Falls City Sacred Heart coach Luke Santo said the team’s lone setback this season actually has been a positive.
That 45-37 loss for the 24-1 Irish came Jan. 5 on the road against Mound City, Missouri. Sacred Heart had won nine straight leading up to that game, which served as a reality check.
“That loss was a turning point for us,” he said. “It woke us up and told us that we needed to be better.”
The Irish responded, winning their final 15 games. They capped that run with a 20-point victory against Hampton in the district final, sending them to state for the 20th time.
Only Lincoln Southeast (27), Omaha Marian (26) and South Sioux City (21) have reached the girls state tournament more. Sacred Heart will head to Lincoln in quest of its fifth state title and second in a row. The top-seeded Irish open against eighth-seeded Wauneta-Palisade at 9 a.m. Thursday at Lincoln Southwest.
“I really like where we’re at,” Santo said. “Our defense has been good all year but we’re picking it up offensively, too.”
The Irish had to move on this season after the graduation of high-scoring sisters Abby and Elizabeth Magdanz, a pair of four-year starters. One key returnee is senior Maggie Goltz, who is averaging 11 points per game.
At 6-foot-1, Goltz isn’t your typical Class D-2 point guard. But Santo said that’s the point, and she presents major matchup problems for opponents.
“Maggie can hurt teams in a lot of ways,” Santo said. “She can hit the pull-up jumper or she can sneak into the post and score inside.”
Sacred Heart also has gotten a boost with the return of 5-11 junior center Haylee Heits, who averages 10 points and 6.5 rebounds. She is coming back from an ACL injury.
“She tweaked it again in January and sat out a couple of games, just as a precaution,” Santo said. “But she’s come back strong since.”
Other key contributors are junior guard Lexi Barnes (9.5 ppg), junior forward Jade Hill (5.8) and sophomore center Sara Wertenberger (5.1).
“One of our strengths is that we have a lot of weapons,” Santo said. “That makes it tough on defenses.”
The coach added that the Class D-2 bracket came up tough this season with the inclusion of defending Class D-1 champion O’Neill St. Mary’s. The bracket also includes tourney regular Wynot — four titles the past five years and the 2015 state runner-up — and several other tough teams.
“To get the title this season, a team is going to have to earn it,” Santo said. “We hope we’re that team.”