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Seward vs. Lincoln Christian, 12.4

Seward's Camryn Opfer goes up for a shot against Lincoln Christian on earlier this month. The returning all-stater has taken on a more expanded role this season, playing more outside-inside, instead of just inside.

The starting lineup had three new starters, and the schedule had some early challenges.

Tom Tvrdy knew there could be some bumps in the road for his Seward team.

"I really thought if we could be about 3-3 (through six games), I thought we could be close on that line," the Bluejays girls basketball coach said. "But I thought we would be a team with a high ceiling because of all the new pieces in use."

Seward's retooling project appears to be ahead of schedule. The Bluejays, ranked third in Class B, are 5-1 entering Tuesday's game against Columbus, and they recently posted a statement win — 53-35 over then-No. 4 Norris.

"We're fortunate to get out to 5-1, and hopefully 6-1 after Tuesday," Tvrdy added.

Basketball teams like to use December to iron out some early kinks or work in new starters and rotations. 

For Seward, that meant replacing two four-year starters in guards Kate Mullally and Kelsie Zadina. Two other seniors, Rylee Opfer and Kendra Placke, supplied a lot of minutes, too.

In addition to three new starters, Seward changed the role of Camryn Opfer, asking the 6-foot senior and returning all-stater to take on a more expanded role on the offensive end, playing more outside-inside, instead of just inside.

"She's having by far her best year of her career," Tvrdy said. "She's doing everything for us."

There were a lot of moving pieces from the start, but Tvrdy said the players are coming together, they know their roles and they know how to play together on both ends of the floor. He saw it all come together at Norris last week, though there were some flashes early on.

"We knew, if we could (beat Northwest), that could be one of those real confidence-boosting wins," Tvrdy said. "I think that kind of catapulted us. The Northwest game, we started to see some of it, but still not near where I thought it could be. Omaha Concordia, not quite.

"It was the Norris game, that was the game where it was like, 'OK, we're really growing and developing right now."

Making the Norris win more impressive was this: The Titans held Opfer to two points. On that night, it was 6-1 senior Kayla Luebbe with a career game. She finished with 26 points. "Hard-working points," Tvrdy called them.

The next day, against North Bend Central, senior Bailee Baack scored 14 points, including four three-pointers. Senior Rebekah Klenke has stepped into a starting role, too.

Helping the pieces mesh together is the immediate impact of freshman point guard Hannah Benedict, who is averaging six to seven assists per game, Tvrdy said.

"She reminds me of (Seward quarterback) Joseph Krause on the football team," Tvrdy said. "Everyone talks about how it's uncanny his accuracy and, 'How he gets the ball to where … that guy's not open and it's a touchdown.' We watch film and it's like, 'My goodness, the passes that she puts on the money are like, "Wow,"' and that has been huge."

Benedict's passing skills have gotten Seward in position where it can score a lot of points. Now the Bluejays look to keep building. Keep meshing. Keep growing with every practice, Tvrdy said. They know there's a lot of season left.

Six games in, Tvrdy likes what he sees, especially in terms of leadership.

"It's oftentimes you've got a senior team, it's hard for them to accept an underclassman coming in and taking their minutes, but not with this crew," Tvrdy said. "They have been wonderful to everybody, including those freshmen coming in taking those minutes, because they know it will make us a better team.

"You can't fake that. They truly are great teammates in that sense. These seniors are just tremendous, unselfish leaders."

Reach the writer at 402-473-2639 or cgrell@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LJSSportsGrell.

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Sports editor

Clark Grell is sports editor.

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