When Seward was stringing together four undefeated seasons, it didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out the best team in Class B.
That chore is much more difficult this season given the balance seen as the schedule turns toward conference tournaments.
“It's the most parity I've seen since I've been here,” Beatrice coach Ryan Luke said. “It's anybody's guess who's going to win Class B.”
For now, Luke's Lady Orange claim the top spot in the ratings. Beatrice has earned it with a pair of wins against Seward and victories over ranked foes Holdrege, Norris and South Sioux City.
Friday night's win at Holdrege was especially impressive. The Lady Orange rallied from an eight-point second-half deficit to win 64-58 in double overtime.
“That was a really important win for us,” Luke said. “I was really proud of the way we were able to battle back.”
Beatrice returned four starters from last year's Class B runner-up team. The only starter not back was leading scorer Alicia Armstrong, who averaged 17 points during her senior season.
“Alicia was obviously a great player,” Luke said. “But the senior class we have this year is very strong and I think we've got a pretty balanced team.”
The four returning starters are seniors Hanah Barnard, Jill Faxon, Chantel Adams and junior Taylor Osborne. Barnard leads the team in scoring with a 16-point average, followed by Faxon (12.0 ppg), Adams (9.0) and sophomore center Kim Higgins (9.0).
Barnard scored a team-high 20 points at Holdrege, including all eight Lady Orange points in the second overtime.
Beatrice followed up with a victory Saturday against South Sioux City.
“It was a crazy weekend for us,” Luke said. “We've got some tired kids and we've got some kids who have been sick, so we were pretty fortunate to make it through.”
Luke, in his fourth season as coach, knows his team still has a tough road ahead. The River Cities Conference tournament is this week, and regular-season games coming up include conference foes Omaha Skutt (10-3), Omaha Gross (9-3) and a rematch against Grand Island Northwest — the only team to beat Beatrice.
Beatrice's district includes ranked foes Waverly and Norris. The Lady Orange never have won a state championship, though they've been runners-up three times.
“Districts are a long way away,” Luke said. “Every game is critical because there are going to be a lot of good teams who aren't going to reach state this year.”
Ratings update: Bellevue West remains No. 1 following wins last week against Omaha South and ranked Iowa opponent Sioux City Heelan.
That 67-48 victory against Heelan came in the Nebraska Prep Classic at Ralston Arena. Junior guard Madi Braun and freshman forward Chloe Akin-Otiko — younger sister of former All-Nebraska selection Alexis Akin-Otiko — led the Thunderbirds with 17 points each.
Bellevue West has a big game Saturday night at defending Class A champion Omaha Central.
Lincoln Southwest drops two spots after losing to unranked Omaha Marian on Saturday night. Norfolk moves into the Top 10 at No. 9 after a five-point home loss to No. 2 Bellevue East.
In Class B, Norris drops from fourth to ninth after losses to Elkhorn South and Crete. Gretna (a winner over now-Class A No. 10 Omaha Benson in the Nebraska Prep Classic) and Holdrege each climb two spots.
Chart-toppers: Lincoln Southeast sophomore forward Jess Shepard leads Class A in scoring (22.6 per game) and rebounding (11.9). The Nebraska recruit averaged 18.7 points and 9.2 rebounds as a freshman.
Holdrege's Rachel Jelden leads Class B in scoring at 19 points per game while Fort Calhoun's Maddie Westergard is the top scorer among Omaha-area schools with an 18.2 average.
Top games this week:
Tuesday: Lincoln Southwest at Millard North, 5:30. Thursday: Bellevue East at Omaha Benson, 5:30. Saturday: Bellevue West at Omaha Central, 5:30; Lincoln Southeast at Millard North, 5:30; Lincoln Northeast at Elkhorn, 5:45.
Tuesday: Gretna at Norfolk Catholic; Norris at Fairbury. Thursday: Kearney Catholic at Seward. Friday: Minden at Holdrege; Waverly at Elkhorn South. Saturday: River Cities Conference tournament final (at Ralston).
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