With two minutes remaining in Saturday's Class C-1 state championship game, Austin Woita looked over to the Bishop Neumann bench, and had a huge smile.
This one was over, and the reserves were headed into the game. The celebration was about to kick up a notch.
“That’s the best feeling, because you know you’re on top,” said Woita, who finishes his senior year at Neumann with the state title. “The subs are coming in and you just get to celebrate with all your friends and coaches.
“You’re just cheering on the subs. It’s awesome that they get a chance, because they put in the work in practice. It feels great.”
The 6-foot-3 senior had a double-double of 13 points and 11 rebounds in Neumann’s 68-47 win against crosstown rival Wahoo at Pinnacle Bank Arena. He also had six of the team’s 18 steals.
This was Woita’s third year on the varsity. His sophomore year, Neumann lost to Boys Town in the state semifinals. Last year, Wahoo ended the Cavaliers’ season in districts.
The teams played in a subdistrict final this year, but Wahoo still got to state on a wild card after losing, making the first all-Wahoo state final a possibility.
It felt a little better to win the state title against a team from the same town, Woita said.
When the players shook hands at midcourt just before the game, there were some grins on their faces, and it took longer than usual.
“Just seeing those kids from across the town, you hang out with them and everything,” Woita said. “It’s just a weird feeling playing your friends in the state championship in Nebraska.”
Woita had been working on his free throws, and it paid off when he made 7 of 10 in the finals and 20 of 29 in three tournament games. Neumann was 19-for-22 on free throws Saturday, while Wahoo missed 11.
Woita’s 11 rebounds helped Wahoo to a 36-23 rebounding advantage.
“Crashing the boards is the key in any game,” Woita said. “Rebounding and making free throws, that was huge. We made our free throws today, and that’s what wins championships.”
Woita scored a team-high 24 points in the first round and had 11 in the semifinals.
“(Austin) had a slow December. He didn’t play like he’d like to play,” Neumann coach Mike Weiss said. “I think he proved what kind of player Austin Woita is down the stretch these last six, seven, eight games. He’s our go-to guy inside, and with all the good guards we have, Austin gave us that inside punch. When you've got to worry about him, it opens up things outside, too. He’s had a great career for us. He came in as a sophomore and had a couple good state games. I thought he showed it today, too.”