Entering this season, West Point Guardian Angels Central Catholic coach Jerry Stracke didn’t know what to expect from his team.
Three of the top four scorers from last year’s squad had graduated. Two starters were back, along with several role players from the team that finished third at the state tournament.
But it’s all worked out well so far for the Bluejays, who are 12-0 and ranked No. 1 in Class C-2.
Stracke, in his 12th season as head coach, said his team’s success can be summed up in two words — hard work.
“I’m very pleased with what I’ve seen so far,” he said. “These girls already have exceeded my expectations, and that’s because of all the hard work they’ve put in.”
Stracke said the returning players from last year’s 24-4 squad worked hard over the summer to get ready. They were motivated in part by that third-place finish at state after entering the Class D-1 tourney as the top seed.
“The girls realized that our big scorers were moving on,” the coach said. “Their work ethic has been tremendous and the team chemistry also has been really good.”
After winning their first four games, a big test came Dec. 14 against defending C-2 champion Crofton. The Bluejays responded with a 59-53 home win, still the only blemish on the Warriors’ record.
“They’ve got so many offensive threats that we tried to set the tempo,” Stracke said. “Our bench played a factor, too, and it was just a really good, quality win for us.”
The coach added that depth has been another key factor.
“We’re running people in and out of games a lot,” he said. “The girls are buying into the philosophy of giving it everything they’ve got when they’re out on the court.”
Central Catholic rattled off seven more wins after the Crofton game. The Bluejays have been successful despite not having one player who is averaging double figures.
“I’ve had more athletic teams,” Stracke said. “But we’ve got some height (five players 6-foot or taller) and we’ve got girls who go all out when they play.”
Three players — senior guard Melanie Stratmann, junior guard Krista Fischer and sophomore guard Katey Brown — average about nine points per game. The Bluejays are averaging 61 points on offense and giving up an average of 30.
Central Catholic also has tradition on its side. The Bluejays have won five state titles — four in a row from 2002-05 — and have been to the state tournament 16 consecutive years.
Stracke also has enjoyed his own success, recently picking up career victory No. 300. He coached previously at Scribner-Snyder and Beemer, but most of those wins have come at Central Catholic.
“We try to keep it fun and challenging for the girls,” he said. “When they want to come to practice, you know you’re doing something right.”
Ratings update: In addition to West Point GACC, the other three No. 1 teams keep rolling.
In C-1, Minden (12-0) cruised to three victories last week. The high-scoring Whippets put up 77, 77 and 78 points in those wins.
Friend also stayed unbeaten atop the D-1 ratings, boosting its record to 11-0. The Bulldogs won a pair of games, including an impressive 22-point victory over 8-3 Freeman.
In D-2, Falls City Sacred Heart (11-0) continued its winning ways. The Irish had their closest game of the season Friday night but prevailed 44-35 against fourth-ranked Diller-Odell.
Good luck, Hawkettes: Coaches who think they have a tough week ahead should take a gander at the gauntlet Hastings St. Cecilia has to run.
The 9-0 Hawkettes play at Class B No. 2 Grand Island Northwest on Tuesday, host C-1 No. 1 Minden on Thursday and finish the week on the road Saturday at C-1 No. 2 Kearney Catholic.
Those opponents have a combined record of 34-1.
Next week doesn’t start any easier for St. Cecilia — a road game against undefeated Friend.
Top games this week:
Class C-1 — Tuesday: West Point GACC at Wahoo Neumann; Hershey at Sutherland; Malcolm at Lincoln Lutheran; Minden at Ravenna. Thursday: St. Paul at Kearney Catholic. Friday: Omaha Concordia at Wahoo Neumann; Norfolk Catholic at Wayne; Platteview at Wahoo. Saturday: Arlington at Syracuse.
Class C-2 — Tuesday: Hastings SC at Grand Island Northwest; Pender at Homer. Thursday; Minden at Hastings SC. Friday: Yutan at Malcolm. Saturday: Hastings SC at Kearney Catholic; Boone Central/Newman Grove at West Point GACC; Superior at Sandy Creek.
Class D-1 — Tuesday: Sandy Creek at Deshler; Boyd County at Ainsworth. Friday: North Platte SP at Overton; Boyd County at CWC. Saturday: O’Neill SM at CWC; Arapahoe at Dundy County-Stratton.
Class D-2 — Tuesday-Friday: Mudecas tournament, at Beatrice. Tuesday: Stuart at CWC. Friday: Elgin/PJ at Stuart.