It hasn’t been easy, but Lincoln Southeast girls basketball coach Kara Graham has moved on from last year’s Class A state championship game.
That was the game in which an official called a foul away from the ball with less than three seconds left that produced the winning free throw in a 36-35 loss to Omaha Central. The Knights finished the season 25-2, with both losses coming against the Eagles.
“I’ve been preaching that last year is ancient history,” Graham said. “I’m not saying that loss didn’t hurt, because it did. But now we’re looking ahead to a brand new season.”
The Knights, the preseason No. 1 in the Nebraska Top 10, have reasons for optimism. While six seniors graduated from the 2011-12 squad, Southeast returns its top two scorers in sophomore Jess Shepard and senior Alexa Kastanek.
“We’re not going to be as deep as we were last year,” Graham said, “but I’m not pouting about what we’ve got coming back. I think Jess and Alexa are two of the top five players in the state.”
The 6-foot-3 Shepard, who orally committed to Nebraska before playing her first varsity game, averaged 18.7 points and 9.2 rebounds as a freshman. She also made an impact in other ways with 48 assists, 34 steals and 21 blocks.
“I think this could be a really big year for Jess,” Graham said. “Some of the better posts from last season have graduated, so I’m not sure how many teams are going to be able to stop her.”
Kastanek, an Iowa recruit, has been a scoring threat for the Knights since averaging 13.8 points as a freshman. She averaged 14.2 as a sophomore and 15.8 last year while leading the team in assists (76) and steals (56).
“She’s obviously a great shooter,” Graham said. “And I know she really wants to do well in her senior season.”
Other key returnees for the Knights are senior point guard Alexa Haas and junior guard Maddy Everett. The 5-2 Haas averaged 5.7 points per game while Everett is one of the team’s top defenders.
“Those four will be our building blocks,” Graham said. “We’re going to have some new faces this season and our depth could be an issue, but I still like our team this year.”
Graham, a former assistant for longtime coach John Larsen, said preparations for her second season have gone a little smoother than her first.
“It wasn’t a tough transition last year,” she said. “But I’m in a little more of a routine this year, so that’s been a good thing. It’s just been amazing to me how quickly the start of the season has come up on us.”
The Knights open the season Friday night at Omaha Marian and will play two more road games before their home opener Dec. 8 against Central.
“I’m sure leading up to that (Central) game that we’re going to have some memories about last year,” Graham said. “But we’ve got some games to play before then, and we’re just excited about getting the season started.”
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