She averaged almost 18 points per game as a freshman while Lincoln Southeast finished second in Class A last season.
That wasn't good enough for Jessica Shepard, who took her game to the next level in 2012-13 — and helped elevate the Knights to a state championship.
Shepard, a 6-foot-3 sophomore forward, averaged 24.6 points and 11.1 rebounds per game. She averaged 23.6 points in three state tournament games as 24-3 Southeast captured its 10th state title.
Shepard is recognized as the honorary captain of The World-Herald's All-Nebraska girls basketball team. It's the second straight year that the Nebraska recruit has earned a spot on the first team.
Other members of the first team are Alexa Kastanek of Southeast, Lauren Works of Lincoln Southwest, Kianna Ibis of Omaha Benson and McKenzie Brown of Grand Island Northwest.
On the second team are Kate Liveringhouse of Bellevue West, Sylvia Smith-Gatson of Omaha Central, Hannah Tvrdy of Seward, Brooke Kissinger of Minden and Alyssa Frauendorfer of Humphrey.
Third-team selections are Chatrice White of Shelby-Rising City, Samantha Waldron of Millard West, Kourteney Zadina of Seward, Bridget Arens of Crofton and Kaylee Jensen of Lindsay Holy Family.
All-state teams are based on observations of World-Herald sportswriters and nominations by coaches. All schools were emailed nomination forms.
Shepard's second consecutive All-Nebraska berth will be her last with the Knights. Her father, Mark, will become the superintendent of the Fremont Public Schools in 2014 and Jessica will play next season for Class A Fremont.
Southeast coach Kara Graham said it won't be easy to see her star player leave, but added that she understands the situation.
“I think Jessica is probably the best player in the state,” Graham said. “She'll be missed, but we wish her the best.”
Shepard and the other returning Knights sought redemption after losing on a last-second free throw to Omaha Central in the 2012 title game. Southeast hit its stride after a midseason loss to Millard North, winning its final 12 games.
The versatile Shepard led her team in scoring, rebounding and blocks and also was among the team leaders in steals and assists. She shot 60 percent from the field, tied for first in Class A.
“Her ability to finish is one of her greatest strengths,” Graham said. “She's also a gifted ballhandler, and that was something that really helped us against teams that brought full-court pressure.”
Graham added there was one noticeable difference between Shepard the freshman and Shepard the sophomore.
“Jessica's confidence level was higher this year,” she said. “She had a greater understanding of what it took to win games.”
Kastanek, an Iowa recruit, also had that understanding. She was the one who made the promise to Graham after last year's championship loss that the Knights would redeem themselves this season.
“Alexa was a true team player,” Graham said. “She would do absolutely anything to help us win.”
Kastanek, whose older sister Marissa also was an All-Nebraska selection at Southeast, averaged 15.6 points and 6.4 rebounds. She shot 48 percent from the field, 32 percent from 3-point range and 71 percent from the foul line.
Graham said it was Kastanek's defense that often played a crucial role in the team's success.
“She led us in steals and usually was covering the other team's top offensive player,” the coach said. “She helped our team win in every way possible.”
Works, a Creighton recruit, averaged 16.9 points for the 20-5 Silver Hawks. She was one of the top 3-point shooters in the state, making more than 42 percent of her shots.
“Lauren was the complete leader for us,” Southwest coach Lis Brenden said. “Scoring, rebounds, assists and defense. She was an incredibly important part of our team.”
The Silver Hawks came up one win short of state, losing to Lincoln Northeast in the district final. It was a disappointing way for Works to end her varsity basketball career, but Brenden said the hard-working senior couldn't have tried any harder.
|ALL-STATE HARLEM SHAKE|
|The state's hoops stars put on a dancing clinic in our All-Nebraska rendition of the "Harlem Shake."|
“When Lauren's teammates saw her diving for loose balls, it was contagious,” the coach said. “Her work ethic was tremendous, and nobody could have contributed to our team more than Lauren did.”
Ibis, a 6-foot sophomore, was second in Class A scoring at 19.1 points per game and led the class in rebounding with an average of 13.7 per game. She averaged 14.8 points and 10 rebounds per game as a freshman after her family moved from South Dakota.
“Kianna was a big piece of the puzzle for us,” Benson coach Jon Perone said. “She did a great job at both ends of the court.”
The left-handed Ibis tied with Shepard as Class A field-goal percentage leaders at .600. She set a single-game school record this season when she poured in 35 points against Omaha South. The Bunnies went 16-8 while securing the school's first state tournament berth since 1997.
“She's a good kid who gets good grades off the court,” Perone said. “I think every coach would love to have someone like Kianna.”
Brown, who averaged 20.1 points to lead Class B, helped the Vikings capture their second state title and first since 1982. She scored 22 points in the first round against McCook, 20 in the semifinals against Seward and 25 in the double-overtime final against Norris.
“McKenzie is a special player,” Northwest coach Mike Herzberg said. “She can score inside and she can score outside. And she's got a great mind for the game.”
Brown, who also helped the Vikings capture the Class B volleyball championship in the fall, became the first Northwest girl to go over the 1,000-point career mark. The 5-11 junior will get a chance to add to that next season.
“Her biggest strength is her competitive desire,” Herzberg said. “She's an extremely hard worker who spends a lot of lonely hours in the gym trying to improve her game.”
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