Bittersweet at this time of the year. Warmer weather has arrived, but it marks the end of another basketball season.
The 2015-16 high school basketball campaign saw plenty of highlights from Lincoln East winning the Class A girls state championship to the Parkview Christian boys reaching their first state tournament, only to play for third place in Class D2.
Waverly and Lincoln Christian girls reached title games in Class B and C1 respectively and the Lincoln Northeast boys made it three-straight for Class A tournament appearances. Somehow, I see next season being a much better year for the city teams.
Waverly, though, may have a tough time reloading with the graduation of talented seniors. With the bar set, Coach Ryan Reeder has put life back into the program that hadn't been in a state championship setting the last 15 years. There is hope that better things could come.
Lincoln Christian will be back, period. Right now, eight months away from the start of the 2016-17 season, they would be my pick to win Class C1. No questions, please.
Lincoln East can try to build off their state championship season, but the key will be to find players to fill the role left by senior guard Grace Barry. She distributed the basketball well and attacked the hoop, which is something that is highly needed on any championship caliber team.
Alli Roh and Regan Sankey will be back next season for the Spartans, who could still make a bid for city and conference titles.
Lincoln Northeast boys have now reached the Class A tournament three-straight years and lose two seniors who played reserve roles on the team. In essence, the Rockets may be THE team to beat in the city, along with Lincoln East.
Northeast returns quick guards Tyson Shadegg and Malcolm Whitlow, who established himself well as a freshman. Next season needs to be the breakout year for Trace Tupper. Although the 6-9 junior center averaged close to 16 points and 10 rebounds this year, Tupper will have to take his game up a whole level to help the Rockets. His 24 points and 19 rebounds in the loss to Papillion-LaVista in the opening round of the Class A tourney proved to be a step in the right direction.
East loses Clay Reimers and Nate Netz, but having three returning starters will be helpful. Jordan Janssen will physically continue to grow and be a bigger inside presence, while Hunter McPhail and Sam Griesel will remain perimeter threats. A 19-6 finish this year and missing out on state this year will likely be motivation factors for the Spartans to be successful in 2016-17.
Lincoln High with inexperience this year may be different next year. Jaylin Hunter, Jaden Horton, Frazzie Wynn and Morgan Perry each gained valuable experience as freshmen on the varsity level. Sophomores Carlos Glaze, Sam Richardson, Jihad Muhammad and Zion Perry will also help the Links' cause.
Southeast will need to find new players to fill the roles left by seniors Sam Morris, Trevor Dockum, Brady McDonald, Noah Kuhlanek and T'Mar Byron. Veterans Jack Strong and Braden Day at the guard position, with Alex Euse in the post and Isaiah Laughlin as the power forward will need bench support.
North Star has experience inside with Brock Johnson and Dillon Brandt, but the tough part will be replacing guards Triston Simpson and Logan Cale. Chase Townsend filled in well at the guard spot, after transferring from Northeast. Caleb Osmond and Sam Juracek will likely see increased roles in the back court.
Parkview Christian in Class D2 may be back in the fold next season. Henry Tanksley, who averaged 21 points a game, returns as point guard. Nosa Iyagaye, at 6-8, will likely be back in the post. Tyler Bradford will be back as the enforcer on the court. Tanner and Tucker Pinyan are back, too. Coach Garth Glissman may have a team that could make another run to the post season.
STATE TOURNAMENT OBSERVANCES
This year's girls and boys state basketball tournament was full of excitement and drama.
The East girls battled back in all three games to win the Class A title, Waverly's upset of undefeated Platteview in the semifinals to reach the Class B championship game and Lincoln Christian to a last second shot from Kearney Catholic in the C1 championship all stand out as memorable moments.
On the boys side, it was the overflow crowds for the C2 tournament. Winnebago (the 2015 C1 State Champ), brought a few thousand people to Lincoln. That prompted the NSAA to move their first round game with West Holt to Southeast High School to help with crowd control and parking. Had the game stayed at Northeast, they probably wouldn't have tipped off until 10pm simply due to the crowd.
At Lincoln East, athletic director Wendy Henrichs and her staff went outside to sell tickets for the Walthill/Axtell first round game Thursday in D1. The line of fans extended deep around one side of the building!
Friday night, more than 8,000 people filled up the Bob Devaney Sports Center to watch the C2 semifinals. Even standing room only was full.
Like many small communities, Winnebago and Walthill are passionate about their basketball and kids. Schools in Omaha and Lincoln should take note, from a mass interest standpoint. Years ago, fan turnout for Lincoln teams at State was phenomenal. Interest is there, but not as abundant as it was 20, 30, 40, even 50 years ago.
BASEBALL COVERAGE STARTS THIS WEEK!
For the 12th consecutive year, LincolnPrepSports.com will carry high school baseball webcasts, starting with Waverly vs. Lincoln Northeast on Thursday, Mar. 17 with first pitch at 5pm.
Our little brother website, LincolnMetroSports.com, will carry a full-slate of games, too. Join Matt Rigby and Michael Dixon for the play-by-play of Lincoln Southwest and Lincoln Pius X at 5pm Thursday.