Millard West coach Kip Colony could be in line for a nice meal, courtesy of Omaha Benson coach Jon Perone.
After the Bunnies lost 44-42 to Omaha Central in the District A-7 final Saturday, Perone knew one thing had to happen for Benson to reach the state tournament. Millard West had to defeat Kearney in the A-2 final that started an hour after the Central-Benson game, which would give the Bunnies the only Class A wild card.
It didn’t look promising as Perone received texted updates from that game at Millard West. With 2:50 to go, the unranked Bearcats were holding a 12-point lead on the third-ranked Wildcats.
That’s about the time junior guard Samantha Waldron put the team on her back and fueled Millard West’s comeback. She scored 14 of her 17 points in the final three minutes — including the tying and go-ahead free throws with 5.1 seconds left — as the Wildcats rallied for the 54-53 win.
Just like that, Benson had its first state berth since 1997.
“I’m going to call Kip and thank him,” Perone said shortly after finding out Millard West had won. “I need to take him out to dinner someplace.”
The Bunnies, ranked seventh in Class A and eighth in the Top 10, head to state with a 16-7 record. Perone said that tournament trip is a nice reward for a team that has worked hard this season.
“I think our schedule really prepared us for this,” the coach said. “We’ve beaten some very good teams like Millard North and Millard West and we feel as though we deserve that state tournament shot.”
Benson went 16-8 last season and just missed state, losing to Lincoln Northeast in overtime in the district final. The Bunnies returned three starters, but suffered a blow before this season started when All-Metro Conference forward Zabrina Kentch was sidelined for the year with a knee injury.
Despite that, Perone’s team remained competitive with the help of forward Kianna Ibis. The 6-foot sophomore averages 18.6 points and 13.8 rebounds and has blocked 109 shots this season.
Other players also have stepped up for the Bunnies, including sophomore guard Arbrieal Benson (10.6 ppg), junior forward Montrese Weller (9.0 ppg), junior forward Moneeka Robinson (6 rebounds per game) and junior guard Octavia McGraw (5.2 ppg, 3.2 rpg).
Perone said his team has remained focused and kept it positive this season.
“When I took over the program six years ago, the kids’ attitudes just weren’t where they needed to be,” he said. “The kids have worked hard, and for them to get this shot at state is really amazing.”
The Bunnies also have worked hard in the classroom with a cumulative team GPA of 3.3.
“You’ve got to be a student first,” Perone said. “That’s another thing these girls understand.”
Benson, which is the bottom seed in the Class A field, will face a major challenge in its first-round game Thursday against top-ranked Bellevue West. The Thunderbirds have lost just once, but Perone said his squad isn’t going to back down.
“It’s OK to be playing them,” the coach said. “It’s just such an honor to make the tournament and be going down to Lincoln.”
Hard-luck Jaguars: Several teams just missed state, but Class D-1 Howells-Dodge suffered perhaps the biggest heartbreak.
The Jaguars competed in the D1-5 subdistrict, which included the three top-ranked D-1 teams at the time — No. 1 West Point Guardian Angels Central Catholic, No. 2 Pender and No. 3 Howells-Dodge. The Jaguars defeated Pender 56-53 and then beat GACC 58-51 in overtime to advance to the district final.
Unfortunately for coach Scott Polacek’s squad, it couldn’t get over that final hurdle. The Jaguars lost 70-57 to Emerson-Hubbard in the district final.
Guess which two teams snagged the D-1 wild cards? West Point GACC and Pender, the two teams Howells-Dodge defeated in subdistricts.
“You don’t know how tough it is,” Polacek said. “I’m not sure if devastated is the right word, but it’s close.”
Howells won the D-1 title in 2011 and finished as runner-up last year, losing to Wynot 50-47 in overtime. That second-place finish and Howells’ first-year consolidation with Dodge gave the Jaguars major incentive, but it wasn’t meant to be.
“Our girls know they probably deserve to be at state,” Polacek said. “It’s tough, but we know that we still had a good season.”
Fourth-ranked Howells-Dodge finishes with a 20-6 mark.
Ratings update: There are two new No. 1 teams — Kearney Catholic in C-1 and Lindsay Holy Family in D-2.
The Stars posted district wins over 19-4 Minden and 21-5 Ainsworth to reclaim the top spot. Kearney Catholic will begin state tourney play Thursday at 2 p.m. against Norfolk Catholic.
The Bulldogs avenged an earlier loss against another Bulldogs team — previous No. 1 Humphrey — while posting a 48-43 district final win. Humphrey failed to reach state when Falls City Sacred Heart and Wynot fell in district finals, giving those two teams the wild cards.
The top six teams in the Top 10 remain the same. Seward climbs one slot to seventh, followed by Benson, Lincoln Northeast and Lincoln Southwest.
Big names missing: Not everyone can reach the tournament, and it’s inevitable that some of the top players in the state won’t get a chance to perform. That list includes Lauren Works of Lincoln Southwest, Alyssa Frauendorfer of Humphrey, Chatrice White of Shelby-Rising City, Cierra Tjaden of Waverly, Maddie Simon of Lincoln Pius X, Jaycee Bradley of Norfolk, Kenzie Kulm of Platteview and Maddie Westergard of Fort Calhoun.
All-state nominations: Coaches should have received their all-state ballots via email. If that didn’t happen, please contact me at email@example.com. Coaches in Class A, Class B and Omaha-area schools should submit their final statistics as soon as possible. Those whose teams are at state should turn in their reports next week.
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