RECAP: Varsity Basketball


Brendan Preisman, CP Sports Network

This was an incredibly weird year for the Junior Jays, by far the weirdest season I can remember.  The team won 18 games, their smallest number since the 2013-14 season, and yet they were pretty consistently able to hang with top 10 and top 5 teams.  Luke Jungers and Martel Evans combined for almost half of the team’s points, and yet there were games where one or both of them wouldn’t score for over a half.  The team was one of the best shooting teams in Class A all year, and yet against teams like Gretna or Omaha Central, the shooting would dry up.  They were a 6 seed heading into state and the spread was around 15 points, and yet they were able to shock Westside and make it back to the state semifinals.  It was a season of qualifiers and contradictions, but the team was able to make the most of it, and that makes them my favorite team to cover.  


The first couple of games led me to believe that this team was simply a rerun of last year’s squad, just with slightly less experience.  I called the starters “more than capable” and said that if this team was able to rely on defense, shooting, and unselfishness, they’d “keep winning for a long time”.  However, the next couple of games were filled with struggling, leading me to call the team “good, but not yet great”.  The first half struggles against Omaha Northwest and the near blown lead against Millard West led me to write off the team as a title contender just four games in.  By the time the calendar flipped around, the team had climbed to 8-2 and I was confident the team could make it through an easy January schedule.  


Fremont and Bellevue East were tough, but Prep survived those, and that led to me calling the team “a Jekyll-Hyde mix” and saying that at their best, they could “probably beat anyone in the state”.  The Westside game proved me wrong, and I ended up calling that 82-43 loss “a funeral for Creighton Prep’s hopes for a state title” and “one of the worst basketball performances I’ve ever seen”.  Ironically, the Westside game had me so worried that I said “the Junior Jays better hope that they don’t run into the Warriors again”.


After the Westside game, Prep was able to finish out the season well, despite losing Martel Evans for a few games in late January.  They couldn’t beat Bellevue West because the Thunderbirds were hyper-efficient on offense (especially from 3), and I said that the team could get back to state as long as they stayed healthy.  Everyone did stay healthy, and the starting five of Luke Jungers, PJ Newbill, Joey Rieschl, Casey O’Malley, and Martel Evans was able to finish out the season strong.  


The district final was one of the best games I’ve been able to watch in my four years at Prep.  Luke Jungers had one of his best performances, with 20 points and 7 rebounds, but it wasn’t enough to win in regulation.  After 6 minutes of holding the ball in the first and second overtimes (thank goodness for the shot clock coming next year), Prep woke up in the third overtime and scored 16 points (more than in any quarter in regulation) to win 57-45.  Also, thanks to the shooters (Rieschl and Joe Sudbeck) for combining for 16 points and a couple of big three pointers.


After that dramatic win, the Junior Jays went to state for the 8th consecutive year, where they would take on…the Westside Warriors.  And as expected, the Warriors raced out to a 7-0 lead and were up 16-6 at the end of the first quarter.  Unlike in the first iteration of the rivalry, though, Prep punched back.  Luke Jungers put up 8 points in the second quarter and the halftime deficit was a very reasonable 27-20.  


And then…things shifted.  Whether it was Prep switching to a 3-2 zone, depth perception at PBA, Westside running out of gas after an incredible run, or some combination of the three, the Warriors’ offense shut down.  Westside went 1/7 from 3 point range in the third quarter, and PJ Newbill had 7 in the third frame, more than the entire Westside team.  Prep led, 34-33, and that was the real Matrix moment.  The team was “beginning to believe”, and I was too.  


The fourth quarter was basically pure bliss.  Martel Evans got another one of his patented and-ones, Casey O’Malley had a breakaway dunk, and Westside missed 7 more threes.  In the end, of course, it came down to Jungers, who went 6/6 from the charity stripe for 6 of Prep’s last 9 points in a stunning 53-48 victory.  The team held Westside to 27% FG and 24% 3PT, and the Warriors’ 48 points were only 3 away from a season low.  Special mention must go to the Junior Jays hitting 24 of 33 free throws, including Jungers going 11 of 12 and Newbill going 7 of 11.  


Sure, the Junior Jays’ season ended 2 days later to the Thunderbirds of Bellevue West in a 68-51 loss.  And sure, 9 players are seniors and will be gone by the time basketball season rolls around next year.  And sure, Prep didn’t beat any of the other semifinal teams even once.  To all of that I say: who cares?  This was a team that most people (including me!) thought was destined for a first round exit at state, if they were able to make it at all.  They proved me wrong.  They proved everyone wrong.  


After last year, which also ended with a semifinal loss to Bellevue West, I was crushed.  I knew that team had farther to go-that what they were capable of was more than they ended up achieving.  There’s none of that feeling at this point, just happiness and satisfaction.  This team not only met any expectations, but exceeded them 10 times over, AND went out with a victory over Westside, ensuring an even 4-4 split with the Warriors since 2018.  The only sad thing about this team and this season was that it had to end, but all good things must.


And that, unfortunately, includes this column.  It has been an absolute privilege to write this for the past two years, and thank you all so much for reading it.  Thank you also to Mr. Rasgorshek, my faculty advisor and editor, and to the basketball team and coaches, for being so open and helpful throughout my coverage.  It’s been one of the great blessings of my life to cover Prep basketball, and I’m very grateful that this team was the last one I got to cover.  Thank you all and let’s try and extend the state streak to 9 in a row next year.