Maddie Simon always has been a good athlete.
Then she grew four inches to 6-foot-1 the summer before ninth grade.
“A lot more people notice you,” Nebraska Lasers coach Allen Simpson said.
To say the least.
Even before her under-16 club basketball team went 18-9 this summer — 12-3 down the stretch — Simon had offers from Creighton and Nebraska.
Iowa State also has offered as Simon improved during the summer, consistently leading the Lasers in scoring at about 17 points per game. Her highest scoring game was 29 at the Nike Tournament of Champions in Chicago, in which the Lasers went 5-0.
Many more colleges are interested, including New Mexico State, Maryland, Iowa, Oklahoma State, Wichita State, Kansas State, Denver, Central Michigan, UNO and Northern Iowa. The list is growing daily, and some coaches are planning in-home visits in September.
Coaches see a big kid who can run and is athletic, Simpson said. Simon, a No. 2 guard, was second in the 300 hurdles, third in the 100 hurdles and on the state-winning 4x400 relay team for Lincoln Pius X.
Her mom, Nicole Ali, was a Big Eight track champion at Nebraska and an academic All-American. Her brother Zach ran track at NU and will coach this year at Norfolk Catholic.
“She's just so athletic,” Simpson said. “She gets into the passing lane and even against competitive teams, she can get to the basket pretty easy. She's very fluid on the court how she can run.”
Simon has been stunned by the attention, and Simpson has told her not to make any quick decisions. She shoots every day to improve her game.
“Those are the most important four years of your life,” he told Simon, “so you better make sure you get the right coach and the right situation.”
The Lasers have moved up to the elite division at some tournaments to better showcase their players. That's when Simpson started catching glimpses of coaches such as UConn's Geno Auriemma and the Cyclones' Bill Fennelly.
Kennedy Sander, a 6-foot forward from Pius, also played well. She averaged double figures despite injuring her hip midway through July.
Simon, Sander, Briahtia Sebek and Becky Brokaw all play for Pius and the juniors have played for the Lasers since fourth grade.
Attack features D-I talent
John Jungers had never coached girls basketball before this summer.
He hopes his first season with the South Dakota Attack, which went 20-6, was as fun for them as it was for him.
Jungers, a longtime college coach who had stints at Iowa Western and Western Nebraska, made the jump to club sports to coach stepdaughter Kate Liveringhouse, a 6-foot-1 forward and center from Bellevue West.
“I thought I better do it since it's her last year of high school,” he said.
Jungers teamed with player development specialist Shane Warwick to focus on helping the team get better.
Several area players attracted a lot of attention from college coaches.
Kianna Ibis, a 6-1 forward from Omaha Benson, has drawn interest from Creighton, Nebraska, Minnesota, Michigan State, Arizona State, Washington State, Stanford and Oklahoma. Her NU offer came last week.
Liveringhouse has plenty of Division I interest, including an offer from South Dakota. She's also heard from all the Ivy League schools, who can't offer athletic scholarships.
“She's an excellent student,” Jungers said.
Bellevue West's Chloe Akin-Otiko, a 5-8 guard, had many of the same schools who offered Ibis looking at her, although she is just entering her sophomore year. Her older sister Alexis plays at Creighton.
Taygen Larson, a 6-3 wing-forward from Sioux Falls Roosevelt, has narrowed her choices to Iowa, Iowa State and Nebraska. Alexys Swedlund, a 5-11 guard from Rapid City St. Thomas More, has interest from Creighton, Colorado State, Wyoming, Washington State and Arizona State.
“It's a very talented bunch,” Jungers said.
Although Jungers lives in Omaha, a South Dakota hospital sponsored the group, hence the name.
Three titles for Crusaders
The OSA Crusaders 17-and-under team went 40-7, including an 8-0 record while winning the 17u Gold championship bracket at the Las Vegas Fab 48 tournament.
They also won the Father for a Lifetime Classic and the River City Hoops Festival.
Several players are receiving Division I interest, led by Khyri Thomas of Omaha Benson, who has offers from UNO, UMKC and Portland State. He's also gotten interest from Hawaii, James Madison, Middle Tennessee State, South Dakota State and Duquesne.
Others players receiving Division I attention are Matt Thomas of Elkhorn South, Thik Bol of Benson and Kevin Harkins of Omaha South.
Trey Lansman of Harlan, Iowa, has Division II offers from the University of Nebraska at Kearney, Truman State and Northwest Missouri State.
The 16-and-under squad was 34-7 and won three tournaments.
Malik Hluchoweckyj of Bellevue West and Justin Patton of Omaha North have begun receiving interest at the mid-major Division I level and Division II level.
» The Cornhusker Shooting Stars Bison girls team finished 40-7. “We won 13 straight games the second half of the July viewing period,” coach Dan Lesoing said. The Bison won the USJN Blue Star Nationals as well as Battle on the Plains in July.
» Several Nebraskans were chosen for the all-star teams at the U.S. Junior National Mountain Madness tournament:
Under 17: Hannah Riley, Lasers; Kaylee Jensen, NEN Xtreme; Tierra Beard, Emma Grenfell, Grace Berry, CSS Regional. Under 16: Briahtia Sebek, Lasers; Maddie Simon, Lasers; Quinn Wragge, NEN Xtreme; Paige Husa, Force. Under 15: Jessica Klaudt, Lasers; Jaci Brahmer, NEN Xtreme; Sam Shepard, Claire Kubicek, Stephanie Wenzel, CSS 7/8th; Jessina Rada, Lasers. Under 14: Kailey Lane, Metro Mustangs.