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GIRLS PREP HOOPS

Never afraid to toughen the schedule, Bishop Neumann girls prepare for a Class A giant

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Wahoo vs. Bishop Neumann, 3.1.2019

The Bishop Neumann bench and coach Jason Simons celebrate after defeating Wahoo in a Class C-1 semifinal in the girls state basketball tournament at Pinnacle Bank Arena on March 1, 2019.

Jason Simons likes a good challenge. Actually, he likes many great challenges, and it's why the Bishop Neumann girls basketball team plays — and embraces — one of the state's toughest schedules each season.

Just this year alone, the Class C-1 Cavaliers have played Omaha Skutt (rated No. 1 in Class B), Elkhorn North (No. 2 in Class B), Norris (No. 5 in Class B), Hastings St. Cecilia (No. 1 in Class C-2) and Guardian Angels Central Catholic (No. 3 in Class C-2).

And then, of course, there is the grind through the Centennial Conference, pound-for-pound one of the top leagues in the state.

"We want the journey to be as close to as important as the championship game, if you're fortunate to get there," Simons said. "That's kind of my whole mindset when it comes to being willing to play good Class B teams, in this case a very, very good Class A team."

Yes, Class A. And not just any Class A team.

On Thursday, Bishop Neumann will face likely its toughest challenge of the season when it hosts Class A No. 2 Omaha Central. The Eagles have an ultra-talented and tall roster featuring multiple Division I-caliber players — led by Inia Jones, Aaniya Webb and Aniah Wayne — and it's a big reason why they are a state title contender this year.

It will be a unique matchup. Rarely do Class A schools play down a couple of classes, and rarely are lower-class schools willing to challenge the best of Class A.

But Neumann and Omaha Central each needed another game to fill their schedules, and for the Cavaliers, it's another chance to get better.

The Cavaliers will treat it like any other game, Simons said, but they also know they have a great opportunity in front of them.

"They're fully aware of how good Central is and they're fully aware of the purpose of how we schedule for the season," said Simons, who led Neumann to a state runner-up finish in 2018 and a state title in 2019. "On paper, they're the best team that we have scheduled and I respect them for saying, 'Hey, we need a game,' and be willing to give us a shot."

Neumann's tough scheduling in years past has included games against Gretna and Council Bluffs Thomas Jefferson, a Class A-type school in Iowa.

Neumann started the season ranked in Class C-1, but injuries to key players have led to a 5-6 start. Freshman Elsa Vedral is working her way back and senior post player Kali Jurgensmeier, an all-stater last year, missed time early. Neumann also has been without senior guard Lauren Thiele.

Simons said he is excited to get some players back for the final half of the season.

"It hasn't been the start we wanted, but there's no reason why we need to allow the start to control how we finish," Simons said.

Reach Clark Grell at 402-473-2639 or cgrell@journalstar.com. On Twitter at @LJSSportsGrell.

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