The rest of Johnson County's lineup is mix-and-match, but Nate Kuhl and Justin Damme are on the court as much as possible. The 6-foot-8 Kuhl and the 6-10 Damme, both seniors, are the tallest duo in any class this season.
The 6-foot-8 Kuhl and the 6-10 Damme, both seniors, are the tallest duo in any class this season. They led the Thunderbirds to a repeat A Division title last week in the 83rd Mudecas tournament in Beatrice.
“Everybody knows they're the money players for us,” Johnson County coach Chris Hutt said.
Kuhl led all scorers in the 16-team Mudecas field with 69 points in three games. Damme was sixth with 43. In the final, a 59-42 win over Pawnee City, they combined for 42 points while making 15 of 18 shots.
Johnson County now is third in the Class C-2 ratings, a four-notch promotion from last week. The Thunderbirds in the semifinals defeated then-No. 1 Freeman 48-46 after opening with a 45-41 win over BDS (Bruning-Davenport/Shickley).
“We played three tough games. All three teams were in the top division of the power points,” Hutt said. “BDS with Ryan Tegtmeier, he's a load. That was a good game. We had the rematch with Freeman (Johnson County's only loss) and Pawnee City is dangerous as well.
“It's a good basketball year around here.”
Kuhl and Damme were the only returning starters from a 22-3 team that went to state last season. Johnson County graduated its top four guards, but returned the rest of its varsity roster.
Senior forwards Danny Fritsch and Seth Laver, senior guard Kyle Laug, freshman guard Mitch Faris, junior Grant Badertscher, 6-5 sophomore Michael Purcell, sophomore post Ryan Teten, 6-3 backup post Ben Goracke and guard Michael Clark also are key contributors.
“It's kind of new to me to play so many guys,” said Hutt, who has 384 career wins. “If we played under the old Iowa girls basketball rules, frontcourt and backcourt, we'd have the team for that.
“Some of these guys are better on defense, some handle the ball better, some shoot better, some rebound better. It's situational.”
Damme signed with Concordia University in Seward before Christmas. Hutt said Kuhl is getting wooed by many of the Great Plains Athletic Conference schools. Some nights, the bus ride home had to wait until coaches finished their one-on-one visits with Kuhl.
“Those two traveled a lot last summer and played against great competition. I think all that pays off,” Hutt said. “And they're in our gym all the time working on their games. I'm happy for them because they deserve what they're getting.”
New No. 1: With Freeman also losing its third-place Mudecas game to Class D-2 No. 2 Falls City Sacred Heart, Sutton takes over as the Class C-2 ratings leader and the Falcons drop to seventh. Sutton's only loss was to Freeman 48-47 in a holiday tournament.
Ratings newcomers are Columbus Lakeview and O'Neill in C-1 and Yutan in C-2.
Undefeateds thin out: Only two of the six classes have undefeated teams at midseason — Wahoo and Kearney Catholic in C-1 and Howells-Dodge, Kenesaw, Burwell and Paxton in D-1.
Central ranked 19th: In this week's MaxPreps national top 25, Omaha Central rises from 22nd to 19th. The Eagles also were 19th in the most recent ESPN ratings.
Top games this week:
Class C-1—Tuesday: Lincoln Lutheran at Waverly, Ashland-Greenwood at Yutan, Milford at Columbus Lakeview, Doniphan-Trumbull at Kearney Catholic, Wahoo at Raymond Central, Winnebago at Ponca. Thursday: Valentine at Ainsworth, Boone Central/NG at Columbus Scotus, Lincoln Christian at Raymond Central. Friday: Grand Island Central Catholic at Adams Central, Wahoo Neumann at Lincoln Lutheran, Fremont Bergan at Columbus Scotus, Lincoln Christian at Lincoln Pius X, Norfolk Catholic at Wahoo, Hartington Cedar Catholic at Wayne.
Class C-2—Tuesday: Hartington Cedar Catholic at Creighton, Norfolk Lutheran NE at Pierce, Sutton at Ravenna, Bancroft-Rosalie at Wakefield. Thursday: Twin River at Clarkson/Leigh, Dundy County-Stratton at Cambridge, Wilber-Clatonia at Freeman, Southern Valley at Arapahoe. Friday: Sidney at Bridgeport, Clarkson/Leigh at Norfolk Lutheran, Southern at Sterling. Saturday: Hartington Cedar Catholic at West Point GACC.
Class D-1—Tuesday: BDS at McCool Junction, Hitchcock County at Paxton, Amherst at Shelton. Thursday: Paxton at Wauneta-Palisade. Friday: Exeter-Milligan at BDS, Falls City Sacred Heart at Pawnee City. Saturday: Randolph at Wakefield.
Class D-2—Thursday: Brady at Mullen. Friday: Ponca at Bancroft-Rosalie.
Tournaments: Goldenrod, finals Saturday at St. Paul; Panhandle, finals Saturday at Crawford; South Platte Valley, finals Saturday at North Platte Community College; Minuteman, finals Saturday at Sidney.
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