Published Sunday, January 12, 2014 at 10:53 pm / Updated at 10:56 pm
Patterson: G.I. Northwest girls hit stride after break

While there’s a certain level of parity in Class B, coaches undoubtedly noticed what Grand Island Northwest accomplished during the weekend.

After an 11-day layoff, the defending state champs returned to action Friday by scoring a season-high 80 points against Columbus Lakeview. The next night, the Vikings (10-1) left York with a 67-59 win over the No. 6 Dukes.

“We had that long break and had some time to practice,” coach Mike Herzberg said. “I definitely like the progress we’ve made this season.”

Basketball season began after Northwest, undefeated for most of the volleyball season, lost in the state semifinals. Two days later, many of those same girls went to work preparing for hoops.

“Everybody at Northwest was crushed by that loss,” Herzberg said. “But these girls are special, and they showed up 48 hours later, ready to go.”

The basketball season opened with a decisive road win against Class C-1 Central City before the Vikings traveled to Norris in a rematch of last year’s Class B final, won by Northwest in double overtime. The Titans exacted their revenge with a 56-47 victory.

Herzberg knew that early-season loss might prove to be a positive in the long run.

“As a coach, you want to be perfect,” he said. “But losing an early game like that also takes a lot of pressure off of you, and I think that’s a good thing.”

Northwest lost to eventual state champion Norris in the volleyball semifinals. The Vikings, who also won the Class B volleyball crown in 2012, finished the season 38-1 after defeating Omaha Skutt for third place.

Herzberg’s squad hasn’t lost since that road setback against Norris, rattling off nine straight wins. That includes Northwest’s two most recent efforts, which helped it solidify its hold on No. 2 in Class B.

Against Lakeview, the Vikings scored 57 points in the first half. Thirty came from All-Nebraska guard McKenzie Brown, who finished with 34.

“We were flawless in that game,” Herzberg said. “That’s about as good as it gets.”

Facing the host Dukes on Saturday night, Northwest led 34-17 at halftime and opened that advantage to 26 in the third quarter.

Four players scored in double figures against York, led by Erin Sorahan’s 21. Brown had 14, Katie Placke 12 and Kennadi Keezer 11. Those four seniors also were the top hitters on the volleyball team and combined for more than 1,000 kills.

“We’ve got a great group of girls,” Herzberg said. “We know there are a lot of tough teams in Class B this season, but I like the way we’re playing.”

Ratings update: Bellevue West remains the overall No. 1 after wins over Omaha Burke and Lincoln North Star. The 11-1 Thunderbirds’ lone loss came Dec. 7 against Millard West — a setback Bellevue West avenged at the Metro holiday tournament.

Millard West (11-1) stays at No. 2 after wins over Grand Island and Omaha Central. The Wildcats hope to get guard Marisa Lowe back soon from the concussion she suffered Dec. 31.

In Class B, Norris stays on top after tough road wins against Beatrice (44-43) and Waverly (44-40). The Titans have two more road games this week, at Elkhorn South on Friday and Crete on Saturday.

Get there early: That’s the best advice I can give if you’re planning to attend the annual battle of Bellevue on Friday between Bellevue West and host Bellevue East.

I’ve covered enough of these games to know that you’d better not dawdle if you want to sit for the 5:30 p.m. game. Both schools are having fine seasons again, which only adds to the drama.

The boys game will follow, though the 8-2 Thunderbirds appear to have a decided advantage against the 0-9 Chieftains. But in a big rivalry game, you never know.

Leading the way: Junior forward Jessica Shepard of Fremont continues to lead the state in scoring with a 31.2-point average.

The Nebraska recruit is 11th nationally. Leader Tyra Buss of Mount Carmel, Ill., an Indiana recruit, is averaging 46.8 points per game — slightly better than the all-time record of 46.1 set by Geri Grigsby of McDowell (Kentucky) High School in 1977.

Top games this week:

Class A — Tuesday: Bellevue East at Gretna, 7:30. Friday: Bellevue West at Bellevue East, 5:30; Millard West at Omaha Benson, 5:30; Omaha Westside at Norfolk, 6. Saturday: Lincoln Southwest at Fremont, 5:15; Lincoln Southeast at Bellevue West, 5:30; Millard West at Omaha Westside, 5:30; Norfolk at North Platte, 6.

Class B — Tuesday: Hastings St. Cecilia at Grand Island Northwest, 6. Friday: Holdrege at Beatrice, 5:45; Norris at Elkhorn South, 6; Elkhorn at Lincoln Pius X, 6. Saturday: Beatrice at South Sioux City, 2:15.

Contact the writer: Mike Patterson    |   402-444-1350    |  

Mike covers high school sports, primarily volleyball in the fall, girls basketball in the winter and baseball in the spring and summer.

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