The State Semifinals Notebook

Six classes, 12 teams. It's time to get you ready for Championship Saturday at Pinnacle Bank Arena.

THE HURDLER: Sidney’s Chloe Ahrens blocks out GICC’s Bryndal Moody in Saturday’s Class C-1 semifinal. (Harvest Sports / Tony Chapman)

She’s a Runner, She’s a Track Star

PINNACLE BANK ARENA — For some in the state, track practice has started this week. But, for Sidney track champions Chloe Ahrens and Karsyn Leeling they are waiting just a little bit.

The Lady Raiders have a Class C-1 basketball championship game to play first. On Saturday morning, Sidney will be in their first final since the 1984 Class B state title game and seeking their first basketball championship in school history.

And, helping lead the charge for Sidney coach Ty Shaw and his Lady Raiders? His two track stars — Ahrens and Leeling. They scored all 48 of Sidney’s points at the Class B state meet last year as the Raiders were fifth in the team race. Leeling won the high jump and triple jump and Ahrens won both the 100 and 300 hurdles.

But, today, it’s all hoops for the track stars and their teammates.

“We pride ourselves in being three sport athletes,” Ahrens said after Friday’s 37-35 semifinal win over Grand Island Central Catholic. “With basketball this year, we had some pretty big goals. We knew if we worked hard and came together we could achieve them.”

Both are Division I signees — Leeling to Nebraska and Ahrens to Omaha. For his part, Shaw just loves to see them out there for his team competing.

“Anyone who has been to the state track meet knows that it is one of THE events in our state,” Shaw said. “They have been doing that since their freshmen year. I think them seeing that they were capable of doing awesome things puts them at ease on the basketball court.”

For her part, Leeling has come in clutch this weekend for Sidney. Her 23-foot, 3-point shot on Thursday lifted them past Adams Central and her final free throw with 8.8 seconds left on Friday gave them a 2-point edge on GICC.

On Friday, Leeling scored nine points and while Ahrens didn’t score she was generally tasked with hounding Crusader guard Bryndal Moody.

“There is not a lot of substitute for having competitors,” Shaw said.

THE JUMPER: Sidney’s Karsyn Leeling has come up in big moments for Sidney during the state tournament. Last spring she won the Class B high jump and triple jump at the state track meet. (Harvest Sports / Tony Chapman)

Leeling said her experience in all sports, but especially track, has helped her during the season.

“Going to Burke Stadium is nerve-wracking. But, you really have to learn how to calm your nerves,” she said. “Coming in here and preparing for a big game, it’s just like practice now. You’ve done this before, the nerves are there but you have done it before.

“You breath it out, you go out there and you play basketball just like you have all the time before.”

Ahrens said the two seasons since last year’s track success has kept them grounded. They both played on Sidney’s volleyball team, which admittedly, didn’t have the season they wanted finishing 18-15.

“We were probably too confident, coming off of track season. We might have been a little full of ourselves,” Ahrens said, jokingly.

Leeling echoed her friends comments.

“We kind of had a disappointing volleyball season, which opened our eyes for basketball,” she said. “We wanted to come down here and makes some noise. We had big goals.”

Now, the track stars and their teammates have a single game left against second-ranked Lincoln Christian at 11:00 this morning. A state title on the line, something each of Shaw’s track stars have been through.

“They both — all of our girls really — have this amazing way of competing,” Shaw said. “They love to dig in and just play with a motor. We just try to compete and do it the right way.

“If you win, be humble. If you lose, tip your hat to the people that beat you.”

A lesson for track or basketball. More importantly a lesson in competing. And, a lesson for life.

AGENT ZERO: Bellevue West’s Ahnica Russell-Brown drives to the basket in the first half of the Thunderbirds 57-51 win over Lincoln Southwest on Friday night. (Harvest Sports / Andrew Placke)

.500 To The Finals

Bellevue West’s 14th straight win on Friday night moved them into the Class A finals, and it was an improbable thought just after Christmas. The T-Birds started the season as the No. 1 team in the Class A Coaches Poll. But, after a 3-0 start they won just three of their next nine games and were 6-6 after a 74-62 loss to Millard West on January 19th.

“We weren’t playing hard and we weren’t practicing hard,” BW coach Dane Bacon said Friday night after the Birds fought their way past Lincoln Southwest 57-51. “But, we just sat down and told the girls if we did those things we could have the finish that we wanted.”

Bradley pledge Naomi White scored 13 of her 16 points after halftime as the T-Birds started the second half on a 9-0 run after trailing 31-30 at the intermission.

Britt + Everyone Else

In Elkhorn North’s 59-49 win over Beatrice on Friday afternoon, Britt Prince didn’t score until the Wolves 14th point of the game. A bit of a contrast from Thursday’s 63-44 win over Scottsbluff where she had 33 points and Makenna Murphy had 20 with little supporting cast.

Friday was different. Prince and Murphy had help. It led to a triple-double for Prince who had 21 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists in the semifinal victory.

“We have so many girls that are capable,” Elkhorn North coach Ann Prince said. “I am so proud of Sydney (Stodden) for how she played today. She’s missed the last six or seven games. It didn’t take her long to get back to where she was.

“If people want to play us in the triangle-and-2, we will find the players and try to make the right plays. We did that well today. We had a lot of kids make shots.”

Learned From Grandpa

Three of the key players in Saturday morning’s Class D-1 championship game will be Pender’s Maya and Maddie Dolliver and Southern Valley’s Adi Hunt. Hunt scored 11 points in the Eagles 34-29 win over GACC on Friday. The Dolliver’s combined for 30 points in Pender’s 48-39 semifinal win over St. Mary’s.

Their grandpa’s? Former Blair state championship coach Dennis Dolliver (1989) and Oxford state championship coach Mike Lanham (1988, 1990).

The state tournament generations never disappoint. Maybe we’ll find some more on Championship Saturday.

State Finals Preview

CLASS D-1 (9:00 AM): The opening game of the day will feature the shooting of second-ranked Pender (27-1) and the relentless defense of No. 3 Southern Valley (28-1). The Pendragons 261 three-point goals this year is fourth all-time and they are three away from Omaha Skutt’s mark from 2022. Southern Valley has done it on the defensive end. The have given up 40 points just four times all season, including 39 and 29 at the state tournament.

CLASS C-1 (11:00 AM): A rare Class C-1 east-west rematch at 11:00 as second-ranked Lincoln Christian (24-2) faces fourth-ranked Sidney (26-1). The Lady Raiders defeated Christian 57-54 at the Nebraska Girls Basketball Showcase in January. LC has been flawless in two tournament wins, dispatching No. 1 Bridgeport 51-32 on Friday behind 28 points from Mattea Kassebaum. Sidney (26-1) had seven players score, none in double figures, in holding on against GICC.

CLASS B (1:00 PM): Heavyweight match. The third straight Class B title game between Omaha Skutt (25-1) and Elkhorn North (24-1). The Wolves go for their fourth straight after championship. Skutt had their way with Gretna East in the first semifinal getting 13 points from Molly Ladwig in a 45-28 win. The Wolves will need another performance like Friday in the final, when Britt Prince and Makenna Murphy had help.

CLASS C-2 (4:15 PM): Yutan (23-2) survived round three with Bishop Neumann, 45-39 for a three-game season sweep of the Cavaliers to advance to their first state championship game in school history. As for Crofton (27-0), this one is old hat. The Warriors defeated Elmwood-Murdock 51-28 to make their 14th state championship game appearance; but first under coach Maggie Moon.

CLASS A (6:15 PM): Heavyweight match, part two. Millard West (26-1) used a 26-0 run over about 10 minutes of game time to take control of their semifinal with Lincoln North Star. The game was never in doubt after the initial surge at the Power 20, No. 1 Cats went on to win 58-24. Norah Gessert lead four Wildcats in double figures with 20 points. Bellevue West’s 9-0 run that opened the second half put Lincoln Southwest in catch up mode and they could never get over the hump as the Birds (20-6) won 57-51. The excellent career of Kennadi Williams game to a close.

CLASS D-2 (8:15 PM): Overton (27-1) searches for a volleyball-basketball double in the nightcap after defeating Howells-Dodge 57-43 in the first Class D-2 quarterfinal. Ashlynn Florell led the Eagles, who seek their first state title in school history, with 23 points. In what is usually a defensive slugfest, Wynot’s 24-10 halftime lead over Falls City Sacred Heart was too much to overcome for the Irish. The Blue Devils (22-2) had seven players score — including 10 from Alison Wiesler — in their 42-32 win to advance to their 13th state championship game.

Night Fever: The Bank, In Pictures

DRIVING TO THE FINAL: Millard West’s Neliegh Gessert drives to the basket in the second half of the Wildcats semifinal win over Lincoln North Star. (Harvest Sports / Andrew Placke)

TAKE A BOW: The fine career of Lincoln Southwest’s Kennadi Williams came to a close on Friday night. The Nebraska softball and basketball commit, led LSW to four state tournament appearances. (Harvest Sports / Andrew Placke)

CELEBRATION: Bellevue West celebrates their state semifinal win over Lincoln Southwest. (Harvest Sports / Andrew Placke)