A tough second-half schedule — maybe the toughest in Class A — hasn't derailed Millard North.
The Mustangs enter the final week of the regular season at with a 16-5 record and a No. 4 ranking. Coach Scott Persigehl's squad has lost twice since the Metro Conference holiday tournament despite playing several ranked teams, many on the road.
“We had some stretches earlier where we stumbled a little bit,” Persigehl said. “But we haven't played poorly for a while, and we've been doing a pretty nice job as the season winds down.”
Millard North had two things in its favor at the start of this season. The roster included 10 seniors, and those players had strong incentive after losing the previous season in the district final.
“These girls have the desire to get to state,” Persigehl said. “This isn't a real rah-rah bunch, but they work hard and definitely have a goal in mind.”
Millard North began the season 4-0, but lost a pair of home games on consecutive nights against Omaha North (49-48) and Omaha Benson (51-48). After two more wins, the Mustangs earned a confidence-building victory against Omaha Central in the holiday tournament.
Trailing by 20 in the third quarter, they roared back to defeat the defending Class A champion 64-59. The Mustangs then fell to Millard West in the tourney semifinals.
A gauntlet of ranked teams still awaited, and Millard North might have expected to wilt. But the team won nine of 11 games, including victories against current No. 5 Bellevue East, No. 6 Lincoln Southeast, No. 7 Lincoln Southwest and No. 10 Lincoln Northeast.
Last week was especially important to Persigehl's squad — consecutive road games at No. 1 Bellevue West and then-No. 2 Bellevue East. Millard North lost to the Thunderbirds 61-56 but bounced back the next night to defeat the Chieftains 51-43.
After the victory, excited yells could be heard from the Mustangs' locker room.
“I told our kids after the game that teams don't beat Bellevue East very often, especially at their place,” Persigehl said. “And if you accomplish that, you know you've played well.”
The victory was critical for Millard North in its quest to host a district. The win elevated the Mustangs to sixth in the wild card standings. The top seven will be awarded host sites Tuesday by the Nebraska School Activities Association.
In Persigehl's three previous seasons at Millard North, his teams have had to go on the road for districts. Each of those squads saw their season end in the district finals — at Millard West in 2010 and at Columbus the past two years.
“Those district finals can really be hostile environments,” the coach said. “We're hoping that if we get to host that our fans come out and give us that home-court advantage.”
That's something the team's 10 seniors — Ali Drey, Morgan Kessler, Mary Dineen, Kenae Merritt, Taylor Bahensky, Emily Haase, Jordan Tynes, Paige Erickson, Jess Rands and Allie Swanson — would undoubtedly like to see.
The Mustangs finish the regular season with a home game Friday night at No. 2 Millard West and a game Saturday night against Omaha Westside. Then on to districts and perhaps state — where Millard North hasn't been since 2009.
“We want to prove that we're one of the top teams,” Persigehl said. “We need to stay focused on every single game that we have left.”
Ratings update: There's a new No. 1 in Class B, and it's four-time defending state champion Seward. The Bluejays move up following Beatrice's home loss Friday to Grand Island Northwest.
It's a close race for the top spot between those three teams and fourth-ranked Gretna. Seward gets the nod by virtue of its 12-game winning streak and its 56-41 win against Grand Island Northwest earlier this season.
Class A districts: The official district pairings for Class A will be released Tuesday, but we already have a pretty good idea of how they'll look.
Here's how it's unofficially shaping up, with the host team listed first.
>> Bellevue West, Omaha Westside, Omaha North, Lincoln North Star.
>> Millard West, Kearney, North Platte, Omaha Bryan.
>> Bellevue East, Omaha Northwest, Papillion-La Vista, Papillion-La Vista South.
>> Omaha Central, Norfolk, Millard South, Omaha South.
>> Lincoln Southeast, Lincoln Pius X, Fremont, Lincoln High.
>> Millard North, Lincoln Northeast, Omaha Marian, Grand Island.
>> Lincoln Southwest, Omaha Benson, Omaha Burke, Lincoln East.
Class B districts: While there is growing interest among several Class B schools to seed districts, as done in Class A, no changes in the geography-based district assignments are imminent. That will make for some very tough districts, especially B-1 and B-2. Specifically...
>> B-1: Includes No. 3 Beatrice, No. 5 Norris, No. 6 Waverly and Platteview (14-6).
>> B-2: Includes No. 4 Gretna, No. 9 Omaha Gross, No. 10 Elkhorn South and Omaha Skutt (12-9).
There are six districts and only two wild cards. Some very good Class B teams won't be making the trip to Lincoln.
Postseason: District play for Class A and B begins Feb. 19 and will conclude by Feb. 22.
Class C and Class D subdistrict finals are scheduled for Thursday, with the district finals set for Feb. 22.
Red-letter day: In honor of Valentine's Day, here's an update on the Valentine Badgers.
In his first season as coach, Dan Wolken has guided his Class C-1 squad to a 10-10 mark. First up for Valentine in the C1-10 subdistrict Tuesday night is O'Neill.
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