Four-day state tournaments for volleyball and wrestling foreshadow similar changes for girls and boys basketball.
Something positive has to come from this pandemic, and that would be never having to play state tournaments in high school gyms again.
The Nebraska School Activities Association board Thursday approved volleyball’s four-day tournament and heard options to add a day to the 2021 wrestling tournament to maximize attendance while adhering to safety protocols and local guidelines for large crowds.
Volleyball will play all matches at Pinnacle Bank Arena. Classes A, B and C-1, for travel reasons, will go first on PBA’s two courts on Wednesday, with the remaining classes completing the first round on Thursday.
Basketball easily could, and should, go the same route by using PBA and the Devaney Center and the same schedule — large schools first, small schools next, semifinals on Friday and finals on Saturday. The only hurdle could be whether Devaney would be available for back-to-back weekends because NU volleyball will be in its season, and that’s where it practices.
Lincoln has nice public school gyms, but even before the pandemic they were losing their suitability for state tournaments — especially when filled to the brim for boys basketball. At half capacity and with distancing, none of the gyms could hold much more than 1,000. Devaney’s capacity would be at least three times that. At PBA, maybe 6,000 to 7,000 will be the limit.
If you believe the state should get through fall sports before worrying about the next season, well, the first day of winter sports is eight weeks away on Dec. 4. Schools already are asking for guidance. What will be the winter sports protocols? Will large wrestling tournaments or swim meets be OK? Should schools break up girls-boys basketball doubleheaders? By month’s end, we should know from the NSAA. The board discussed winter — and spring — sports in executive session at the end of its meeting.
Now if you believe it’s excessively early to consider spring sports, the state track meet is the NSAA’s largest production of the year for participants and spectators at one time. Almost every school in the state is represented. Can it still be a two-day meet at Burke Stadium? That’s fodder for a future column.
Left without opponents (Twin River and Superior) this week due to the coronavirus, Class C-2 No. 2 Ord and No. 4 Sutton agreed to meet Friday at Ord in a replacement game that won’t affect wild-card points but will have ratings implications. Another replacement game is Central Valley visiting Fremont-Mills, Iowa.
Through Thursday afternoon, 14 games have been lost from this week’s schedule. Other rated teams that had opponents cancel are Class B No. 9 Grand Island Northwest (York), Eight Man-2 No. 1 Bruning-Davenport/Shickley (Giltner), Eight Man-1 No. 4 Tri County (Freeman) and, in Six Man, No. 3 Stuart (St. Edward) and No. 4 Red Cloud (Franklin).
Five games to follow on Friday
Top 10 No. 4 Elkhorn South (5-1) at No. 7 Gretna (6-0), 7 p.m.: First time these ex-Eastern Midlands Conference rivals have met when both have been ranked. South’s loss was 17-14 to now-No. 3 Millard South. Gretna is playing its first ranked Class A opponent of the season. Dragon sophomore Zane Flores is third in Class A in passing yards.
Millard West (1-4) at No. 2 Bellevue West (3-0), 7 p.m.: It’s a rematch of last year’s Class A semifinal that Bellevue West won 37-30. Millard West has lost games by 2, 3 and 1 points. It will have to shorten the game through ball control to slow down the Thunderbirds. TV: Cox 13.
Class B No. 3 Elkhorn (5-1) at No. 5 Bennington (5-1), 7 p.m.: Speaking of old EMC rivalries, this one is renewed for the first time since 2017 with Elkhorn returning from Class A. Kale Bird of Bennington is second in Class B passing yards, Aiden Young of Elkhorn sixth in rushing yards.
Class C-1 No. 2 Ashland-Greenwood (6-0) at No. 4 Wahoo (4-1), 7 p.m.: Wahoo is coming off an idle week because of a COVID-related cancellation. Which running back can be the better difference maker, Matthew Schuster for A-G or Colin Ludvik for Wahoo?
Class C-1 No. 3 Adams Central (6-0) at No. 7 Kearney Catholic (4-1), 7 p.m.: After bending for a state-record 45 completions but giving only one touchdown pass for Central City’s Kale Jensen, Adams Central’s defense faces Husker commit Heinrich Haarberg. Radio: KICS (1550, Hastings), KXPN (1460, Kearney).
Gene Starmer, 72
When Millard South was still the Indians, Gene Starmer was part of a special coaching staff. He started the school’s tennis program in 1970 with boys and added a girls team a year later.
Starmer, 72, passed away Sunday. His funeral service is 10:30 a.m. Saturday at Heafey-Hoffmann Dworak-Cutler West Center Chapel, 7805 West Center Road.
His teams won two state championships and were runners-up nine times. He taught in the Millard schools for 33 years before retiring in 2003.
A Fremont native, he played football and tennis at Midland Lutheran. Survivors include his wife of 50 years, Barb, daughter Jenna Erb and son Jeff Starmer.