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Central guard Inia Jones tries to rip the basketball through two defenders looking to pass
Photo Credit: John Peterson

Padding the Stats: Proud to Cover Preps

March 24, 2021

The boys state basketball tournament marked the end of my ninth year covering high school basketball.

When I was in college, a fried of a friend put me in contact with a guy who was running a website covering high school hoops. I was looking to gain some real world experience as a young journalism student outside of the school newspaper.

I started working for Mike Sautter in 2012, and over the following few years I developed a passion for covering high school basketball. I got a job with Hail Varsity after I graduated from Creighton but continued working with Mike on the side.

In 2017, I went full-time with Hail Varsity and had to walk away from covering high school hoops… at least for a time. Though Hail Varsity is devoted to covering Huskers athletics, my editors saw value in me continuing to write for the Nebraska preps audience, so eventually I started covering high school basketball again, taking my cue from our recruiting analyst Greg Smith who had been writing weekly high school football stories (though those were mostly focused on Nebraska recruits).

Over the last couple of years, Brandon Vogel and Erin Sorensen have empowered me to expand Hail Varsity’s preps coverage, and I’m grateful for that. This year, we took it to another level, though the unique circumstances of 2020 was the driving force behind that.

When Nebraska’s fall sports seasons got pushed back, it left us with nothing to cover. We had a brainstorming meeting and decided we’d dive fully into covering the only sports we thought would happen: those at the high school level. Derek Peterson, Erin and I joined Greg on the high school football beat.

I covered 13 games in person during the 2020 season including the Class B state championship game where a pair of future Huskers — baseball commit Drew Christo and preferred walk-on football commit Aiden Young —led Elkhorn to the title. I saw 14 different Nebraska teams (plus one from Kansas). I watched most of Nebraska’s 2021 in-state commits, a handful of Husker targets and a lot of other really talented players. Derek embedded himself with Kearney Catholic and told the story of the Stars and Nebraska quarterback commit Heinrich Haarberg all season. Even after Big Ten football returned and the Huskers hit the field, we did our best to keep up our coverage.

The investment in covering high school football also led to me becoming Damon Benning’s co-host on the Nebraska Preps Postgame podcast. Every Friday throughout the season, Damon and I hurried back to the Hurrdat Media studios from whatever game we attended that night to break down all the day’s action on the gridiron.

With the Nebraska volleyball season also getting postponed to the spring, and with a handful of future Huskers leading their teams, I decided to cover high school volleyball this season as well. I covered somewhere in the area of 46 matches and 28 different Nebraska teams, and I saw two future Huskers (Elkhorn South’s Rylee Gray and Omaha Skutt’s Lindsay Krause) lead their teams to state titles.

I had covered just two games the year before (one of Gray’s during the regular season and Krause’s 2019 championship match), but that was it. I had a blast covering volleyball this year, trying to figure out how to keep my own stats and keep up with all the action. The level of volleyball talent in this state is ridiculous and deserves to be recognized, and I’m glad I could play a part in doing that.

Then the basketball season arrived at the end of November, and I was back in my element. I watched three varsity boys games, one varsity girls game and one JV boys game in the first three days of the season… and then I came down with COVID-19 and was stuck at home for a few weeks. I did manage to follow games via streams (side note: the expansion of live-streaming games this year was maybe the only good thing to come as a result of the pandemic, especially because it provided high school students the opportunity to call their classmates games and gave valuable experience).

Once I got back on my feet and was free to rejoin the rest of the world, I did my best to make up for lost time while also covering Nebraska basketball and volleyball, my primary beats, once those season began. In total, I attended 102 games and saw 86 different varsity teams (not including teams from outside the state).

In the past I’ve mostly focused on the boys games because that’s where my experienced was and what I knew best, but this year I made more of an effort to provide coverage for girls games as well (30 of them, to be exact). I saw future Huskers Alexis Markowski (Lincoln Pius X) and Allison Weidner (Humphrey St. Francis) cut down the nets with their teams at the end of the state tournament along with a whole host of talented players throughout the season.

On the boys side, this 2021 class was pretty special with Bellevue West’s Chucky Hepburn and Hunter Sallis at the top and too many other players to list that I saw grow over the past four years. I’m grateful I got the chance to help tell these guys’ stories. Damon and I also continued our Nebraska Preps Postgame podcast throughout the basketball seasoned had a blast doing it, and we’re not quite done with it yet, so stay tuned throughout the spring.

In total, I attended 161 high school contests during the 2020-21 season, which is by far the most in my nine years of doing this. One of the coolest things about this job is hearing from the parents of these athletes who are sincerely grateful for the coverage and attention, and that is why I’m so passionate about this. We have a lot of talented kids in this state, and they deserve recognition for their hard work and accomplishments.

I think we’re all expecting somewhat of a return to a normal collegiate sports calendar for 2021–22, so I have no idea at this point what the future holds, but I really enjoyed this season, as strange as it was with limited attendance and everyone wearing masks. I hope you all had as much fun reading my coverage as I had providing it.

I don’t know what exactly things will look like next season, but you can continue to count on Hail Varsity to provide quality preps coverage in addition to some of the best Huskers content you will find.

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