It’s not easy being Chadron.
Located in the extreme northwestern part of the state, the Cardinals are far from most other Class C-1 high schools. Longtime coach Curt Holmquist works hard to put together a schedule that, out of necessity, includes teams from other classes and other states to test his team.
So far this season, his squad has responded in a big way.
Chadron (16-1) takes over as the top team in C-1 following a pair of losses by previous No. 1 Minden. The Cardinals haven’t lost to a Nebraska team, falling to St. Thomas More of South Dakota on Dec. 21.
“Our location never makes things easy,” said Holmquist, in his 23rd season as head coach. “But it’s something we have to deal with and we don’t use it as an excuse.”
The Cardinals, who have never won a girls basketball championship, returned four starters from last year’s 24-3 state tourney squad. Chadron posted an overtime win over Lincoln Christian in the first round, then lost to eventual C-1 champion Sandy Creek 52-46 in the semifinals.
“We’ve moved on from the state tournament, but it’s something I haven’t forgotten,” Holmquist said. “To know we were within six points of the state champ tells us how close we were.”
Even when the Cardinals have a glittery record, opposing coaches often aren’t sure what to make of them. Seven of Chadron’s games this season are against opponents from South Dakota or Wyoming and nine are against teams that compete in Class B.
The Cardinals’ only C-1 Nebraska opponents during the regular season are Gordon-Rushville (twice), Valentine (twice) and Mitchell (once). That’s not exactly a schedule that allows a coach to prepare for what’s ahead in the postseason, but Holmquist has done his best to overcome that geographic shortcoming.
“We go to camps in the summer at Minden and Kearney Catholic,” he said. “And we compete in the Miss Nebraska Basketball tournament (held in Kearney). We’re able to see a lot of teams over the summer, and I think that helps us.”
Holmquist said he also compares scores during the season as a way to try and gauge where his Cardinals stand against C-1 competition.
“It’s not the same as playing those other teams,” he said. “But it’s better than nothing.”
The Cardinals are led by junior forward Ashlea Kerr, who is averaging 15.6 points per game. Junior guard Peyton Hinn averages 12.7, senior guard Briley Hannaford 9.2 and junior forward Bailea Kerr — Ashlea’s twin sister — averages 7.0.
Senior guard Ashlyn Eitemiller, another one of the returning starters, averages 3.2 points and is one of the team’s top defenders.
“We only graduated two players from last season, so I was optimistic about our chances,” Holmquist said. “But Class C-1 is always such a dogfight, and it’s the same way this year.”
The coach, who has 288 career victories, said he is hopeful that last year’s state tournament experience will pay dividends this season.
“If we’re lucky enough to get to state again, I think last season’s trip should help us,” he said. “We’d like to get back there and show what we can do.”
Ratings update: Chadron is the only new No. 1 this week. Crofton (C-2), West Point Guardian Angels Central Catholic (D-1) and Humphrey (D-2) maintain their top positions.
Crofton is the only undefeated team left in the state. The Warriors defeated previously unbeaten Pierce last week, and Class A Bellevue West lost its first game to Millard West on Saturday night.
Next up for coach Aaron Losing’s squad this week is the competitive Mid-State Conference tournament.
Top games this week:
Class C-1 — Friday: St. Thomas More (S.D.) at Chadron. Saturday: Gothenburg at Minden; Mid-State Conference tournament final (at Norfolk); LouPlatte Conference tournament final (at Wood River); Southern Nebraska Conference tournament final (at Milford).
Class C-2 — Thursday: David City Aquinas at Columbus Scotus. Friday: Shelby-Rising City at BDS. Saturday: Hershey at Dundy County-Stratton; Twin Valley Conference tournament final (at Adams Central); Lincoln Christian at Aquinas.
Class D-1 — Thursday: Giltner at Exeter-Milligan; Arapahoe at Alma; NENAC tournament final (at Creighton). Friday: Pioneer Conference tournament final; Hampton at Exeter-Milligan; Sutherland at Wauneta-Palisade.
Class D-2 — Friday: Loup Valley Conference final (at Broken Bow). Saturday: Fort Kearny Conference tournament final.
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