For the first time in more than two decades, Omaha Benson is No. 1 in girls basketball.
The Bunnies, ranked third last week, moved to the top spot after defeating previously top-ranked Bellevue West on Friday night. A loss by then-No. 2 Fremont also paved the way for Benson’s move to No. 1.
“It’s quite an honor,” Bunnies coach Jon Perone said. “I felt like we were a top-level team heading into this season, but I wasn’t quite sure where we’d fit in with the other teams.”
Benson earned the top spot for the first time since February 1992 after bouncing back from consecutive losses to Bellevue West and Omaha Northwest earlier this month. The 12-2 Bunnies have rattled off five wins since, including one against Millard West and one over the Thunderbirds — two of the top Class A teams all season.
The victory at Bellevue West proved Benson’s overtime loss against the Thunderbirds in the Metro Conference Holiday Tournament was no fluke. The Bunnies led most of the game and held on to win 54-51.
“We were ready for another shot at them,” Perone said. “It motivated us in practice, and I really liked the way we came out and played aggressively.”
The Thunderbirds were held to 16 first-half points, a rarity for the high-scoring squad. They outscored Benson 35-26 in the second half but it wasn’t enough to deny the Bunnies the victory.
Junior forward Kianna Ibis led the way for Perone’s squad with 24 points and 15 rebounds. Arbrieal Benson added 12 points and Montrese Weller scored a late basket that helped seal the victory.
Perone, in his seventh season, said after the game it was the team’s biggest win since he took over. He added that he also was impressed the way his team handled the victory.
“The girls were obviously happy,” he said. “But then they kind of settled down and you could tell they were thinking about the next step for us.”
That next step came Saturday night at Grand Island. The Bunnies took care of business, winning by 33.
“You’re always worried when you play a road game right after an emotional win,” Perone said. “But our girls were focused and played another good game.”
The coach said the No. 1 rating was a positive for the school, which has seen a drop in enrollment the past few years.
“It’s nice to see some good news,” Perone said. “Now we’ve got to keep it going.”
Another first: When Omaha South defeated Omaha Marian 56-47 Friday night, it was the first time the Packers had beaten the Crusaders in girls basketball.
“That was our rallying cry going into the game,” South coach Matt Curtis said. “We finally got that win, so it was a fun night for us.”
The Packers trailed 35-29 after three quarters but outscored the Crusaders 27-12 in the fourth.
Leara Blair scored 10 points to pace a balanced South effort. Leading scorer Chelsea Chapman was held to seven but had 22 points and 17 rebounds the next night against Elkhorn South.
One more first: Omaha Gross captured its first River Cities Conference tournament title Saturday, defeating Beatrice 53-27 in the final.
Kayla Johnk led the way with 18 points while Joelle Overkamp chipped in 17.
“It was huge for our girls and huge for our program,” Gross coach Fr. Steve Emanuel said. “It was nice to see the girls get rewarded for their hard work.”
Ratings update: Lining up behind Benson in Class A this week is Millard West, which slips ahead of Bellevue West into the No. 2 spot. The Wildcats get the slight edge by virtue of their 31-point demolition of host Bellevue East on Thursday.
The Thunderbirds are third, followed by Lincoln Northeast and Fremont. The Rockets handled the Tigers 60-43 last Tuesday night, avenging their loss in the Heartland Conference tournament final.
No change in the top three positions in Class B, with Gretna climbing to fourth and Gross moving up to fifth. A newcomer this week is Waverly, which slips in at No. 10 following its win Friday night over Elkhorn South.
Statistics needed: Coaches of teams in Class A, Class B and the Omaha area are asked to submit updated statistics Monday or Tuesday.
Coaches may either email their stat sheets to email@example.com, fax them to 402-444-1238 or submit their stats using the Nebraska School Activities Association-affiliated MaxPreps website.
To be included from MaxPreps, the players must be listed under the category of “stat leaders.”