With the first month of the girls basketball season behind us, let’s take a closer look at the new Nebraska Top 10:
1. Bellevue West: The Thunderbirds avenged their only loss by defeating Millard West 50-42 in the final of the Metro Conference holiday tournament. The inside-outside combination of center Kate Liveringhouse and guard Madi Braun along with a scrappy defense paved the way to Bellevue West’s fifth tourney title.
2. Millard West: The Wildcats would have been in line for that No. 1 slot but the recent loss to the Thunderbirds puts them at No. 2. Expect the team to show even more improvement when guards Marisa Lowe (concussion) and Brooke Savage (knee) soon return to the lineup.
3. Fremont: The Tigers have shown they deserved the No. 3 preseason rating after adding All-Nebraska forward Jessica Shepard. Fremont (9-1) won the Heartland Athletic Conference tournament after suffering a one-point loss to Bishop Miege of Shawnee Mission, Kan.
4. Omaha Benson: Coach Jon Perone’s squad reached the semifinals of the Metro tourney before losing 58-55 in overtime against Bellevue West. Junior forward Kianna Ibis is off to another hot start but Benson will be hurt by the probable loss of guard Octavia McGraw, who injured her Achilles tendon against the Thunderbirds.
5. Bellevue East: The Chieftains remain formidable without longtime coach Scott Jensen. The team is playing well for first-year coach Blake Anderson and reached the Metro tourney semifinals before losing 58-49 to Millard West.
6. Lincoln Northeast: The 7-2 Rockets have posted some quality wins early in the season but came up short against Fremont in the HAC tourney final. Northeast’s next four games are against teams with losing records before a rematch against Fremont on Jan. 21.
7. Norris: The Titans deserve some love after beating the top two Class B preseason squads — No. 1 Grand Island Northwest and No. 2 Lincoln Pius X. Norris suffered its only loss on the road against Elkhorn but has bounced back to defeat quality foes Omaha Gross and South Sioux City by an average of almost 20 points.
8. Minden: Not exactly sure how good this team is, but any squad with the Kissinger sisters — Illinois recruit Brooke, San Diego recruit Jamie and freshman Taylor — deserves mention. The Class C-1 Whippets are 9-0 and averaging 71.5 points per game.
9. Grand Island Northwest: The defending Class B champion has bounced back after suffering a loss against Norris on Dec. 7. The Vikings have a tough road game Saturday against unbeaten York.
10. Papillion-La Vista: The 4-4 Monarchs get a slight edge for the final spot over Omaha Westside and Omaha Central, two teams that Papio defeated. A rematch looms against the Warriors on Friday night.
After covering 14 of the 15 games (missed one to attend my nephew’s Eagle Scout ceremony), I’d say the tournament — tweaked several times over the years — has settled into a nice comfort zone.
Gone are the days when the first round was played before Christmas, with the quarterfinals resuming afterward. Starting the tourney Dec. 28 and ending it Jan. 3 seems to bring more continuity.
I also applaud the relatively recent move of starting New Year’s Eve games earlier in the day. I can remember when some of those games were played later on New Year’s Eve and attendance suffered because of it.
That brings us to the Civic Auditorium, site of the semifinals and finals for the second straight year. The old building definitely has seen better days — and a little more heat on that first day of semifinals Thursday would have been welcome — but overall I had no qualms with it.
It’s probably going to be the last event I’ll ever cover there, and it was nice to wander the building one last time.
Tourney team II
The World-Herald’s Metro all-tournament team consisted of Bellevue West’s Liveringhouse and Braun, Millard West’s Samantha Waldron, Omaha Benson’s Ibis and Bellevue East’s Amaun Frazier.
I’m breaking tradition this year and unofficially naming a second team of players who also performed at a high level throughout the event.
» Paige Phipps, Millard West: Often the shortest player on the court, the guard gives it her all on offense and defense.
» Chloe Akin-Otiko, Bellevue West: The smooth sophomore scored 10 points in the final against Millard West and played tough defense on Waldron, who was held to eight points.
» Peyton Hagen, Bellevue East: Has the range to hit the 3-pointer from anywhere; scored 17 in the Chieftains’ 71-68 quarterfinal win against Central in the best game of the tournament.
» Jacquelyn Beaugard, Omaha Central: The Eagles’ title hopes ended in the quarterfinals, but she scored a game-high 25 against Bellevue East — 12 in the fourth quarter.
» Deleyah Harris, Omaha Northwest: The speedy guard poses matchup problems for any team, as evidenced by her 21-point effort in the quarterfinals against Bellevue West.
Coaches of teams in Class A, Class B and the Omaha area should have received a statistics sheet via email. The first reporting dates are Jan. 13 and 14.
Coaches may either email their stat sheets to firstname.lastname@example.org, fax them to 402-444-1238 or submit their stats using the Nebraska School Activities Association-affiliated MaxPreps website.
To be included from MaxPreps, the players must be listed under the category of “stat leaders.”
The World-Herald will follow recent style concerning the ratings. Class A, Class B and the Top 10 will run in Monday editions while Class C and Class D will run Tuesdays.
Top games this week
Class A — Thursday: Lincoln Southwest at Lincoln Southeast, 5:45. Friday: Omaha Westside at Papillion-La Vista, 5:30; Omaha Central at Millard West, 5:30; Omaha Northwest at Omaha Benson, 5:30. Saturday: Lincoln Southeast at Omaha Central, 5:15; Omaha Westside at Kearney, 5:15; Millard North at Lincoln Southwest, 5:45.
Class B — Tuesday: Norris at Beatrice, 5:30. Thursday: Norris at Waverly, 6. Friday: York at Gretna, 6. Saturday: Grand Island Northwest at York, 6.