KEARNEY, Neb. — Girls basketball needs a gathering like this.
Match up some of the better teams in the state, preferably with next-level players to validate naming it the Nebraska Girls Basketball Showcase.
Some of them were here Saturday. The Loomis-Goltl sisters from Bridgeport, rising sophomore Chloe Hanel from Clarkson/Leigh. North Bend junior Kaitlyn Emanuel.
The Goltls were the top attractions. Ruthie, a 6-foot-3 junior, and Olivia, a 5-10 sophomore, both have offers from UNO and Colorado State. Ruthie also has Oklahoma State, Utah State and Wichita State. But with Bridgeport’s 3-point shooters not hitting, Adams Central had 6-3 junior Rachel Goodon to counter Ruthie and foul her out late in the Patriots’ 50-46 win.
Hanel, a 5-11 sophomore, had 21 points in Clarkson/Leigh’s 47-36 win over Grand Island Northwest. Emanuel struggled going up against Grand Island Central Catholic’s picket fence of 6-footers, getting 10 points before fouling out in a 45-37 loss that ended a 19-game winning streak for the two-time defending C-1 champion.
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Saturday was a good first full effort by Kelly Cooksley, the girls coach at Broken Bow who introduced the event to the state at a less than optimal time during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cooksley stayed within reason his first year in 2021, playing four games at Broken Bow after the NGBS couldn’t be played in Kearney. He doubled the number of games to eight for Saturday and lined up the Viaero Center arena, only for its heating system to conk out weeks ago and the needed part still on back order.
Kearney High was an accommodating backup host site. With seating behind both baskets, the gym accomplished about the same purpose as the arena — a backdrop without a wall, much like the teams who make it to state can encounter in Lincoln.
The girls now have their event that is akin to the boys’ Heartland Hoops Classic in Grand Island. It was a gradual growth curve for Tino Martinez and the HHC to persuade larger eastern schools to give up a game, sometimes scheduled for home, to play in central Nebraska on a neutral court. Now it’s routine for a Metro Conference team to be in Grand Island.
The NGBS should aspire to follow that trajectory. It has a favorable date before the start of conference tournaments and has the backing of Kearney’s chamber of commerce. If it takes a superb hospitality room to attract teams, catered food from Cunningham’s makes it a no-brainer.
Of the eight games Saturday, GICC-North Bend and Adams Central-Bridgeport were the best.
GICC has no mid-range in its roster. The Crusaders have four 6-footers — Lucy Ghaifan, Gracie Woods, Chloe Cloud and Carolyn Maser — and the next-tallest player is 5-6.
Jenna Heidelk, who’s 5-5, scored 10 of her 14 points at the line in helping seal the upset. Ghaifan had 12 points, and Woods, named the player of the game, had 10 as the Crusaders (9-3) picked up a ratings-worthy victory.
Sydney Emanuel, Kaitlyn’s older sister on the team, had 15 points for the Tigers (9-1), who were atop this week’s ratings.
Class B No. 5 Adams Central’s Goodon made 6 of 10 shots in the post for a team-high 14 points, with player of the game Libby Trausch getting 11. Olivia Loomis-Goltl started hot by making her first four shots for nine points but was 1 of 9 after halftime to finish with 17 for the Class C-2 No. 2 Bulldogs (9-1). Ruthie had 16 points. Neither scored in the fourth quarter, which began with Adams Central (9-1) ahead 40-39.
Hanel was the player of the game for Class C-2 No. 9 Clarkson/Leigh (9-3). Equally deserving was senior teammate Kennedy Settje, who also had 21 and put the clamps on one of the state’s best scorers, Rylee Rice. After a 10-point first quarter, Rice didn’t score again until hitting a 3 in the fourth (one of only two field goals by the Vikings in the second half) and finished with 13.
“We switched to man, and Kennedy had her the majority of the game,’’ Patriots coach Matt Murren said. “Kennedy did a good job depending on the scouting report and understanding (Rice’s) spin move. She’s competitive and can lock down.”
Rice, who was at Grand Island Central Catholic for 2½ seasons before transferring to Northwest, is rounding into form. She missed the start of the season after a blood clot in her right arm, taking away her mobility with it, was detected at the end of volleyball season. She had a season-high 21 Friday night in a win at Columbus Lakeview.
Class C-2 No. 10 Oakland-Craig (9-3) gave Class B No. 8 Sidney (10-2) its first in-state loss. Player of the game Chaney Nelson had 16 points and twin Sadie Nelson 17 in the Knights’ 55-42 win.
Other players of the game were Kailyn Scott of Class C-1 No. 6 Broken Bow (9-2), Jaide Chandler of Class D-2 No. 7 Anselmo-Merna (8-4) and Olivia Hansen of Class D-2 No. 8 Maywood/Hayes Center (13-1). Scott had 17 points in a 53-48 win over Auburn. Chandler had 25 points in a 53-52 overtime win against Cross County. Hansen had 10 points in a 33-30 win over Blue Hill.
The state’s next showcase event is the Nebraska Prep Classic, with girls and boys games, on Jan. 22 at Sokol Arena.