It’s been a difficult season for Bellevue East coach Scott Jensen.
The Chieftains have managed to play winning basketball, despite the uncertain playing status of former All-Nebraska guard Jayla Hobza. The senior has been sidelined the past nine games for off-the-court issues that have tarnished her once-bright playing career.
She remains a member of the team, but it’s uncertain whether she’ll suit up again for the Chieftains. She was averaging 14.5 points, but Bellevue East has moved on while still playing at a high level entering district play this week.
“I don’t think it’s been a distraction,” Jensen said. “But players’ roles change when an all-state player isn’t there, and that’s something we’ve struggled with a little bit.”
Jensen, in his 19th year as head coach, has enjoyed much success with the Chieftains. He has guided his squads to 12 state tournament appearances, three state titles and two runner-up finishes.
Another title seemed to be a possibility at the start of this season with the return of several top players from the Chieftains’ 2010-11 state championship squad. There were also questions because three of those players — Hobza, Taylor Silva and Shelby Quinn — were coming back from serious knee injuries.
The uncertainty surrounding Hobza’s status also played a factor. She missed the first two games because of personal issues but played in a victory Dec. 8 at Lincoln North Star.
The Chieftains were 12-1 before losing 75-54 on Jan. 26 at South Dakota power Sioux Falls Washington. That was the start of the current nine-game stretch without Hobza, and Bellevue East has gone 5-4 since then.
Most concerning to Jensen is that his team has lost three in a row entering districts, though those opponents were hardly softies. The fifth-ranked Chieftains lost to second-ranked Millard North 51-43, No. 1 Bellevue West 67-65 in overtime and No. 4 Omaha Central 70-55.
“We’ve had our share of ups and downs this year,” Jensen said. “We have a good group of players but we need a little more consistency.”
Perhaps the most frustrating loss came against the Thunderbirds. Bellevue East had two chances to win at the end of regulation yet both shots failed to fall.
“We just didn’t quite get it done that night,” Jensen said. “We’ve had some trouble finishing and that’s something we need to address before districts start.”
There have been bright spots this season as players have stepped up to share the scoring load. Peyton Hagen averages 10.5 points, followed by Silva (9.0), Amaun Frazier (8.0) and Rylie Cascio-Jensen (8.0).
Jensen said coaching his daughter Rylie, a 5-foot-9 freshman guard, has been especially rewarding.
“I’ve enjoyed it,” he said. “Now whether she’s enjoyed playing for her dad as much is something you’d have to ask her.”
Despite the turmoil this season, Jensen undoubtedly will have his team ready to play when the Chieftains begin district play Tuesday night at home against Papillion-La Vista South.
“It’s been a tough year,” he said. “But I believe in my kids, and I know we’re going to do everything we can to get back to state.”
Ratings update: Bellevue West avoided Bellevue East’s upset bid and remains the No. 1 team. The Thunderbirds’ only loss was 67-63 in overtime on Jan. 26 at Millard West.
Millard North climbs to No. 2 following Friday’s victory against Millard West. The Wildcats are third, followed by defending state champion Central and Bellevue East.
Seward remains No. 1 in Class B. The Bluejays enter district play riding a 13-game winning streak.
The only Class B change comes after Gretna’s home loss Friday night against Norris. The Titans are now fourth, followed by the Dragons.
There will be no ratings of teams in Class C and Class D this week because of the ongoing playoffs. All six classes will be ranked next week before state.
Bradley returns: Norfolk fans undoubtedly are happy to see the return of sophomore Jaycee Bradley to the lineup. Bradley, who had been averaging 18 points, missed seven straight games because of injury.
She scored 11 points in Norfolk’s 52-41 win Friday against Class B No. 10 Elkhorn South.
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