Alexis Markowski's basketball goals stemmed from the seats at Pinnacle Bank Arena. They were straightforward.
Then a middle-schooler, she watched and admired Maddie Simon, Kennedy Sander and others as they led the Lincoln Pius X girls basketball team to a Class B state championship.
"All I wanted was to play on the team," Markowski said. "I didn't have any goals for myself and I just wanted to play on that court and win a state title."
Anything else would be dessert. A bonus. Extra credit.
Little did Markowski know of the legacy she would later build on the high school hardwood.
Her name is all over the record books at Pius X. The numbers: 1,485 (career points), 866 (career rebounds), 134 (career blocks), 36 (20-point games). The countless double-doubles, including seven (out of eight games) in a state tournament setting. Only once over the past two seasons was she held to single digits in points.
"To think about this, she did it in three years," Pius X coach Ryan Psota said. "Three years to put up those kind of statistics is kind of mind-boggling."
Markowski's favorite number from her time with the Thunderbolts: Two. As in two Class A state championships. She was the centerpiece in both title runs.
So what does Markowski, this year's Journal Star Super-State honorary captain, think of a career that went beyond her dreams?
"It's just amazing," she said. "I'm really going to miss wearing that Pius jersey and that community and the support, the coaches, my teammates. Just the legacy that we all left is pretty amazing."
Markowski put the finishing touches on a great prep career at Pinnacle Bank Arena, which just so happens to be her future home in college. She scored her team's final points in a 56-52 win against Fremont in the state final. She was the last to climb the ladder to make the final cuts of the net.
It was a fitting finish to a high school career that didn't start the way Markowski had hoped.
A foot injury kept her from playing volleyball and basketball her freshman season. She wanted badly to play as a freshman, so she tried to give it a go at volleyball tryouts, but the pain got to be too much.
She recalls telling her mom that it felt like her foot had been run over by a car. It was essentially broken, surgery was the call and Markowski spent the next 12 months battling flareups and going to physical therapy sessions.
"It was really hard," Markowski said. "I've had injuries in the past, but this one was about a year long, and sitting out of sports for me was definitely the hardest thing. You're watching everyone doing what you love and you just have to sit there and do your homework."
There were a lot of tearful days after school. Markowski said at times she just wanted to stay in her room. But with encouragement from her mom, Markowski went to practices to support her team, "and I'm glad she did that."
Though she couldn't play or practice, Markowski used her freshman season to pick up schemes, learn Thunderbolt philosophies and support her teammates.
"To have that injury set her back, a lot of kids wouldn't be mature enough to focus in practice and try to internalize what we're trying to do, but she's an ultimate competitor, and she really wanted to come out and be ready to go her sophomore year," Psota said.
It didn't take long for the 6-foot-3 post player to make her presence felt in Class A. She averaged a double-double as a sophomore. Her foot injury well behind her, Markowski blossomed as a junior, averaging 21.5 points and 12.1 rebounds per game. Determined to lead her team to another state title, Markowski averaged 23.3 points and 13.0 boards during her senior campaign, which included a school-record 43 points against Fremont in the Heartland Athletic Conference Tournament final.
She was the state's most dominant player for two seasons, and teams had no answer for her combination of athleticism, size and power around the basket.
A Markowski fun fact: She was set on becoming a competitive swimmer. The team element had her gravitate more toward volleyball and basketball in middle school, and then basketball won out in high school.
"The pace, and the energy and the physicalness, I love being physical," Markowski said. "I love basketball and volleyball both, but I think after my injury and then coming back to basketball, I really realized this is what I wanted to do."
The early setback also changed Markowski's perspective on sports and life.
"Without me sitting out, I don't think I'd be the player I am today," Markowski said. "I think I found a different love for the game. You never know when it's going to be your last game, and I kind of like to play that way."
Maybe that's why Markowski was at her best at the state tournament, where a bad quarter or half could mean the end to your season.
Against an Omaha Central team that featured two post players standing at 6-3 or taller, Markowski powered the Thunderbolts behind 30 points and 27 rebounds. A night later, she had 27 points and 19 boards against Fremont, which included a huge third quarter for the future Husker.
All told, Markowski averaged 25.2 points and 16.5 rebounds in her past six state tournament games.
Her will to win is unmatched, Psota says.
Markowski is nearing her childhood dream of playing for the Huskers, a school her father Andy played for in the ’90s. Her focus will be working on post moves and shooting this offseason.
The Pinnacle Bank Arena blocks will serve as her place of residency for the next four years. Her place in girls basketball won't be forgotten.
"It's going to start just with her being a really good kid," Psota said. "Basketball, yes, she's unbelievable, but she's a really good kid, a really good teammate, she's very kind to people in school and very humble with the accolades that she's gotten. Before you get into any basketball and how dominant she is, you have to talk about what a nice kid she is and what she brings to our school.
"Then basketballwise, she's one of the most dominant players who's had one of the best three-year runs in the history of girls basketball in the state."
These first-team Super-Staters have game: Meet the five girls who took their games to another level in 2020-21
They got... 𝗚𝗔𝗠𝗘!
This season's group of first-team Super-Staters are gamers. They take their game to the next level. Do you see what we're getting at?
We spent a day at The Amazing Pizza Machine in Omaha. Sure, there were serious questions, but we enjoyed learning a little bit more about how games, arcade or otherwise, play in each player's lives.
We got some good answers, too.
So ... let's get to it.
Let us introduce the 2020-21 Journal Star first-team girls Super-Staters.
A day at the arcade 🕹️
Frankie Fidler and Saint Thomas getting some shots up on the pop-a-shot. Stuffed animals. Flashing lights. Enjoy this behind-the-scenes look at the Journal Star's first-team Super-State photoshoot.
𝘼𝙇𝙀𝙓𝙄𝙎 𝙈𝘼𝙍𝙆𝙊𝙒𝙎𝙆𝙄 (captain)
𝙻𝚒𝚗𝚌𝚘𝚕𝚗 𝙿𝚒𝚞𝚜 𝚇 | 𝚂𝚛. | 𝟼-𝟹 | 𝟸𝟹.𝟹 𝙿𝙿𝙶 | 𝟷𝟹.𝟶 𝚁𝙿𝙶
She's got game: Markowski was again the most dominant player in the state. When she got the ball near the block, it was game over for foes. Her size, power and touch near the basket made it difficult to stop her, or even slow her down. Defensively, she had the paint closed off each night. Markowski opened her season with a 34-point, 21-rebound showing against Lincoln North Star, and closed it with three double-doubles at the state tournament, including 30 points and 27 boards against an Omaha Central team that matched her sizewise in the semifinals, and 27 points and 19 boards in the Thunderbolts' state championship victory against Fremont. In between was a school-record 43 points against Fremont in the HAC Tournament final. The future Husker had 16 double-doubles and shot 60% from the field. Her athleticism made it possible for Pius X to utilize her offensively no matter the pace of the game. A two-time first-team Super-Stater, Markowski set numerous school records, including career points (1,485) and career rebounds (866), and she accomplished those marks in only three seasons.
Coach mode: "It was reminiscent of last year where against (Lincoln) East (in the state final), same thing this year, when we needed baskets, she just kind of put our team on her shoulders and decided to do whatever she could to get us another state title," Pius X coach Ryan Psota said. "When you really need somebody to step up, she just has that will to win that I have never seen out of any other player, who can just come up with key moments and key baskets and key rebounds."
Game mode with Alexis:
Fun game she can maybe beat other Super-Staters in: "UNO! We always play UNO! in the Markowski household. I would take anyone on in UNO!"
Go-to games growing up: "We always got creative with balls and stuff, like if you make a ball in this basket or football, playing catch in the living room and the lamp breaks. Just stuff like that. And UNO!"
How many makes out of 20 on pop-a-shot: "Fifteen."
𝙵𝚛𝚎𝚖𝚘𝚗𝚝 | 𝙹𝚛. | 𝟻-𝟿 | 𝟸𝟹.𝟾 𝙿𝙿𝙶 | 𝟺.𝟿 𝚁𝙿𝙶
She's got game: McCabe dazzled as a sophomore (20.3 ppg, 35.2 rpg, 2.3 apg, 107 threes), and yet she found a way to take it to another level in her third season with the Tigers, who relied a little more on McCabe for her ball-handling skills this time. She averaged career bests in assists (3.7) and steals (3.7) and continued to shoot at a high clip. McCabe splashed 106 three-pointers, and shot 42% from three-point range in each of her first three seasons (How's that for consistency?). McCabe can score at all three levels and perfected the pull-up jumper this season, coach Kelly Flynn said, while also shooting deeper threes. Only one opponent held the two-time first-team Super-Stater to below 18 points (and that was 16), an incredible accomplishment when you consider, one, she's seeing the other team's best defender every game in Class A, and two, even the good ones have quiet nights. McCabe never did.
Coach mode: "She reminds me of a little bit of a girl (Steph) Curry," Flynn said of the Golden State Warriors star shooter. "When I watch him play, where he stops and start, stops and start and almost baits you, sets you up, and all of the sudden the step-back. She's perfected it to where when she freezes that defense with her step-back, it surprises you when it doesn't go in. Along with her scoring, she really has some impressive stats overall."
Game mode with Taylor:
Fun game she can maybe beat other Super-Staters in: "There's a light thing … you have to press the things as fast as you can. I have the most coordination by far, not to brag (laughs), so I would definitely win at that."
Go-to games growing up: "They have a Go-Kart thing here (at Amazing Pizza Machine), I used to do that. I used to come here a lot when I was little with my siblings and parents."
How many makes out of 20 on pop-a-shot: "I'm still convinced it's rigged, so I would say 16."
𝙷𝚞𝚖𝚙𝚑𝚛𝚎𝚢 𝚂𝙵 | 𝚂𝚛. | 𝟻-𝟷𝟶 | 𝟸𝟻.𝟶 𝙿𝙿𝙶 | 𝟽.𝟶 𝚁𝙿𝙶
She's got game: Oh, man, does Weidner have game. In addition to scoring 25 or more points 13 times this season, including 43 against Hartington-Newcastle, Weidner averaged 6.4 assists and 6.4 steals per contest. She focused on improving her shooting coming into the season, and it showed as she shot 38% from beyond the arc and 57% from the field. Her stats were big, and her feel for games — when to take over as a scorer, when to feed teammates, when to speed up or slow down — was unmatched. A two-time first-team Super-Stater, Weidner finished with 2,282 career points, which ranks third all-time in the state, 740 career assists and 630 career steals; and she tied a bow on her prep career by leading the Flyers to a 25-0 record and a Class D-2 state championship.
Coach mode: "She's doing all of that at an extremely high rate of speed," St. Francis coach Bryan Reichmuth says of Weidner's ability to control games as either a scorer of facilitator. "Our style of play is up and down the court, (and) that's the way Allison is going to play. She's dissecting things before they even happen. I don't know how many nights I'd get a text from her, she'd seen this on film or that on film. She's just a student of the game."
Game mode with Allison:
Go-to games growing up: "Video games with my brothers, like Call of Duty, NBA2K. I feel like I'm pretty good at them."
How many makes out of 20 on pop-a-shot: "Are the rims the right rims? Out of 20 shots, I'd say I make 14."
𝙴𝚕𝚔𝚑𝚘𝚛𝚗 𝙽𝚘𝚛𝚝𝚑 | 𝙵𝚛. | 𝟻-𝟷𝟶 | 𝟸𝟸.𝟺 𝙿𝙿𝙶 | 𝟽.𝟹 𝚁𝙿𝙶
College: Has multiple DI offers, including ones from Louisville, North Carolina, Nebraska and Creighton.
She's got game: This was Prince's rookie prep season, but she didn't look like a freshman, and it's evident why she was receiving DI college offers before she even set foot in high school. She scored in double figures in 22 of 23 games, had four games of 30 points or more and 11 20-plus games, while shooting 54% from the field. She was dangerous behind the arc as well, knocking down 40% of her three attempts. Prince, who placed fifth at the Class B state cross country meet and runs track, put up big numbers despite seeing junk defenses every time out. More impressive was Prince's ability to run an offense with a sense of calm and efficiency as a freshman. Her poise and production played a big part in Elkhorn North, in its first year of existence, marching to a Class B state championship at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Coach mode: Ann Prince, Elkhorn North's coach and Britt's mother, said she saw a lot of growth in the freshman as a leader. "I think she started to embrace that role a little bit before midseason. I think she felt connected with her teammates, I felt like our team chemistry was strong and I think when you get that feeling, then you finally give yourself the OK to lead on the court. So credit to her teammates for having an amazing team culture. I think that enabled her to feel comfortable and confident enough to take that leadership role as a freshman point guard."
Game mode with Britt:
Fun game she can maybe beat other Super-Staters in: "I'm pretty good at the game where you roll the ball (Ski Ball)."
How many makes out of 20 on pop-a-shot: "Twenty."
𝚆𝚎𝚎𝚙𝚒𝚗𝚐 𝚆𝚊𝚝𝚎𝚛 | 𝚂𝚛. | 𝟻-𝟾 | 𝟸𝟷.𝟺 𝙿𝙿𝙶 | 𝟻.𝟺 𝚁𝙿𝙶
She's got game: Weeping Water coach Joe Haveman has seen Cave thread defenses as a shooter and passer for four seasons. A deep run at the state tournament allowed the rest of the state, and a TV audience on Championship Saturday, to see it, too. Cave played a leading role in guiding the Indians to a Class D-1 state championship, capping it with a coast-to-coast layup in the final seconds to beat No. 1 Pleasanton 40-39 in the final. Cave, a four-time first-team D-1 all-stater, can attack defenses so many ways, whether it's transition threes, slashing to the basket or delivering an array of passes to her teammates (She averaged five assists per contest.). Her season included a school-record 39 points against Falls City, and one of the best three-games stretches in recent memory at the state tournament.
Coach mode: "Hopefully they got to really see and appreciate how good of a basketball player she is and how much she can do," Haveman said. "Her skill set is so wide. For her to really hit her peak and hit her stride in the state tournament was fitting just for her great career, really an exclamation point on it. She showed at the state tournament that she can be extremely aggressive and extremely efficient at the same time, and for her to do it passing the ball, defensively and then we all know that she can score it, was very fulfilling, and obviously we needed every ounce of it."
Game mode with Grace:
Fun game she can maybe beat other Super-Staters in: "I like the car ones, but I am not good at any of them."
Go-to games growing up: "Chutes and Ladders. You'd spin it and then you would have to go. That was my favorite."
How many makes out of 20 on pop-a-shot: "Twenty. On a good day."
Reach Clark Grell at 402-473-2639 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter at @LJSSportsGrell.