End of an era? Pinnacle girls made impact

Former Bellevue West coach Matt Fritsche is one of several who helped out with the Pinnacle Bank girls club basketball program. “They helped hundreds of kids get scholarships over the years,” he said. “They did it selflessly and they've done it for a long time.”

The Pinnacle Bank girls basketball team had such a good summer that organizer Ken Cook hates to think it's over.

The former Adams coach said Friday it looks as if this is the last season for the program, which in the past 19 years attracted some of the best players and coaches in the state.

“I'm having second thoughts already,” Cook said.

It's a sad moment for longtime coach Matt Fritsche, too. Now an assistant at Creighton, he helped out several times while he was in the high school ranks.

“I think they were kind of the first ones to do a great job of club basketball in the state of Nebraska,” he said. “They helped hundreds of kids get scholarships over the years. They did it selflessly and they've done it for a long time.”

Cook said he and several other coaches approached Jim Daubert at Woodmen Accident and Life in Lincoln about sponsoring a squad 19 years ago. Some of the biggest names in the sport were involved: Omaha Marian's Jim Miller, Lincoln Southeast's John Larsen, Bellevue East's Larry Bleach, Battle Creek's Bob Schnitzler and Sandhills' Howard Gaffney.

The Nebraska Girls Basketball Association was born and successful from the start. In their first year, coaches took a group of girls from across the state — players such as Trish Martin and Nicole Kubik — to the 164-team junior national tournament in Washington, D.C., and won with an 11-0 record.

“Jim Daubert took a chance on funding our team and we won his heart over,” Cook said. “From then on, we played pretty solid every year.”

In its heyday, tryouts for the Pinnacle Bank-Daubert Nebraska All-Star senior and junior squads attracted as many as 450 girls. This past season, 40 tried out and only a senior team competed.

“I think there got to be a lot of teams out there,” Fritsche said. “It got to be harder and harder to field the competitive team they wanted.”

Cook said there were 17 Nebraska teams last month at the Miss Nebraska tournament in Kearney, which Pinnacle won.

The team also claimed its division at the Las Vegas Super 64 to close the season 22-3.

Pinnacle did it without three of its top picks. One opted for another team and two — Pender's Paige Ballinger and Omaha Central's Abigail Niebrugge — suffered knee injuries. Instead, players such as Bellevue West's Maddie Braun, Crofton's Allison Arens and Holdrege's Rachel Jelden stepped up.

“We really played so well that nobody came close to us,” Cook said.

Jon Perone of Omaha Benson coached the team along with Hastings College coach Carrie Hofstetter.

Coaches made two-year commitments, the first as an assistant and the second as the head coach.

It's become hard to find coaches willing to devote that much time to the program. Among the long list of those who did were Kelly Flynn (South Sioux City), Aaron Losing (Crofton), Scott Persigehl (Millard North), Kelli Jeffries (Grand Island) and Linda (Schnitzler) Walker (Wahoo).

“We had some fantastic coaches,” Cook said.

Daubert funded the team for eight years, along with some help from Woodmen. Omahan Lynn Marchese and Pinnacle Bank have carried the ball the past eight years.

“Jim Daubert, Lynn Marchese and Pinnacle put Nebraska on the map,” Cook said. “Without the funding, we couldn't have done it.”

Cook, who won several state titles while at Adams, was the organizer. He'd set up the hotel and travel reservations and was always thrilled to arrive home without an accident.

“We've done it without a wreck for both teams,” he said. “That was always the highlight of your summer.”

Now 75, Cook will focus on his golf game, which he said isn't very good.

It won't be the same as watching how the girls improved each summer. That was more of a driving force for him than earning a college scholarship.

“It's just been fun, you know,” Cook said. “Nobody knew about Nebraska basketball until we made the trip out to D.C.”

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