Suffice to say it was a long offseason for Kearney girls basketball coach Jason Boyd.
The coach was dealing with the aftermath of the Bearcats’ one-point loss to Millard West in the Class A-2 district final. Kearney led by 12 with less than three minutes left but the victory slipped away, along with a state tournament berth.
“That game was devastating,” Boyd said. “We played a perfect game for 29 minutes but then it just got away from us.”
As you might expect, that setback served as motivation for the returning players. This year’s squad has put together a solid 15-5 season and the Bearcats hold down the No. 10 slot in the Class A ratings.
“The girls talked about that loss a lot,” Boyd said. “But we’ve moved on and are concentrating on what we need to do to keep getting better.”
Kearney was 6-5 after its first 11 games, but is riding a nine-game win streak. That string started after a 31-point home loss against Omaha Westside on Jan. 11.
“For whatever reason, we came out pretty flat that night,” Boyd said. “Westside really played well, but I like the way we’ve bounced back since.”
Quality wins this season have come against defending Class A champion Lincoln Southeast, fourth-ranked Lincoln Northeast and eighth-ranked Omaha Northwest. The Bearcats went 3-0 last week to give them some momentum heading into a tough weekend against sixth-ranked Lincoln Southwest and Norfolk.
“It’s a huge weekend for us,” Boyd said. “We’re focusing on trying to be more consistent because we want to finish the regular season strong.”
The Bearcats are led by junior Kelsey Stithem, who averages 15.9 points per game. Sophomore Skyler Snider is next at 13.5, followed by seniors Payton Cudaback (6.5) and Claire Sickler (6.5).
Cudaback is the team leader in rebounds and field-goal percentage while Stithem leads the Bearcats in 3-point percentage, free-throw percentage and steals.
Kearney will finish the regular season at Southeast on Feb. 21, three days after the Nebraska School Activities Association releases the Class A districts. Those matchups are based on wild-card points, and the Bearcats are currently ninth.
The top seven schools will host districts, and there will be one wild card.
“It will be hard not to think about last year when districts start again,” Boyd said. “We’re hoping for a better finish this time around.”
Big game ahead: Excitement is building for Saturday’s 5:45 p.m. game between second-ranked Millard West and fifth-ranked Fremont.
Tigers school officials are hoping to “Pack the Bahe” and sell out the home gymnasium while raising money for breast cancer research. Adult tickets are $3 and students are $2, with $1 of every admission going to the cancer fund.
My best advice? Wear something pink and get there early.
Ratings update: Little change in the Top 10 this week. The top eight remain the same, with Lincoln Southwest moving in at No. 9 and Gretna holding down No. 10.
Omaha Benson posted wins over Omaha South and Omaha Central last week to remain on top in Class A. The Bunnies’ next test comes Tuesday night at Bellevue East.
Lincoln Pius X holds down the top spot in Class B and the No. 7 position in the overall Top 10. The Thunderbolts are dealing with some injury issues but managed to defeat Class B No. 10 Elkhorn South by 12 last week.
Statistics needed: Coaches of teams in Class A, Class B and the Omaha area are asked to submit updated statistics by 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.”