LINCOLN – Louisville and Weeping Water were the best two teams in the East Central Nebraska Conference during December and January.
The Lions began the month of February by winning a clash of the leaders in the conference tournament.
Louisville secured the East Central Nebraska Conference Tournament title 48-34 Saturday night at Southeast Community College. Top-seeded LHS earned the program’s third league tournament championship in the past six seasons. The Lions also claimed ECNC crowns in 2014 and 2016.
Louisville head coach Wally Johnson said coaches and players were thrilled to collect gold medals on the basketball court. He said the Lions treasured their title even more because of the difficult nature of this year’s tournament. Louisville, Weeping Water, Yutan, Malcolm, Auburn and Freeman all entered the event with 12 or more victories.
“You can’t take anything like this for granted because it’s such a tough thing to achieve,” Johnson said. “I remember starting out with the program and there were years where winning one game was a huge deal. Now we’re at a place where we’re contending for conference titles. It’s such a great feeling.
“To do it this year against this tough of a field makes it even more special. There were really good teams like Weeping Water, Yutan, Malcolm and Auburn this year, so to come out of this tournament with first-place medals is a great achievement for these girls.”
LHS guard Meagan Mackling said the senior class listed a conference championship as one of the top goals for the campaign. Mackling, Jordan Winkler, Olivia Zahn, Avery Heard, Maia Johnson, Lauryn Kalkowski and Juliette Andrews won the second ECNC crown of their careers. They were freshmen on Louisville’s last title-winning team.
“It’s such an amazing feeling,” Mackling said. “Our coaches have been telling all of the seniors that it’s up to us to lead the program now, and this was one of the things they said we could accomplish. Everyone’s really happy right now.”
Louisville (17-3) made its mark on the game in the opening three minutes. The team went ahead 6-0 with a pair of drives from Mackling and an assist from Kalkowski to Zahn. Louisville remained ahead on the scoreboard the rest of the game.
“Getting off to a slow start like that made a big difference in how the game turned out,” Weeping Water head coach Joel Haveman said. “Louisville’s a good team, and if you give them a chance to control the game then they’re going to take it. It was hard for us to overcome that.”
Louisville led 14-9 after one quarter and held the Indians scoreless for nearly six minutes in the second period. LHS made the most of that opportunity by swelling the gap to 28-10. Faye Jacobsen scored nine consecutive points and tossed an assist to Johnson for a basket and free throw late in the period.
Second-seeded Weeping Water (16-5) attempted to rally in the second half. Brianna Lawson’s 3-pointer shaved the deficit to 36-18 in the third quarter, and Peyton Barrett ended the stanza with four straight free throws. Barrett then reeled off five points in the first 50 seconds of the fourth quarter to make it 38-29.
The Lions re-established control after that. Mackling sank a drive from the wing to get the lead back to double digits, and McKenzie Norris, Mackling and Kalkowski all drained free throws over the next three minutes. Mackling put the finishing touches on the victory with a layup with 40 seconds left.
Mackling ended the game with 14 points, six rebounds, four steals, one block and one assist. Jacobsen generated 13 points, five boards, two assists and one block, and Heard collected four points and nine rebounds for LHS.
Zahn delivered six points and three rebounds and Johnson produced five points and two boards. Kalkowski tallied four points, four assists and two rebounds and Norris added two points, four boards and two assists. Skyler Pollock helped the team defensively during the game.
Barrett guided Weeping Water with 15 points and seven rebounds. Cave collected nine points, three rebounds and two steals and Lawson tallied three points, four steals and two assists.
Reba Wilson made two rebounds and one steal and Jamison Twomey had three points, one board and one steal. Bailee Nissen collected two points and two rebounds and Lexi Ahrens had one rebound. Reagan Aronson provided defensive work for the squad.
Johnson and Haveman both said the local programs would be looking to use the title game as a springboard for future success.
“It’s not a good feeling right now, but for us to be in the championship game is going to help us a lot as we move forward,” Haveman said. “We’re going to be playing a lot of good teams from here on out, so this is a good lesson for us. We know we have to start out well if we want to be successful.”
“The girls are really happy right now, but I think they realize this is just one step toward our larger goals,” Johnson said. “They’re going to continue to work hard to achieve those things.”
Weeping Water 9 4 11 10 – 34
Louisville 14 16 8 10 – 48
Weeping Water (34)
Lawson 1-6 0-1 3, Wilson 0-3 0-0 0, Cave 3-13 1-2 9, Barrett 4-11 5-6 15, Ahrens 0-0 0-0 0, Twomey 1-4 0-1 3, Nissen 1-5 0-1 2, Aronson 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 10-45 6-11 34.
Mackling 5-9 4-8 14, Zahn 3-4 0-2 6, Kalkowski 0-2 4-5 4, Heard 1-4 2-4 4, Jacobsen 4-9 5-5 13, Johnson 2-2 1-1 5, Norris 0-2 2-2 2, Pollock 0-0 0-0 0, Kerans 0-1 0-0 0, Andrews 0-0 0-0 0, Katz 0-0 0-0 0, Stohlmann 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 15-33 18-27 48.