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Powell: Northeast powers Crofton, GACC on different paths now
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Powell: Northeast powers Crofton, GACC on different paths now

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Class C-2 Guardian Angels vs. Crofton, 3.5.2016

Crofton players celebrate a late free throw helping to clinch a win over Guardian Angels CC in the Class C-2 girls state tournament championship game last year.

High school sports reporter

Ron Powell is a longtime prep writer for the Journal Star. He covers high school football, boys basketball and track as well as state college football and Husker and professional tennis.

Whenever Jerry Stracke has watched the Crofton girls basketball team play at the state tournament, he’s always had the worst seat in the house — on their opponents’ bench.

But now that Stracke’s Guardian Angels Central Catholic team is the No. 1 team in Class D-1, safely tucked away from the C-2 No. 1 Warriors, he might actually enjoy witnessing his Mid-State Conference counterparts continue to add to their already impressive legacy.

“It helps being in a different class,” said Stracke, whose team lost in the C-2 finals last year to Crofton after beating the Warriors in two meetings earlier in the season.

“If we have time, we will (watch).”

The programs Aaron Losing has built at Crofton and Stracke has constructed at GACC are exactly the ones being targeted by proponents of the ridiculous “Success Factor” legislation currently being considered by the NSAA (I’ll unload more on this absurd silliness in a later column).

If the “Success Factor” were in place 15 years ago, they’d probably be in Class A by now. And winning.

Only Geno Auriemma at Connecticut has a coaching record as sterling as these two. Losing brings a 339-46 career mark into the tournament with eight state titles in his previous 12 seasons, including five straight C-2 crowns.

Stracke, 349-46 in 15 seasons, started his coaching career during the Bluejays’ state-record run of 111 straight wins from 2001-06. His teams have won four state titles, finished second two other times and own five third-place trophies.

All-staters almost always reside on their rosters, and this year is no different. Guard Kelsey Sanger (a Nebraska-Kearney signee) and South Dakota post recruit Monica Arens both average just under 20 points per game for Crofton.

It would seem like the word adversity might be foreign to these two coaches and their programs, but they’ve dealt with plenty of it this season even if the win-loss record doesn’t indicate it.

Crofton (23-2) has won 11 straight games since a 72-66 overtime loss to South Dakota's Sanborn Central Woonsocket in the Hanson Classic played at the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota, in mid-January. Crofton had a six-point lead with less than two minutes to go, only to see the South Dakota team tie it with a buzzer-beating three-pointer and then dominate in overtime.

“We had some turnovers and missed free throws late, and those are uncharacteristic of our team,” Losing said. “We learned a lot from that game, and we’ve played much better since then. We knew we had to get better defensively. We had a lot of new faces this season and it took awhile for them to learn how to play defense the way we like to play it.”

Both GACC and Crofton have had to deal with injuries this season. The Warriors’ Lauren Steffen, a returning starter from last year, has not played this season because of a meniscus tear. Sophomore starter Josie Sanger tore her ACL right before Christmas, a season-ending injury.

“You have to give the kids all the credit for stepping up and filling those spots,” Losing said.

GACC was without senior guard Hannah Hunke for half the season because of a broken wrist. The Bluejays’ lone returning starter from a year ago, 6-1 senior Maddie Knobbe, missed the first five games because of a leg injury. She’s returned to average a team-high 15.5 points per game.

“We have not been at full strength all year. We’ve had at least one player out because of injury or illness every game,” Stracke said. “To be 21-2 at this point, I can’t complain.”

Reach the writer at 402-473-7437 or rpowell@journalstar.com. On Twitter @ronpowell_ljs.

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High school sports reporter

Ron Powell is a longtime prep writer for the Journal Star. He covers high school football, boys basketball and track as well as state college football and Husker and professional tennis.

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