FREMONT, Neb. — Opposing teams have tried many defenses this season in an effort to slow Fremont's Jessica Shepard.
Diamond and one. Box and one. Triangle and two, with the two guarding her. A 1-3 chaser. Man-to-man double teams.
“You name it, we've seen it,” Tigers coach Tony Weinandt said. “It's a credit to Jess that she's still able to get her shots.”
Despite that attention, the 6-foot-3 junior forward continues to excel. And at a pace that will have her shattering the Class A single-season scoring mark that has stood for 30 years.
Shepard, a Nebraska recruit, leads the state in scoring (30.4 points per game), rebounding (15.6) and field-goal accuracy (65 percent). She has scored 577 points, 37 short of the Class A mark of 614 set by Omaha Central's Maurtice Ivy in 1984.
The Tigers could play nine more games this season — four in the regular season, two in districts and three at state. At her present pace, she would finish with 850 points, 22 behind the all-time Nebraska mark of 872 set by Darcy Stracke of Chambers in 1996.
In short, her first season at Fremont has been an unqualified success.
“Things have been going great here for me,” said Shepard, whose father, Mark, took over as Fremont's superintendent of schools last year. “I'm glad I've been able to help the team do well.”
The Tigers are doing very well, with a 17-2 mark and a No. 5 ranking. Their biggest game of the season looms at 5:45 p.m. Saturday, when they host No. 2 Millard West.
“Every game is important,” Shepard said. “But there's a lot of anticipation for that one, and I know we're all looking forward to it.”
Shepard earned All-Nebraska status her first two seasons while playing at Lincoln Southeast. She averaged 18.7 points as a freshman for the state runner-up Knights and 24.4 points last year while leading Southeast to the Class A title.
Then came her shift to Fremont, the town where she had lived before the family moved to Lincoln when she was in sixth grade.
“I think the fact I had lived here before helped make the transition pretty smooth,” she said. “I played with some of my (current) teammates while I was growing up.”
One of those players is Kendall Niehaus, a four-year member of the varsity.
“It's been a whole lot different this year,” Niehaus said. “Jess is so talented that she helps make us all better.”
Fueled by preseason anticipation, a big crowd turned out for the Tigers' season opener against visiting Columbus. Shepard scored a game-high 31, single-handedly outscoring the Discoverers in a 64-28 win.
In addition to those points, Shepard made a play that gave the home fans a glimpse of her versatility. She grabbed a rebound, went behind her back while running the ball down the floor and made a one-handed pass for an assist.
“We all knew Jess could do special things on the basketball court,” Weinandt said. “But that play was one of those 'wow' moments.”
Fremont won its first four games before losing by a point at Bishop Miege of Shawnee Mission, Kan. Eight more wins later, the Tigers suffered their only loss against Nebraska competition — a 60-43 setback at No. 4 Lincoln Northeast.
“We didn't come out and play our best that night,” Shepard said. “They did a great job against us, but I think we learned our lesson.”
“Held” to 19 points against the Rockets, Shepard bounced back with a 30-point effort four days later in a home win over Omaha Burke. The Tigers won their next four games leading into this weekend — a Friday night game at Lincoln High (2-16) and Saturday's showdown against the perennially tough Wildcats.
“(Millard West coach) Kip Colony has done a great job with that program,” Weinandt said. “They've set a standard of excellence for several years, so we know it's going to be a tough game.”
Shepard said she's hoping to silence critics who have said Fremont's record is the result of a non-Metro Conference schedule.
“I think we do feel as though we have something to prove,” she said. “After losing that game against Northeast, we feel we've got a second chance.”
Emotions will be running high Saturday night for an even more important reason. A portion of the proceeds from the girls-boys varsity doubleheader will be donated to breast cancer research on what is being termed “Pack the Bahe” night at Fremont's Al Bahe gymnasium.
“I think it's going to be really loud,” Shepard said. “It should be exciting.”
Shepard has gotten plenty of help from teammates this season. Rylie Cascio Jensen averages almost 10 points per game, Niehaus is shooting 48 percent from the field, Meghan Luper is hitting 33 percent from 3-point range and Cascio Jensen and Claire Meyer combine to average more than 10 assists per game.
“Everyone knows about Jess,” Weinandt said. “But teams are finding out we have other players who can hit shots when they zero in defensively on her.”
The Tigers hope a successful regular season will eventually lead the team to a destination Shepard knows well, the state tournament in Lincoln. Fremont has been to state four times — only once since 1985 — and has lost in the first round each time.
Whether Shepard can help her team reach new heights remains to be seen, but you certainly can't argue with what she's accomplished so far this season.
“I did feel some pressure coming in here,” she said. “But it's been an awesome situation. I can't say enough about the school, my teammates and the way the whole community has shown its support.”