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The Student News Site of Millard West High School

The Catalyst

The Student News Site of Millard West High School

The Catalyst

The Student News Site of Millard West High School

The Catalyst

Cats take Metros

Millard West girls basketball wins conference championship
Nathan Delaney
After winning the Metro Conference Championship, senior Taylor Hansen is handed the trophy to celebrate the victory. Led by a strong defensive and all-around team effort the team was able to go all the way. “It felt really good to hold the plaque and celebrate with my teammates,” Hansen said “It was one of our goals this year to win the tournament and it felt good that our hard work has paid off.”

After embarking on the 2023-2024 campaign, the 6-0 Millard West girls basketball team set their eyes on winning the Metro Holiday Tournament. Although off to a hot start on the year, the Wildcats knew they would have to band together to fend off the fierce competition.

Coming in as the number two seed in the metro, four straight wins were required for the Wildcats to improve on last year’s second-day exit in order to play for a title.

“We did a great job of continuing to play together and keeping our composure,” senior Taylor Hansen said. “I thought that we did a great job of adjusting to the competition and keeping our composure in stressful situations and environments in the tournament. We knew that the real test for us was going to be the metro tournament because even though we were 6-0 going into the tournament we had beat almost all of our opponents by 30+ points.” 

Their first opponent would be Elkhorn South, a team the Wildcats had dominated 62-27 earlier in the season. The Storm would put up more of a fight in this contest, but ultimately wasn’t enough to fend off the Wildcats. Led by 20 points in the first quarter and 22 more in the second, Millard West took a 42-19 lead to the locker room at the half. The second half of the game was a lot slower as both teams went to the benches early and the Wildcats would cruise to an 81-45 victory.

The second contest of the tournament would be a battle against Omaha Benson. In the first quarter, both teams were lights out from the field as defenses struggled to close out on shooters. In the second quarter the Wildcat’s defense would find the success they had grown accustomed to  slow down the bunnies offense to a hault. The defensive effort would only yield 7 points within the second frame to the Bunnies as several forced turnovers gave Millard West fast breaks for easy baskets. The Wildcats would find themselves up 43-21 at half. Benson wouldn’t go down without a fight and feeding off the energy of the crowd the Benson defense would hold Millard West to 13 points in the third quarter and would cut the lead to 18 going into the fourth quarter. Millard West stayed strong and off the back of a 27 point 10 rebound game by Neleigh Gessert would take another victory 74-50.

“I thought that I did a pretty good job during the tournament,” Hansen said. “In the first two rounds of the tournament, I had 14 points and I thought I did a great job of rebounding and being physical during the semifinals and finals of the metro tournament. However, our whole team did a great job of playing together, being tough and finishing games.

The competition would then heat up even more for the semi-final round with the next opponent being the 7-1 Millard North Mustangs. Not only did the matchup have a spot in the championship game on the line but also it was a classic battle of Millard.

We had tried in practice to put them into more difficult situations to prepare but you never quite know how they will react until you get there, ” head coach Marc Kruger said. “I was really proud of the way they handled the adversity we faced.”

The game would start out close as neither team was able to grasp much of a lead with both teams running an aggressive press making both teams earn every basket. The Wildcats would take a 14-10 lead after the first quarter with strong defense propelling both teams. Offenses would find some success in the second and the Mustangs would score 21 to give themselves a 31-30 lead at halftime.

Millard West came out of the locker room strong, their defensive adjustments proved to work well as they were able hold the Millard North offense to just 12 points in the second half. Sophomore Kylee Paben was a pivotal part of the offense grabbing 11 rebounds to extend possessions and scoring 12 points off her own. The team would ride a lockdown second-half defensive effort to a 61-43 victory.

“I felt that the team did a good job of playing tough defense,” Hansen said. “We know that we can all score and scoring baskets will not be our challenge, it is stopping the other team on defense. One of our main focuses this year was to buy in on defense and get defensive stops. We did a great job down the stretch of the tournament in the semifinals and finals holding our opponents to 45 points. Additionally, we played on a short bench so I thought that we did a great job of pushing through tiredness and soreness and persevered to win the tournament.”

The championship game would pin the Wildcats against the undefeated Omaha Central Eagles. The Eagles were riding a strong offensive performance scoring 71 and 69 points in the last two games of the tournament meanwhile the Wildcats averaged 46 points allowed per game in the tournament. The first quarter would be huge in this game because whatever team was able to get an early lead would control the rest of the game. Millard West would do exactly that, extinguishing the red hot Eagles offense and holding them to just five points in the first quarter. The Eagles would put strong pressure on the wildcats stars forcing some other players to shine. Seniors Callie Ott and Taylor Hansen took this opportunity and excelled running the offense well making sure to limit team turnovers. The Wildcats would find themselves up 33-15 at half and having all five starters scoring.

“Obviously Neleigh has gotten a lot of attention for scoring a lot of points, and Kylee getting on the all tournament team as a sophomore is a great accomplishment for her,” Kruger said. “But none of it would have been possible without the efforts of all of them. Norah Gessert only had 3 points in the final game but never came off the floor and held Central’s best player to 6 points. Callie Ott took on a lot of the ball handling duties because of the defensive pressure Norah and Neleigh were getting and did an outstanding job. Taylor Hansen scored a little and got numerous offensive rebounds to give us extra possessions that often led to points. And last but not least Brook Wenninghoff who came off the bench and really provided a spark defensively against Millard North.”

The Eagles would cry to claw back but every single effort would either be denied or countered by the Wildcats who would cruise to a 60-45 win, and a metro conference tournament championship.

“It felt really good to hold the plaque and celebrate with my teammates,” Hansen said. “It was one of our goals this year to win the tournament and it felt good that our hard work has paid off. However, this is just the starting point for us this year. We know that we have big goals and our main goal this year is to win the state tournament. It was a good win for us and we are happy that we won the tournament but we have to stay focused and stay humble so that we can keep working toward our main goal which is winning the state championship.”

Juniors Neligh and Norah Gessert as well as sophomore Kylle Paben were all named to the all tournament team. Giving the Wildcats three of the five all tournament team players. The team is still undefeated but has another tough test tomorrow as they take on the 12-1 Lincoln Southwest Silverhawks at home.

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About the Contributor
Nathan Delaney
Nathan Delaney, Staff Reporter
Nathan is a senior at Millard West and this is his second year on the CATalyst staff. He is taking Advanced Journalism, Broadcast Journalism and Yearbook this year. This summer he went to multiple journalism camps and went on a family vacation to Alaska. He also worked with the President of the Nebraska Broadcasters Association, Jim Timm, on the High School Radio Project. He is looking forward to expanding to new parts of journalism and furthering his skills this year.

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