The Louisville Lions have proven tough to tame this season.
Coach Wally Johnson’s team is 12-2 and ranked eighth in Class C-1. That kind of performance has Louisville in the running for a possible state tournament berth, which would be the first in school history.
“Going into this season, I thought we could be competitive,’’ Johnson said. “We have a lot of senior leadership and some talented freshmen.’’
That blend has worked well for the Lions, who also have the motivation of coming up one win short of state last year. Louisville finished 11-13, losing to Lincoln Christian in the district final.
“We’ve hovered around the .500 mark the past few years,’’ Johnson said. “But this season we feel as though we can compete against anybody.’’
The infusion of new talent has helped put teeth into the Lions offense. A pair of freshmen — guards Jamie Winkler (12.2 points per game) and Kalli Mackling (9.1) — lead the team in scoring.
“Those two freshmen are really good,’’ Johnson said. “Jamie sees the court well and is a very good ballhandler and Kalli is a good shooter and our top 3-point threat.’’
The 5-foot-4 Winkler also leads the team in assists (4.5 per game) and steals (3.6) while Mackling is shooting 42 percent from behind the arc.
The senior class also is well represented by LeighAnn Novotny (8.8 points per game), Samantha Lane (7.1 ppg and 7.3 rebounds per game) and Raegan Holl (4.8 ppg). Holl’s freshman sister, Rilee, is third on the team in rebounds and McKenna Zahn, daughter of Ralston football coach Tyler Zahn, is one of the squad’s top defensive players.
“The seniors have been super accepting of the freshmen, and that’s been a big key,’’ Johnson said. “Every girl knows her role, and that’s made us a more complete team.’’
Louisville started the season 3-2, losing to ranked opponents Platteview and Fairbury. But it’s been smooth sailing since as the Lions have rattled off nine straight wins.
“It’s been awhile since we’ve been in this position at this point in the season,’’ Johnson said. “But we’ve got some big games just ahead and we know that we can’t let down.’’
That upcoming schedule includes 11-5 Malcolm on Thursday, the East Central Nebraska Conference tournament next week and a game at 12-4 Raymond Central on Feb. 11.
Louisville’s C1-3 subdistrict includes Platteview (13-1) and Omaha Concordia (10-5), and the C1-4 subdistrict — the C1-3 champion will play the C1-4 champ in the district final — includes Wahoo (10-6), Wahoo Neumann (13-3) and Arlington (12-4).
“We know we still have a tough road ahead,’’ Johnson said. “I don’t know what the rest of the season will bring, but I’m really happy with the way we’re playing right now.’’
Ratings update: Three of the four top-ranked teams from last week hold their positions, but there is a slight change atop Class D-1.
In C-1, Minden continues to roll. The Whippets, ranked sixth in the Nebraska Top 10, handily defeated St. Paul and Class B Holdrege last week.
C-2 leader Crofton, ranked ninth in the overall Top 10, moved to 15-1 with wins over Wayne and Plainview. A big test looms Thursday night for Crofton when it plays at 14-1 Pierce, the defending C-1 champion.
The change atop D-1 comes after Friend’s home loss against C-2 Hastings St. Cecilia. That opened the door for preseason No. 1 O’Neill St. Mary’s to reclaim the top spot.
In D-2, Falls City Sacred Heart (15-1) bounced back from its loss to BDS in the MUDECAS tournament by defeating Pawnee City and Rock Port, Mo. The Irish will face challenges this week from C-2 Southern (11-5) and D-1 Nebraska City Lourdes (10-5).
Still unbeaten: After Friend’s loss to the Hawkettes, there are only four unbeaten teams left in the state — Minden, Kearney Catholic, Fairbury and Dundy County-Stratton. There are no unbeaten teams left in Class A, Class B, Class D-1 or Class D-2.
Top games this week:
Class C-1 — Thursday: Crofton at Pierce; Malcolm at Louisville; Boone Central/NG at Norfolk Catholic. Friday: Chadron at Sidney. Saturday: Southwest Conference tournament final (site TBA); Central Conference tournament final (at Seward); Nebraska Capitol Conference final (at Ashland-Greenwood); Centennial Conference tournament final (at Lincoln Christian); Hershey at Sidney.
Class C-2 — Tuesday: Pender at Emerson-Hubbard; West Point GACC at Humphrey/Lindsay HF; Deshler at Superior. Friday: Crossroads Conference final (at York). Saturday: Republican Plains Activities Conference tournament (site TBA).
Class D-1 — Tuesday: Creighton at O’Neill St. Mary’s. Thursday: Stuart at O’Neill St. Mary’s. Friday: Sandhills Conference tournament final (at Hyannis).
Class D-2 — Tuesday: Falls City Sacred Heart at Southern; Sterling at Sutton; Silver Lake at Wilcox-Hildreth. Friday: Diller-Odell at Freeman.