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Girls state hoops insider: 'Unfinished business' for Norris and its past runner-up teams; freshman point guards shining
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TOURNEY INSIDER

Girls state hoops insider: 'Unfinished business' for Norris and its past runner-up teams; freshman point guards shining

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For the second time this school year, Norris has a team playing in a state championship final.

The Titans played in the Class B volleyball final in November at Pinnacle Bank Arena, and many of the players on this year's basketball team played that night in a match won by powerhouse Omaha Skutt.

So maybe a little unfinished business for Norris?

Yes, but it goes back further than that.

"(It's) unfinished business for our basketball program in 2013, 2015 and 2017," said Norris coach Mark Hagerman, referring to three very talented Norris teams. "We were state runner-up (all three times) and felt like we had pretty good opportunities in those three games, and we're talking about that as a basketball program.

"So now we've got a chance to avenge those losses."

No. 2 Norris got there with a hard-fought 43-36 win against No. 5 York, setting up Saturday's showdown with No. 1 Elkhorn North.

Senior Brianna Stai remembers attending those state tournaments when Norris was playing for championships. Norris' five seniors were in eighth grade when Norris last played for a state title.

"Us group of seniors, we want it so bad and we just love each other and we want to win for each other and for our coach," Stai said.

Freshman points made

The point guard position in Nebraska will be in good hands for years to come.

On Friday, Elkhorn North's Britt Prince poured in 27 points in leading the Wolves into the Class B final. One game later, Omaha Central's Inia Jones showed she may very well be the best point guard in Class A.

She scored 16 points in a losing effort against Lincoln Pius X. The 5-foot-6 freshman is very explosive and can drive inside and finish at the rim with great success.

"Jones is going to be a handful over the next few years," Pius X coach Ryan Psota said.

Though Omaha Central fell short of its ultimate goal, the future looks bright for the Eagles, who will return four starters next year, including Jones, who already had a Division I offer from Omaha, and junior forward Aaniya Webb. She's also receiving D-I interest.

Junior Aniah Wayne, the team's third-leading scorer also will be back.

'Huge' moment for Fremont

Fremont made history Friday night by punching its tickets to the Class A final for the first time in school history.

The No. 3 Tigers reached the state semifinals last year and then took it a step further with Friday's 70-64 win against No. 2 Millard South.

Junior guard Taylor McCabe said getting to final is huge for the community, which sent many fans to Pinnacle Bank Arena for the semifinals.

"It's huge for us personally because we know we've been working for this for three years now, and for our community," McCabe said. "You saw how many people showed up here, it's crazy the amount of people that want to see us win tomorrow."

Fremont is looking to become the first non-Omaha/non-Lincoln team to win a Class A state title in 39 years.

A reason to celebrate

It wasn't the result Winnebago wanted, but it will be a March the team will remember for a long time.

The Indians dropped to Saturday's Class C-1 third-place game after a 60-40 loss to defending state champion North Bend Central on Friday morning at PBA.

Bago ball was back in Lincoln and strong. The Indians defeated top-seeded Grand Island Central Catholic in the opening round. The run came six years after the Winnebago boys won a state title.

"The boys were killing it for a while so it was great for the girls to have their turn," Winnebago coach Treivan Bear said. "I wouldn’t want to do with any other group of seniors."

Bear said before the state tournament that Winnebago isn't about boys basketball, it's about basketball in general, and he was happy to see the girls get a chance to play at PBA just as the boys did.

"The girls, my first year they’d complain about, 'Oh, the boys get everything, they get this and that,'" Bear said. "And I was like, 'Well, they’ve been winning. If you guys want that, you need to win.'"

The Winnebago Tribe got the girls team jackets, sweaters and shirts.

"The girls really enjoyed it, and I’m glad they got to experience it coming down here as the eight seed," Bear added.

Battle of the top dogs

Most years, the most intriguing possible scenario for a state championship matchup is No. 1 vs. No. 2. In a way, Saturday's Class C-1 final is No. 1 vs. No. 1.

Hastings St. Cecilia and North Bend Central both picked up semifinal wins Friday, meaning a rare matchup of teams that won state titles last season is in store at Pinnacle Bank Arena. Hastings SC won the C-2 crown last season (and in 2019) before moving up this season to C-1, won by NBC in 2020.

Players and coaches alike on both sides are eager, too. 

"I think it is really cool because it's probably not going to happen again," Hastings SC guard Bailey Kissinger said. "That means both teams have been there before, so it should be an experienced game and really fun."

Spectacle aside, how do the Tigers and Hawkettes match up? 

"North Bend is ultra-athletic, tall and probably the most athletic team in C-1," Hastings SC coach Greg Berndt said. "It could create some interesting matchups for us."

Fremont made history Friday night by punching its tickets to the Class A final for the first time in school history.

The No. 3 Tigers reached the state semifinals last year and then took it a step further with Friday's 70-64 win against No. 2 Millard South.

Junior guard Taylor McCabe said getting to final is huge for the community, which sent many black- and gold-clad fans to Pinnacle Bank Arena for the semifinals.

"It's huge for us personally because we know we've been working for this for three years now, and for our community," McCabe said. "You saw how many people showed up here, it's crazy the amount of people that want to see us win tomorrow."

Fremont is looking to become the first non-Metro/non-Lincoln team to win a Class A state title in 39 years.

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