Whether we like it or not, football season is slowly nearing the end. However, the silver lining behind that cloud is that means that it is now time for the National Basketball Association to get back in to the spotlight.
I admittedly am not a very dedicated viewer, as I usually just try to pay attention to the game scores and playoff races. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy a good game though.
The thing I love most about basketball is that you can find arguably the best athletes in the world on the court in any given night. While football, volleyball and baseball players are all great athletes in their own rite, basketball players are the embodiment of what a truly gifted athlete is. They combine speed, explosiveness, hand-eye coordination and vision to score at an incredible rate.
Take Lebron James for example. I know most people are probably sick of hearing about him, but the truth is, he is the best all-around player since Michael Jordan retired for the last time.
The man is every bit of 6’8” and weighs in at around 250 pounds. That is five inches and 10 pounds heavier than the average NFL tight end. Yet, even at the immense size, he has been rumored to run a 4.6 second forty-yard dash. That is an average of .17 seconds faster than that average NFL tight end. Combine that with his 40-plus inch vertical leap and an uncanny passing ability, he is the best-of-the-best when it comes to these great athletes.
Not a LeBron fan? How about we take a look at the likable Tim Duncan. Duncan recently retired as one of the best players in San Antonio Spurs history and is a likely first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee. He also was a swimming champion with aspirations of making the United States Olympic squad. At 6’11”. If it weren’t for a hurricane taking out the only Olympic-sized pool he had access to, he likely would have completed his goal and never become the great basketball player he is now known for. He was so great of an athlete, he could have been world-class in either sport.
Even less popular players such as John Wall, Derrick Rose, DeMarcus Cousins, Russell Westbrook and even Nate Robinson can all stake claims to being among the most explosive and strongest athletes in the world.
They also show incredible endurance, playing at a pace much greater than football for 66 more regular season games than the NFL players do. Granted, the NFL has much harder physical collisions that make it necessary for the league to limit the season to just 16 games, but playing 82 games over five months can take a toll on a player as well.
I know I said earlier that I don’t watch games religiously like I do with the NFL, but I still have my team. Growing up in the Michael Jordan era with a best friend that was a Chicago native, the Chicago Bulls had no trouble finding my heart. Now they have one of my favorite players, Dwayne Wade, and are looking as good - so far - as they’ve been since Derrick Rose’s early years. The key to their season will be whether or not Wade can make it through a season without knee trouble and if Rajon Rondo and Jimmy Butler can coexist for 82 games.
However, I think you still have to accept that the likely finals match up will be a rematch of last year’s Cleveland - Golden State showdown. The Warriors don’t have the same strong bench play as they did last year, but when you have a starting lineup that is averaging a combined 83 points per game for their career, you may not need a great scorer off the bench. The Cavaliers, on the other hand, made very few changes after last year’s championship season. They will be in the thick of it until the end.
I tell you what, the 2016 football season went by way too fast. We saw some incredible performances throughout the year, starting with Neligh-Oakdale’s surprisingly dominant win over Creighton to open the season and ending with Clearwater-Orchard’s attempted upset bid of Chambers/Wheeler Central/Ewing, a game that was tied at 28 going into the final quarter.
Now, the games are about to get a bit more exciting. With the announcement of the 2016 playoff field Saturday morning, we learned that there are eight Holt, Antelope, Knox or Boone County teams with a shot at the title yet. Some notable teams were left out, such as Boone Central/Newman Grove. It really is too bad that Neligh-Oakdale wasn’t able to play either, because to be honest a potential final of the Warriors versus CWCE would likely have gone down as the game of the year.
Anyway, lets focus on the eight who are in, starting with C1.
Undefeated O’Neill takes on Columbus Lakeview in a rematch of an early season game that the Eagles won 36-14, giving up their first points of the season. Should the Eagles win - I predict they do - they dive into a section of the bracket that includes Norfolk Catholic, Aquinas Catholic, Boys Town and Arlington. That is a tough draw. If they make it through that to the championship game, it’ll be on the strength of their solid defense and the arm of talented junior quarterback Alex Thramer.
In C2, Crofton represents Knox County as the seventh seed when they take on Central City. Crofton is one of the better running teams in the area, led by Tanner Crosley, but they will have to contend with a strong Central City front that includes potential division one player Jordan Paup. It won’t be easy, but they should move on to the next round, likely to take on a tough Valentine squad.
The D1 field is littered with local teams, led by the second seed, Creighton. The Bulldogs draw a matchup with Diller-Odell, a game they should win handily, much like they have all year. Likely their biggest obstacle to making the state championship would be a semifinal showdown with top-seeded Guardian Angel CC, Clearwater-Orchard’s first round opponent. The Cyclones, despite the string of losses, have been playing some of their best ball the past few weeks against highly ranked playoff teams. An upset isn’t out of the picture, but it will take a perfect game from Chris Kester and crew.
CWCE draws a first round match with 3-5 Sutherland. I have heard rumors that the Renegades may be without their do-everything stud Daniel Libolt, but the Croxens are a dominant duo that should dominate the game for the Renegades. Their potential second round opponent, West Holt, has one of the longest journeys of anyone in the playoffs when they head to Dundy County-Stratton in a battle of 5-3 teams. The drive will play a factor. If Mason Hale and company can continue to play as well as they have the past couple of weeks, they should be making a long trip home with a win.
Finally, in D2, Bloomfield has been on an absolute tear since a week one loss to Wynot. They take on Exeter-Milligan. Quentin Moles has played as well as anyone in the state this year, and I don’t expect the Timberwolves to be able to contain him any better than anyone else. If all goes well, there is a small chance they could get revenge on Wynot for a shot at the finals. St. Mary’s is on the other side of the bracket, taking on Eustis-Farnam. Both teams know how to get the ground game going. For St. Mary’s that starts with quarterback Josh Cuddy, who has a tendency to take over a game when the Cardinals need him the most. Expect that to happen against the Knights. They should win and make a deep run in the bracket.
For our volleyball Game of the Week, we'll be traveling to Bloomfield for the Knox County Tournament. Niobrara/Verdigre, Crofton, Creighton, Bloomfield, Santee and Wausa will all take the court looking to prove themselves as the top team in Knox County.
Why is this the Game of the Week? With the season winding down, we already have a very good idea of what each team is capable of. Creighton and Crofton come in as two of the top teams in the area, while Niobrara/Verdigre, Santee, Bloomfield and Wausa all have struggled in recent weeks. However, this tournament gives teams a chance for bragging rights against their neighbors, so expect an upset or two.
Who is going to be there? Wausa (3-14), Bloomfield (1-16), Crofton (15-4), Creighton (11-4), Niobrara/Verdigre (4-16), Santee (1-19)
Players to watch: Bloomfield - Leah Poppe, Senior, Leads team in kills, aces, blocks and digs
Crofton - Kelsey Sanger, Senior, 194 kills, 52 aces, 41 blocks, 285 digs
Creighton - Kirsten Adams, 92 kills, 73 blocks
Game Day Info: Bloomfield, NE Monday and Tuesday October 17 and 18.
Schedule to be posted.
For our football Game of the Week, we will be in Atkinson as West Holt hosts Clearwater-Orchard. West Holt has all but locked up a playoff spot and are now playing for a better seed. The Cyclones, however, are in full playoff mode already, as they likely have to win at least one of their remaining games to make the postseason.
Why is this the Game of the Week? Both teams have a lot of motivation as we close in on the end of the regular season. Three weeks ago, West Holt looked to be one of the top teams in the state, with their only loss coming to Creighton. Since then, they have dropped two straight, first to Burwell then to Chambers/Wheeler Central/Ewing. They look to stop the two game losing skid and move up the playoff seeding with a win over the Cyclones, who come in with a two-game losing skid of their own. They are right on the edge of the playoff picture and can secure a spot with a win or two to finish the year. They are young and talented, if they can put it together, an upset is waiting.
Who is going to be there? West Holt (3-3), Clearwater-Orchard (2-4)
Players to watch: West Holt - Bryce Kerkman, Junior, Dynamic athlete with a strong arm and great at making plays with his feet.
Clearwater-Orchard - Creston Bertschinger, Junior, 812 all-purpose yard, 7 total touchdowns, 47 total tackles
Game Day Info: Atkinson, NE. Friday, October 14 at 7 p.m.
I hate to say it, but the high school football season is beginning to wind down. We have just two weeks left in the season for teams to make their final bids for district championships and playoff seedings.
Around this time of year, teams tend to find that extra bit of motivation to pull out a win or two that they aren’t expected to win. With that being said, lets look over a couple of teams that are on the edge of playoff contention and take a wild guess at how things will finish out for them.
Lets start with Clearwater-Orchard. After a loss to Burwell last week, the Cyclones are now 2-4. They are a team that is full of youth, so they are as unpredictable as any team in the area.
However, their final two games are no gimmies, taking on West Holt and Chambers/Wheeler Central/Ewing to wrap up the year. That is a brutal way to end the year. If they play well, they can pull an upset, but it’ll be tough. Prediction: Finish 2-6, sneak into playoffs as a lower seed.
Next, we look at the Cardinals of Boone Central/Newman Grove. At 4-3, they have dealt with a tough schedule. However, they still control their own destiny. They take on district foe Columbus Scotus this week in what will likely determine the district runner-up. After that, they have a date with 1-6 Grand Island Central Catholic to end the year.
Scotus will not be a cakewalk, but the Cardinals have hit a hot streak lately. Plus, they have Dylan Gentrup, and Dylan Gentrup is the real deal. Prediction: Finish 6-3, make playoffs as a wildcard.
From there, we take a look at the Stuart Broncos. The Broncos started off with what seemed like two strong wins in 2016. However, from there, they faltered to four straight losses, including a loss to North Central. a squad that had just one win entering the game.
The Broncos lost a lot of talent from last year, and the inexperience has shown at times. They always seem to reload, but a showdown with Bloomfield to finish the season could prevent them from seeing the post-season this year. Prediction: Finish 3-5, just barely miss the playoffs.
Our final team we look at is Niobrara/Verdigre. At 1-5, it may seem a longshot to be thinking playoffs for the Cougars, but with the number of teams ineligible to participate in the playoffs this year in D1, they still have as good a shot as anyone.
They earned their one win over Laurel-Concord-Coleridge on the legs of dynamic athlete Kevin Rudloff, who went for 286 yards on the ground that night. They finish with games against Hartington-Newcastle and Wakefield, a couple of 4-2 teams that have already locked in a playoff bid.
As things stand right now, the Cougars are as close to the edge as anyone in the playoff picture and an upset or two is the only way they will make their way in. If they can get their run game going like they did against LCC, it’s certainly possible. Prediction: Finish 1-7, miss playoffs.
On top of the teams that are right on the edge of playoff contention, their are many other teams that you can all but pencil in to a playoff game when they start October 27.
Undefeated squads such as O’Neill and Chambers/Wheeler Central/Ewing obviously have their spots, Crofton, Bloomfield, Creighton, West Holt and St. Mary’s will all likely have great seeding when the brackets are announced at the end of the season. Of course Riverside and St. Edward are locks to return to the six-man tournament as well after they wrap up two spectacular seasons.
It’s safe to say area fans will have a lot to cheer for between now and November 21 and 22, when we hopefully see an area finals team.
Game of the Week
We are in the final stretch of the 2016 fall sports season. Some teams will even be wrapping up the regular season this week. The games are about to start getting a lot more meaningful, as teams are working for playoff positioning and district titles.
On the football side, I can be found out in Atkinson as West Holt hosts Clearwater-Orchard. The Cyclones are looking to rebound after a two-game losing streak and make their way back into the playoff picture. West Holt, coming off a tough loss to Chambers/Wheeler Central/Ewing, will also be looking to return to the win column and boost their playoff seeding.
For the volleyball Game of the Week, look for me at the Knox County Tournament as we look to find out who the top team in Knox County is for 2016.
For our football Game of the Week, we will be in Spalding as Riverside hosts St. Edward in a rematch of the 2015 six-man state championship. Both teams have yet to face much of a challenge in 2016 and this promises to be a classic showdown.
Why is this the Game of the Week? Not only is this a rematch of last year's championship, it's likely to be a preview of this season's state championship game as well. Neither team has faced much of a challenge so far this year, with the smallest margin of victory for St. Edward being a 28-point victory. Riverside hasn't had a game closer than 53 points. Both teams are averaging greater than 50 points per game, so this is likely to be a high-scoring affair, assuming the Beavers can find a way to get past Riverside's defense that hasn't allowed more than 13 points in a single game.
Who is going to be there? Riverside (5-0), St. Edward (5-0)
Players to watch: Riverside - Noah Valasek, Senior, 541 yards passing, 14 passing touchdowns, 494 yards rushing, 14 rushing touchdowns
St. Edward - Brayden Olson, Senior, 896 rushing yards, 18 rushing touchdowns, 1101 all-purpose yards, 21 total touchdowns
Game Day Info: Spalding, NE. Friday, October 7 at 7 p.m.
For our volleyball Game of the Week, we'll be traveling to Clearwater for the Clearwater-Orchard Double Triangular. Chambers/Wheeler Central, Wausa and Elgin/Pope John all make their way to Clearwater to join the Cyclones in a double triangular that has three potential state playoff teams. Lets break down this match up.
Why is this the Game of the Week? This will be a showdown of three potential playoff teams. EPPJ and CWC are both top five in wildcard points for their respective classes. Clearwater-Orchard is in the top half of the point standings and have had a strong second half of the season. Wausa has struggled throughout the season but they hope to make some noise against some strong teams.
Who is going to be there? Clearwater-Orchard (10-7), Elgin Public/Pope John (19-0), Chambers/Wheeler Central (12-5), Wausa (3-11)
Players to watch: Clearwater-Orchard - JoCee Johnston, Sophomore, 133 kills, 21 aces, 69 total blocks
EPPJ - Liz Selting, Senior, 200 kills, 26 total blocks
CWC - Jacie Laetsch, Senior, 216 kills, 29 aces, 33 total blocks, 147 digs
Game Day Info: Clearwater Site. Thursday, October 6 at 5 p.m.
5 p.m. - Clearwater-Orchard vs. Chambers/Wheeler Central
6 p.m. - Chambers/Wheeler Central vs. Wausa
7 p.m. - Wausa vs. Elgin Public/Pope John
8 p.m. - Elgin Public/Pope John vs. Clearwater-Orchard
I’m about to say something that I hope you don’t all hate me for. I, Logan Lawson, am a Yankees fan.
Glad I got that off my chest.
Now I have to admit, I haven’t been able to pay as much attention to baseball as I have in years past, partially because it has been a busy summer, what with moving and getting married and such. I know, trivial things compared to professional baseball, but things I had to take care of regardless.
Lets not tell my wife about that last sentence.
Anyway, back to the playoffs. As a Yankees fan, I’ve had to adopt a second team over the past few seasons due to the struggles. That team: the Kansas City Royals. Part of the decision was as a bandwagoner, part was because my wife is obsessed with them and it kind of rubbed off on me. They have been a fun team to watch, with all of those former high draft picks finally paying off for them.
Having two teams to cheer for worked out well, until this year. The Yankees finished fourth in a surprisingly tough division, the only team with a winning record in the AL East to not make the playoffs. Respectable, but still frustrating. The Royals, on the other hand, finished third in a fairly weak division, barely finishing at .500.
So now, I have to sit here, during my favorite playoff of major professional sports, with no team to root for. Do I adopt a temporary team? I’m not a fan of anyone in the AL bracket. Despite my respect for David Ortiz, I hope the Red Sox get swept by an average of ten runs. The rest, I could care less for.
On the NL side, I can probably cheer for the Cubs, as the saddest streak in sports needs to come to an end sooner or later. I also attended a Cubs game a couple years ago, and a day in Wrigleyville can make anyone a Cubs fan.
I could also probably find it in me to cheer for the Nationals, simply because Bryce Harper is the biggest thing to hit the National League since Barry Bonds was smashing bombs into McCovey Cove.
However, I don’t really know if it is worth it for me to pick a team. Maybe I should just sit back and watch everything unfold. It has certainly been an interesting season in professional baseball. It’s easy to find indvidual players to root for when there is constantly new talent coming into the league, as has been the case the past few years, except for Tim Tebow.
Maybe I will do that. Maybe I’ll just sit back and enjoy the greatest postseason in professional sports for once.
Game of the Week
I am admittedly way too excited about this week’s Games of the Week. That’s because I will be experiencing a rematch of the 2015 six-man state championship when I travel to Cedar Rapids to see Riverside take on St. Edward in a game that will likely determine the favorite for the 2016 championship.
On the volleyball side, you can find me in Clearwater for the Clearwater-Orchard Double Triangular. Wausa and Clearwater- Orchard will take their shot at knocking off unbeaten Elgin Public/Pope John, while Chambers/Wheeler Central looks to cement their spot among the top teams in Class D2.
If you have a suggestion for our next game of the week, call me at (402) 887-4000 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dang it. This has been a tough last few days.
It started out good. Friday we had some of the greatest games of the year all across the Local County News coverage area. Then, it was a normal Husker Saturday that ended with a win and the boys in red moving to 4-0. But that’s about the point where it ended.
First, pictures start to surface of three Husker players kneeling during the national anthem, an issue I thought would be largely avoided because they don’t often have the players on the field during the anthem in college. Then, word got out that Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez died in a boat accident early Sunday morning. Not long after, we learn that golf legend Arnold Palmer had passed. Then Nebraska Cornhusker legend Milt Tenopir passed away after a battle with cancer. Finally, we had to sit through possibly the most childish debate in recent history.
I’m not going to touch that last one. We all know how that is going to turn out.
However, the rest really got to me. The kneeling players, as I have said before, are putting into action a right that they have been given by the constitution. That part did not bother me. It’s better than some of the other options they could use to protest.
Two things did bother me though. While those three kneeled and subsequently were given endless media coverage - I’ve watched this get talked about on repeat on Big Ten Network for days - there was four other players that jumped up to help spread the flag across the field. They showed their pride in their flag and their country, and yet the only coverage I’ve seen of that is a few retweets on Twitter. That’s a double standard, defined.
The other part that bothered me was the reactions they received. One of the players, Michael Rose-Ivey, said in a statement that they received death threats towards both the players and their families. I have seen people, on Twitter, Facebook and other social media, say these players don’t deserve to play football anymore. A Board of Regents member was quoted in a national paper saying these players don’t deserve to play football anymore.
Really? Both of those reactions are completely and utterly unacceptable. Never, ever, ever should you make a threat towards another human being, especially not for peacefully expressing their beliefs. Whether you agree or not. Never, ever, ever should you think a players beliefs should align with yours to compete for your entertainment. Never.
Moving on. The three deaths simply seemed to compound on each other. While I’m not a Marlins fan, I certainly appreciated the talent of Jose Fernandez. He made one of the smoothest plays in baseball history when he snagged a line drive from Troy Tulowitzki in 2013. It was so casual, you’d have thought Tulowitzki lobbed the ball to him. If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and look it up. He was a budding star that had an all-star future ahead of him.
Many young, non-golf fans may think Arnold Palmer was simply what you get when you mix lemonade and tea, but the reality is he was arguably the greatest golfer of all time. A case can be made that he is one of the most dominant athletes, regardless of sport, ever. He was Tiger Woods before Tiger Woods. He was a once-in-a-generation talent that many in this generation, myself included, missed out on enjoying.
Possibly the least known of the three, especially outside of Nebraska, was Milt Tenopir. For those that don’t know, Tenopir was the offensive line coach of the Huskers for 29 years. He was the architect behind “The Pipeline” in the ‘90s, coached 21 all-americans and led his lines to 13 national rushing titles. He was well loved among his players and was revered by the current players and staff. He is an icon in the coaching world, even if some of us regular people are not aware of who he is.
It was certainly a tough weekend. It can only go up from here.
Alright, I have a confession to make. I’m a bit of a stat nerd.
One of the first things I do after a game is go in and look up stats. I appreciate a good athlete, and I like to know how the good athletes fare in their games. Stats are often a good indicator of that.
Stats are also a great way for an athlete to go back and see their hard work pay off. Besides being a visual indicator of how well they did that week, stats are one of the first things that are looked at when trying to determine post-season awards and honors.
So, I went to MaxPreps, the site the NSAA uses to track stats for Nebraska high school sports, and started looking through the top 10 lists. I didn’t filter it by class, as I was curious how well our local athletes were doing compared to the entire state. I found quite a few fun facts that you can use at your next trivia night.
A few individual stats that stood out to me:
Neligh-Oakdale’s Grant White has earned a reputation as one of the top quarterbacks in the state, and the stats back that up. Through three games, he has just seven incompletions and has the top quarterback rating of anyone in the state with more than eight passing attempts.
White’s main target has been Tyson Belitz, who is currently third in the state in both receiving yards and yards per game, with 340 yards and 113.3 yards per game.
On the ground, St. Edward’s Braydon Olson and Bloomfield’s Quinten Moles are two of the top rushers in Nebraska. Olson is third in the state with 250 yards per game on the ground and his 15 touchdowns is also good for third. Moles isn’t far behind with his 248 yards per game.
Connor Croxen of Chambers/Wheeler Central/Ewing and Trevor Rasmussen of St. Edward have proven to be lockdown defenders, tying for seventh in the state with three interceptions each.
Alison Stracke has been one of the top offensive forces on the volleyball court this year, not just for Stuart but in the entire state, putting down 32 aces to rank fourth in the state. That number is tops for a Stuart squad that leads the state in aces as a team by a wide margin with 147.
Then, of course, there has been some great team efforts so far in 2016. Some of my favorites are:
Undefeated St. Mary’s has had a fantastic season at the net, connecting on 48.9 percent of their kill attempts, good for fourth in the state. Crofton, on the other hand, has been great defensively at the net as a team, ranking seventh in the state with 112 assisted blocks.
In football,Neligh-Oakdale and Riverside have proven to be two of the most high-powered offenses in the entire state. Both teams have recorded 14 passing touchdowns to tie for second in the state. The Chargers have scored 193 total points so far, good for sixth. The Warriors aren’t far behind, scoring 185 total points to rank ninth in Nebraska.
Two teams that should make any quarterback nervous are Stuart and Clearwater-Orchard. That’s because the two teams each have 12 sacks so far this year, good for fourth in the entire state.
Most teams have only played three games so far this year, which makes those stats even more incredible. Then, when you remember that those stats are compared to all the classes, that shows just how dominant some of the local athletes and teams have been in 2016.
GAME OF THE WEEK
There are some incredible games this week and choosing two was nearly impossible. However, you can find me in Burwell for a game that probably decides the favorite to win D1 as Chambers/Wheeler Central/Ewing rolls in to town. Then, I’ll be at the Neligh-Oakdale Triangular next Monday as two of Holt County’s best, Stuart and St. Mary’s, come to town.
Remember to submit your suggestions for Game of the Week. Simply let us know through Facebook, give us a call or email me at email@example.com.
Sports Editor at Antelope County News/The Orchard News, Logan is from Kearney and has a diverse sports background, including several seasons playing semi-pro football. All columns here are the opinion of the writer only and do not represent the views of the Antelope County News or Pitzer Digital.