NORTH PLATTE, Neb. (KNOP) - The North Platte girls’ basketball team will compete at the State tournament for the first time since 2009. Bulldog head coach Tyson Hammond was coaching reserve basketball, and the players on the team were in elementary school the last time the girls’ team competed at State.
The Bulldogs will face Lincoln Pius X Thursday, 3:45 p.m. at Pinnacle Bank Arena. (Credit: Patrick Johnstone/KNOP-TV)
With wins over Omaha Central and Millard West in the District final, the Bulldogs will compete as the five-seed in Lincoln. Their first round game will be played against Lincoln Pius X, who is 23-1 on the season.
"We know who their players are and what their strengths are. This week, we've been working on defensively guarding that, we've had the coaches come in and play for certain players, and I feel like that's going to help us guard them we play them," said senior guard Callie Haneborg.
Coach Hammond wants the team to play a fast-paced game, to try to disrupt the Thunderbolts’ rhythm.
"We want to keep the game moving, we don't want it to be a slow-down game. Pius has a couple of really good girls," Hammond said.
This year, the Bulldogs made the jump from Class B to Class A, and, including District, played just four Class A schools this season, going 4-0 in those games. However, Hammond does not think the lack of Class A competition will affect the Bulldogs coming into the State tournament.
"I don't really think it's made any difference for us. Last year, when we made the schedule, we tried really hard to get as many of the good Class B teams as we could. We haven't played many Class A games, but we've played good teams in Class B. One of the biggest differences between A and B, usually, is just a little size and overall depth, I don't think it's made an impact on how we've played," Hammond said.
Nerves can play a role at the beginning of the first game, but Hammond and Haneborg believe the team will be able to settle in quickly.
"I feel like at first, warming up we're definitely going to have to get used to it, but I think once we get used to it we'll be fine. But, it's going to be a little bit of an adjustment," Haneborg said.
"A lot of it has to do with the first couple shots going in. You make a shot or two, and everyone relaxes; miss a shot of two, and everyone stays a little bit jittery. I'm not really too worried about the nerves part of it, we're going to keep talking about the things we always talk about; control what we can control, focus on the play front of you, don't worry about the outcome. We're just going to try to prepare the best we can for the situation," Hammond said.
One thing the Bulldogs can rely on is their defense, which they had to do in the District final game against Millard West. The team scored just five points in the first quarter, but held the Wildcats to just two points in the quarter, and only ten points in the first half.
"If you have a really good defense going, then your offense comes. Offense comes and goes, but your defense needs to be there," said junior guard Gracie Haneborg.
A big factor to how the team plays in Lincoln will be the size of the North Platte crowd, which was a huge aid to the Bulldogs in District play.
"When we were having big runs, they helped us a lot. They got that energy going, I feel like when they were there, they made us more excited," Gracie Haneborg said.
"I feel like Thursday we really used that to our advantage, and it got us going, and got into the other team's head," Callie Haneborg said.
"I think both of our district games, the support we had from the crowd had a big impact on the game,” Hammond said. “We're hoping to have a good crowd Thursday, we kind of feed off that energy a little bit. The more we get, the better off we're going to be."
Competing at State is something these girls have envisioned for a long time, and now they finally get to do it.
"That's been my dream girl since I was a little girl, going to State, and now it's here,” Haneborg said. “Cutting down the net, winning the District, and finally going to State, I'm really excited. So, this is a big thing for me,” Gracie Haneborg said.
The Bulldogs and Thunderbolts will play on Thursday at 3:45 p.m. at Pinnacle Bank Arena.