Omaha Bryan girls basketball coach Marcy Krolikowski knew heading into this season that her Bears were facing an uphill battle.
Exactly how steep that hill would be became evident after the season opener, a 67-12 loss against Omaha Burke.
“We had graduated all of our starters, and I knew we were going to be young and inexperienced,” she said. “It was pretty obvious that there was a good chance we'd struggle.”
Every game has been a struggle for Bryan, which is 0-16. Many of those scores — 56-4, 57-6, 57-8, 60-8, 61-5, 62-8, 72-8 and 83-4 — reflect just how outmanned the Bears have been.
Krolikowski started with 25 girls in her program this season, but that number has dwindled as the losses have mounted. There are now 11 girls left, and only nine are healthy and available heading into games this weekend.
“I think it says a lot about the girls who have stuck it out,” she said. “They're still trying hard, so that's a positive.”
Krolikowski said many of the girls who went out for the Bryan team hadn't played basketball in awhile, if ever. Contrast that with many of the top high school programs, which fill rosters with players who have competed — often on select teams — for several years.
“I wish we were in that position,” she said. “But just getting girls interested to play here is difficult.”
That was never an issue for Krolikowski, who grew up in Loup City, Neb.
“I was playing when I was 3 or 4 years old,” she said. “And I played with the same girls pretty much my whole life. It's just a big difference between there and here.”
Krolikowski also got the opportunity to play at the state tournament her freshman and sophomore years. State is a pipe dream for the Bears, who haven't reached that destination in 14 years.
“Obviously, the program isn't where I want it to be,” she said. “But that doesn't mean we're going to stop trying.”
Krolikowski said she gets the sense that many opposing coaches understand her plight.
“I think they sympathize with us,” she said. “But I don't want the other teams to give us a break. We do the best we can every game and then we move on.”
Krolikowski, in her fourth season at the helm, also has the respect of many of those coaches — including Millard West's Kip Colony.
“I think Marcy deserves a medal for what she's trying to build,” he said. “A lot of people wouldn't have the patience, and I'm not sure I would.”
Colony, whose second-ranked squad has outscored Bryan 127-17 in two games, said the Bears have continued to play hard.
“One of their kids made back-to-back 3-pointers against us, and I think our own kids were excited about that,” he said. “I know a lot of our fans were clapping.”
Colony added that the Bryan girls who have stayed the course will reap the benefits later in life because of it.
“If you check back in 10 or 15 years, I guarantee that they'll be successful,” he said. “There are so many life lessons to learn from playing basketball, so kudos to those girls for sticking with it.”
Players still on the Bryan roster are Karla Olvera, Karen Aguilar, Chol Thiyang, Maddie Nekola, Chudier Tut, Sierra Sims, Nyarial Gatluak, Kouthethin Chot, Troyana Thompson, Abril Jacinto and Sunday Faya.
Chot, a sophomore center, said quitting the team never occurred to her.
“It's been tough, but we'll make it through,” she said. “I know I'm learning a lot about basketball and developing relationships with my teammates.”
She added that making it to the end of this difficult season will hopefully lead to a brighter future for the Bears.
“We want to show the girls next year that we stayed with it all the way,” she said. “And that they can come join us and make something new and better here at school.”
Bryan has just the varsity and a reserve team, and the same players suit up for both. Krolikowski said one high point this season was the reserves' lone victory over Millard South.
“There were a lot of smiles after that game,” she said. “It was nice to see them get a win.”
The coach added that she also liked the way her varsity team played against top-ranked Omaha Benson a few weeks ago.
“We were hitting some layups and making some steals. It was really good to see,” she said. “They beat us, but I thought we played well.”
Despite the Bears' record, Krolikowski said her players are thankful for the continued support they've received at games.
“The cheerleaders, the fans, our athletic director and our principal are all still there cheering for us,” she said. “And these players deserve it.”
It was business as usual Thursday as the team went through a two-hour practice. Chot couldn't talk for long because she was eager to get back out on the court.
“We're all trying to do the best we can,” she said. “And we need to practice to get better.”
Bryan has six games left in the regular season and then it's on to the district tournament. Krolikowski said whatever happens the rest of the way, she is still proud of her girls.
“We've had a lot of trials and tribulations this season,” she said. “But we're not going to quit, no matter what.”