It's been a long time since the Omaha Northwest girls basketball team has given fans reason to cheer.
That's changed this year.
Three weeks into the season, the Huskies (5-1) already have more wins than the 4-17 squad a season ago. Four of those victories have come against Metro Conference competition, and the fifth came against a Columbus team that reached the Class A state tournament last season.
“Our girls have been working hard and it's paying off,” coach Kevin Vann said. “But we know that we've got a long way to go.”
The return of three starters fueled preseason optimism, and the addition of transfers Simone Goods (Omaha Burke) and Raine Dunkin (Omaha South) has made Northwest even better.
“I thought we were going to be competitive,” Vann said. “But the new girls have blended in well, and it's made us a stronger team.”
Goods, a 6-foot-2 sophomore, leads the Huskies with averages of 15 points and 11 rebounds. She had a big game last week against Omaha Marian with 22 points, nine rebounds and three blocked shots.
“I'm very comfortable here,” she said. “I've got great teammates, and the adjustment to the new school hasn't been that tough.”
That 66-61 victory over the Crusaders is notable for another reason. Vann said it's the first time in 42 years that the Northwest girls basketball team has beaten Marian.
“That was something historic,” he said. “It just shows what you can accomplish if you keep believing.”
The Huskies got off to a shaky start in that road game, trailing 18-3. But they settled down, battled back and picked up the victory. The win received special attention at Northwest the next day: It was announced on the school's intercom.
“A lot of people were coming up to us in the hall and saying 'great job!'” Goods said. “That made us feel good.”
Dunkin, a three-year starter at South, has given the Huskies an important long-range threat. She had five 3-pointers in the win over Marian.
The three returning starters — senior Nya Pal, junior Nadia Donovan and sophomore Deleyah Harris — also have made key contributions. Pal averages nine points per game, Donovan keys the Huskies' fast break and the 5-7 Harris is second on the team in rebounding.
“Everyone brings a different strength,” Vann said. “I think that's a big reason for our success.”
Harris, the only freshman on last year's squad, said she's enjoying that early success.
“It does feel good to be a winner,” she said. “But we know that we still have a lot more work to do.”
The Huskies are scheduled to face their biggest challenge of the young season Friday in a 5 p.m. home game against defending Class A champion Omaha Central. The game was postponed from Thursday.
Vann had his team practice against the Northwest boys team Tuesday in preparation for the Eagles.
“We know Central is going to be tough,” Harris said. “But I think everyone is looking forward to it, and that's a different attitude than we had in the past.”
While the season is only three weeks old, the Huskies find themselves in a rare position. They are tied for fifth in Class A wild-card points, ahead of several teams that are regulars at the state tournament.
Qualifying for that tourney would be a huge accomplishment for Northwest, which made its only appearance in 1980.
“Everyone has a good feeling at the school,” Vann said. “And we hope to keep that going as long as we can.”
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