Happy New Year, 2017!
And good riddance to 2016 for a few reasons. Well, 2016 wasn't all that bad for some.
For example, Lincoln East girls won the Class A basketball title in March for the first time in 12 seasons. Certainly a great finish to an exciting year for the Spartans.
Lincoln Southwest boys captured the Class A golf title, in what has become an outstanding program for head coach Jim Danson.
There were state championships for the Lincoln Pius X boys and Lincoln Southeast girls tennis teams, and the Malcolm softball team captured gold in Class C. Lincoln Southwest's girls swimming and diving team brought home hardware the state meet again last winter. Waverly's girls track team brought home the state championship in May.
Some of the good things from this past year to celebrate.
However, 2016 was also a time to grieve.
Former Lincoln Southwest baseball coach Doug Kaltenberger lost in his two-year battle to leukemia in October. For 12 seasons, Coach K built up a successful baseball program at Southwest and not only connected to student-athletes on the baseball diamond or basketball court, he was an outstanding teacher in the classroom.
Just before Thanksgiving, one of the last coaches from the golden age of high school basketball in Lincoln passed away. Only a month after turning 90, Alden "Aldie" Johnson died on Nov. 19. His legacy as a coach and teacher at Lincoln High made a lasting impression on his players and students.
Aldie was among a coaching fraternity that consisted of Ed Johnson at Northeast, Wally McNaught at Southeast and Paul Forch at East, where prep basketball in Lincoln was at its finest in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.
Never easy to say goodbye, but there will always be those lasting memories of what both coaches meant to those programs.
NORTHEAST GIRLS ROLLING ALONG
Lincoln Northeast has risen up the Class A girls basketball rankings in our new Union Bank top ten. The Rockets are 9-0 and come in at No. 2 and for good reason.
Northeast won the Heartland Athletic Conference girls basketball title with a 67-41 win over Lincoln Southwest on Saturday, behind freshman phenom McKenna Minter's 28 points and 17 points from Alabama A&M recruit Nigeria Jones.
The backcourt duo for the Rockets look ahead to a January and February schedule that consists of two key games: Southwest on Jan. 21 and Millard North on Feb. 7.
While Minter (the daughter of former Nebraska football star and NFL veteran Mike Minter) and Jones may capture all the attention for Northeast, let's not forget about the team depth.
Kyra Sand, Jenna Wendelin, Kambree Rhodes and Jolie Rinaker, are among the other contributors the Rockets can utilize on any given night. Arguably, if things keep up, this may be head coach Steve Bartek's best group he's coached in the girls ranks. That would include the 2015 team that finished 25-2 in the Class A semifinals.
EAST BOYS GET SECOND HAC TITLE
Lincoln East has repeat as the Heartland Athletic Conference boys basketball champion by edging top-seed Lincoln Northeast 55-52 on Saturday.
It wasn't easy for the Spartans.
They rallied ahead of Northeast late in the third quarter, then counted on a pair of technical foul free throws and a three-pointer from Pete Ackerman to put them up by seven before a quick Rocket rally.
But the Spartans hit free throws when they needed to and held on for the win to claim their second-straight conference title. East now heads into January with a challenging schedule, including the return match with Northeast (already scheduled as part of the regular season).
Ackerman, Sam Griesel, Jordan Janssen and the rest of the Spartans know what lies ahead and hope to bring their "A" game each night.
Northeast, on the other hand, is still a dangerous team. Tyson Shadegg is back off the injured list and is slowly working himself back into mid-season form just ahead of a tough schedule. Tivon Phillips will be back soon after rehabbing from foot surgery. Noah Thompson and Isaiah Collier have done a good job filling in those spots in the lineup, as Malcolm Whitlow, Trace Tupper and Talon Little have carried the brunt of the load as consistent starters.
Teams outside of the Omaha and Lincoln metro areas will look at East and Northeast as big time threats.
Other Lincoln teams with potential to foil teams in the top ten include Pius X (ranked 10th in Class A), Lincoln High and Lincoln Southeast.
Two-and-a-half months to go before we find out who will reign supreme. Should be fun to sit back and enjoy!