best 19.5 points and 2.6 assists per game. Sheridan is a pain on defense, too, as he’s racked up 102 steals on the season.

Jalen Merrick: Walthill’s 5-8 senior Jalen Merrick comes to Lincoln averaging 17.1 points and 3.5 rebounds per contest. He has the second-most steals on the team with 95 and has dished off 45 assists this season for the No. 5 seed Bluejays.

Tyrese Lovejoy: Walthill’s Tyrese Lovejoy is averaging 10.8 points and 3.5 rebounds per game. The 6-1 forward has 43 steals on the season, too.

Humphrey/Lindsay Holy Family
Jason Sjuts: The Humphrey/Lindsay Holy Family Bulldogs (20-5) won the D-1 state championship in 2019 and are looking to get back to the title game. Leading the Bulldogs into the tournament is 6-5 junior guard Jason Sjuts, who’s averaging 16.2 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game. Sjuts, who’s already scored 1,000 career points in his prep career, has eclipsed 30 points in three games this season, with a season-high 34 coming in a win over Madison on Jan. 21. He’s a 37-percent 3-point shooter (56 of 151) and is 70 percent (62 of 89) at the free-throw line. Sjuts has one double-double this season — a 14-point, 13-assist outing against Wisner-Pilger on Jan. 12.

Jacob Sjuts: Jacob Sjuts, another 6-5 junior guard for head coach Joe Hesse’s No. 2 seeded Bulldogs, is averaging 13.3 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.6 assists. Jacob has four games where he’s scored 20 or more points — his season-high of 24 came in a win over Neligh-Oakdale on Jan. 14. Jacob is able to shoot the 3, too, and in a tight win over Columbus Scotus on Dec. 22 he went 6 of 8 from 3-point range.

Ethan Keller: Humphrey/Lindsay Holy Family’s 6-3 junior forward Ethan Keller is averaging 11.2 points and 7.4 rebounds to go along with his team-best 46 blocks. Keller has cracked 20 points twice this season and his season-high of 21 came in a win over Twin River on Feb. 11. Keller has seven double-doubles.

Southern Valley
Clayton Berry: The Southern Valley Eagles (19-4) were runner-ups in the D-1 state tournament a year ago, and they’re back for another run this season. Leading the way is 6-1 senior Clayton Berry, who’s averaging 18.9 points and 5.3 rebounds. Berry has scored 20 or more points in 14 games this season, and his high of 28 points came in a win over Arapahoe on Jan. 21. He has two double-doubles this season.

Carter Bose: Senior Carter Bose is averaging a double-double for head coach Jimmy Sindelar’s Central Valley team with 14 points and 10.8 rebounds. The 6-1 forward has recorded 15 double-doubles this season. Bose’s best game may have come Dec. 17 against Ravenna, when he had a 24-point, 14-rebound performance.

Tycen Bailey: Ansley-Litchfield’s 6-3 guard Tycen Bailey comes to Lincoln leading the No. 6-seeded Spartans (20-4). Bailey is averaging 13.3 points, 7.5 rebounds and three assists. Defensively, he’s caused many a headache while racking up a team-high 85 steals. Bailey’s season-high of 21 points has come twice — both in wins against Elm Creek and Fullerton. Bailey has recorded six double-doubles this season.

Caden Holm: Caden Holm is Ansley-Litchfield’s 6-3 forward who’s averaging 11.5 points and 6.6 rebounds. He’s a 68-percent (53 of 78) free-throw shooter and has three double-doubles this season. Against Shelton on Jan. 15, Holm had an 18-point, 11-rebound night in the Spartans’ 59-49 victory.

Class D-2

St. Mary’s
Aidan Hedstrom: The St. Mary’s Cardinals made state last year, but were knocked out in the first round. The Cardinals’ 6-2 junior guard Aidan Hedstrom is St. Mary’s top player who’s averaging 24.3 points, 4.3 rebounds and three steals — and he wants a longer stay in Lincoln. Hedstrom has scored 30 or more points in eight games this year, and his season-high of 35 came in a win over North Central on Dec. 18. He’s a 36-percent (27 of 74) 3-point shooter and makes 77 percent (119 of 155) of his free throws. The dynamic athlete has already scored 1,000 points in his career.

Adam Everitt: Everitt is averaging 10.8 points and 7.9 rebounds per game as a junior for top-seed St. Mary’s (22-2). The 6-3 forward has scored 15 or more points in four games with a season-high of 20 coming in a win over Boyd County on Feb. 9. He’s recorded five double-doubles this season.

Isaiah Zelasney: Head coach Jason Zelasney has his Bulldogs (20-6) in the state tournament for the first time since 1988. Do-everything sophomore guard Isaiah Zelasney is averaging 19 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game. Zelasney, who’s also a solid football player, has scored 20 or more points in 12 games and saw his season-high of 35 come in a win over a tough Burning-Davenport/Shickley team. In a win over Heartland on Feb. 11, Zelasney had a 24-point, 13-rebound night.

Kale Gustafson: For being a freshman, Osceola’s Kale Gustafson doesn’t play like one. The 6-2 Gustafson is averaging 15 points and 6.6 rebounds in his first varsity season of his life. He’s netted more than 20 points in three games, with his his season-high 28 points coming in the aforementioned Heartland contest. In a win over Friend on Jan. 14, the freshman had 18 points and 10 rebounds.

Parkview Christian
Mark Lual Senior Mark Lual leads the No. 4 seed Parkview Christian Patriots (25-1) into the state tournament. Lual is averaging 15.1 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.2 steals per game. The 6-5 Lual has scored 20 or more points in seven games and saw his season-high of 29 come in a win over High Plains — that night he went 6 of 10 from 3-point range. Lual, who’s a 40-percent (41 of 102) 3-point shooter, has three double-doubles this season for head coach Nathan Godwin’s club.

Jaheim Curry: Parkview Christian’s 6-2 junior guard Jaheim Curry is a certified stat-sheet stuffer, averaging 14.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, five assists and 3.6 steals. He’s had five games of 20 or more points and poured in a season-high 26 twice — against Diller-Odell and Osceola. He’s a 31-percent (22 of 70) 3-point shooter and makes 68 percent (100 of 148) of his free throws. Curry has four double-doubles.

Quinn Johnson: Loomis made the state tournament last year, but couldn’t get a first-round win. If the No. 5 seed Wolves (22-4) want to earn a victory in Lincoln this season, dynamic junior guard Quinn Johnson will lead the way. Johnson, a 6-2 guard, is averaging 24.8 points and 8.3 rebounds for head coach Drew Billeter’s team. Johnson is a straight-up scorer who has a couple 40-point games to his resume this season. His season-high of 42 points came in a win over Brady on Dec. 19 while he racked up 41 in a win over Potter-Dix on Feb. 27. Johnson is deadly from behind the arc, shooting 42 percent (88 of 209) from 3-point range while also making 89 percent (142 of 159) at the free-throw line. Johnson has 10 double-doubles this season and had a 26-point, 16-rebound outing in a two-point win over Sumner-Eddyville-Miller on Feb. 25.

Shay Swanson: Shay Swanson is a 5-11 junior guard for the Wolves who is averaging 13.2 points and 4.7 rebounds. He’s also the top assister with 97 on the season. Swanson had surpassed 20 points three times this year and scored a season-best 27 in a win over Minden. He had 11 games where he recorded five or more assists.

Aden Lovitt: Loomis’ 5-8 senior guard Aden Lovitt is averaging 10.9 points and shooting 35 percent (51 of 147) from 3-point range. He’s had two games of 20 or more points, and his season-high of 29 came in a one-point loss to Ansley-Litchfield on Feb. 5.

Clayton Moore: The Mullen Broncos (23-3) are the No. 2 seed and open with No. 7 Falls City Sacred Heart (17-7) on Wednesday. The Broncos are led by three players who average double-digits in scoring, including 6-4 junior Clayton Moore. Moore averages 12.6 points and 4.5 rebounds. He’s also second on the team in assist with 44.

Brendon Walker: Mullen’s 5-11 senior guard Brendon Walker is average 12.2 points and 3.5 rebounds for head coach Brad Wright’s team. Walker also has the most assists (72) and steals (113).

Trevor Kuncl: Part of Mullen’s trio of players who score over 10 points per game is 5-9 junior Trevor Kuncl, who averages 11.5. He’s also chipping in on the glass with 2.4 rebounds per game and has 62 steals.

Falls City Sacred Heart
Jackson Fiegener: The Falls City Sacred Heart Irish won the D-2 state championship last year and in 2018, now they’re back for more. The top player for the Irish (17-7) is Jackson Fiegener, who’s averaging 14 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. He also leads the team in steals with 49.

Humphrey St. Francis
Tanner Pfeifer: The St. Francis Flyers got to the D-2 state championship last year, but fell just short to Falls City Sacred Heart. Head coach Eric Kessler and his team return to state as the No. 3 seed with a 20-4 record. Leading the Flyers is junior Tanner Pfeifer, a 6-2 forward who’s averaging 19.7 points and 8.3 rebounds. Pfeifer also has 87 steals on his resume.

Justin Leifield: Leifield is a 5-11 senior guard who’s averaging 13.1 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.2 assists. He’ll be a key player if St. Francis wants to get past No. 6 seed Wynot in the first round.

Anthony Haberman: Anthony Haberman leads the Wynot Blue Devils (19-7) into the state tournament, a place they haven’t been since 2018. Haberman, a 5-10 senior guard, is averaging 12.7 points and 5.2 rebounds for head coach Lee Heimes’ team.

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