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No. 5 Louisville has No. 1 goal — first trip to state

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Louisville sets sights on first trip to state
Louisville sets sights on first trip to state

Louisville won the ECNC tournament for the second time in three seasons last weekend. After falling just short the past two years, the Class C-1 No. 5 Lions are bidding to make the state tournament for the first time.

Louisville’s girls have never been to the state basketball tournament.

No cutting down the nets, no trips to Lincoln with fans in tow.

For this year’s team, the postseason has meant heartbreak.

Two years ago, the Lions missed on a wild card by .03 of a point. Last season, they lost in overtime to Omaha Concordia in a subdistrict final.

“It’s our absolute passion to get there for the first time,” junior point guard Jamie Winkler said. “We work really hard at practice. We never take days off.

“We talk about it quite often. It’s our main goal.”

The Lions are on track. They’re 19-3 and ranked fifth in Class C-1. They have regular-season game left Friday against Weeping Water before subdistricts start for them Tuesday. Last weekend, they won the East Central Nebraska Conference tournament for the second time in three years.

Coach Wally Johnson said his team is comfortable in the up-tempo offense. He’s also have a good rotation and strong defense that is based on a man-to-man, ball-pressure scheme, thanks to a boost from coordinator Jeff Haun, who moved over from Gretna.

“We’re getting to the point where everything is starting to jell,” Johnson said.

Johnson starts five juniors, and he said all bring something to the table.

Winkler handles the ball, can score and has great court vision, her coach says. She’s averaging 11.5 points, 4.4 assists, 4.2 rebounds and 3.6 steals.

Kalli Mackling (8.0 points) is an outside scoring threat who is clutch at the line. Olivia Heard (9.7 points, 5.3 rebounds) is one of the best defensive players, and she guards the other team’s top offensive threat.

Forward Rilee Holl (5.3 points, 6.2 rebounds) has a knack for rebounding, knows her fundamentals and has a nice 15-foot shot, according to Johnson. Maggie Hiatt, a 6-foot-2 post, is shooting around 60 percent inside and is averaging close to a double-double (11.6 points, 8.3 rebounds) per game.

Three of the starters have younger sisters who are contributing off the bench: Mackling’s sister Meagan, Heard’s sister Avery and Winkler’s sister Jordan.

Sophomore Julie Katz is another strong reserve.

Jamie Winkler said it was weird at first having so many sister combinations.

“Not a lot of people have that opportunity to play with their little sister,” she said. “It’s really fun to watch them grow as basketball players. We try to look out for them, give them constructive criticism when we can and we support them. We’ve got their backs.”

The team is like a big family because they’ve played so long together. Many got their start playing on a local club team, the Nebraska Heat.

They want to put all that experience to good use the next few weeks. Winkler said they won’t overlook anyone while aiming for state. It’s one game at a time, hopefully stretching all the way to Lincoln.

“It’s what we’ve been waiting for, so it will be exciting,” she said. “We all have to keep the same goal in mind. We all have to want it as much as the person next to us. If we want it, we need to go out and play our hardest.”

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