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Thoughts on a Busy Friday of High School Hoops

December 11, 2021

Friday was a busy day for high school basketball, despite the snow that altered the schedule for some and made travel difficult for others.

One team traveled outside Nebraska’s borders to make history, a sophomore superstar went off and a potential Class B contender scored a big conference road win.

Here are some thoughts on all of that and more.

Vashon (MO) 53, Grand Island 41

The Islanders, featuring a top-100 player nationally in Virginia commit Isaac Traudt, made the trip down to Mizzou Arena on Friday to compete in the Norm Stewart Classic, an annual event benefitting Coaches vs. Cancer and Special Olympics that features teams from Missouri and across the country.

Grand Island took on Vashon, a team out of St. Louis that has produced a number of Division I recruits, on ESPNU, becoming the first high school team from Nebraska to play a game on national television.

The Islanders fell behind in the second quarter, rallied to tie the game at halftime, took the lead in the third quarter then went cold in the fourth as Vashon pulled away for the win.

Traudt got off to a slow start, missing five of his first six shots. Then he finished through contact midway through the second quarter and it got him going as he hit his next three shots to finish with 11 points in the first half.

Traudt continued to roll after halftime, scoring 12 more points in the third quarter including this monster dunk midway through.

Vashon led 35-33 at the end of three, however, and won the fourth quarter 18-8 to seal the victory. Traudt split a pair of free throws and missed a 3, but otherwise didn’t get any other opportunities to shoot the ball in the fourth.

By my count, the 6-foot-9 senior finished with 24 points on 10-of-19 from the field (2-of-7 from 3) and 2-of-4 from the free-throw line with eight rebounds, four assists (two for layups and two for 3-pointers), two blocks and a steal.

Traudt showed what makes him special, and the Islanders as a whole did a great job of battling all game long. Barrett Olson hit a couple of big 3s, Jacob Nesvara made a few plays and the Islanders did a good job of funneling ball-handlers to Traudt in the middle of a 2-3 zone to make scoring at the rim difficult.

Vashon’s ball pressure proved too much for Grand Island to deal with, however, as the Islanders turned the ball over too many times to keep up down the stretch.

Grand Island will get one more game down in Columbia as the Islanders will face Blue Valley (KS) at 9 p.m.

Elkhorn North 79, Bennington 48 (Girls)

I watched Grand Island play on TV, and then I made the drive out to Elkhorn North for the girls and boys varsity double-header.

The Wolves brought everybody back from last year’s Class B state champion, and and Friday they looked even better than they did last season.

Sophomore sensation Britt Prince, who already holds more than 20 Division I offers, is the headliner, but Elkhorn North is far from a one-girl show. Their defense is relentless and all five Wolves play on a string. I counted 27 Bennington turnovers, 22 of which were Elkhorn North steals.

Eighteen of those Badger turnovers came in the first half as Elkhorn North raced out to a 51-21 lead at the break and then cruised through the second half.

Prince saw every defense imaginable as a freshman last year. At times, some of those junk defenses were effective in slowing Elkhorn North down as others struggled to put the ball in the basket. That’s no longer the case.

Bennington opened in a diamond-and-one, having one defender face-guard Prince in the half court while the others zoned up. So Elkhorn North simply swung the ball a few times and senior Reilly Palmer made the Badgers pay, hitting catch-and-shoot 3s on the Wolves’ first two possessions, then stealing the in-bounds pass and laying it in plus a foul for another three points to start the game. Palmer, a College of St. Mary’s commit, scored 12 points in the first quarter before cooling off and finishing with 14 for the game.

Grace Thompson (10 points, four rebounds, three assists and two steals) and Molly Bruggeman (six points, seven rebounds, three steals and two assists). Four others scored as well.

But the diamond-and-one didn’t last long, and Prince found success against every defense Bennington throwout there. She got going with 13 points in the second quarter and finished with 36 on 15-of-25 shooting. Prince has a soft touch on her floater and she’s better with her off-hand than a lot of players are with their dominant one. She only shot 3-of-10 from 3-point range on Friday, but most of the misses were right on line and she has a smooth stroke.

Prince isn’t just a scorer, though. She also recorded four rebounds, four assists (including a precise behind-the-back dime in transition), eight steals and one block. Prince is a terrific passer with a great feel for the game, and her anticipation and hand-eye coordination on defense are special as well. It’s crazy to think she’s only just begun her sophomore season.

As for Bennington, the Badgers weren’t ready to handle Elkhorn North’s pressure, but senior forward Emma John did show an ability to score inside. She battled foul trouble all game but still finished with 12 points and nine rebounds.

Bennington 67, Elkhorn North 58 (Boys)

The boys game proved to be more competitive than the girls, but the visiting Badgers fended off a fourth-quarter rally from the Wolves to pick up their second win of the season.

Elkhorn North led 13-11 after one, then Bennington pulled ahead 26-25 at halftime.

Then, after a quiet first half, Bennington senior Austin Holtz took over. The 5-foot-10 guard led the Badgers in scoring last season but missed all five of his shots in the first half. The he converted a tough driving half-hook and that got him going as he scored 10 points in third to help the Badger spill ahead by seven.

Elkhorn North opened the fourth quarter with a four-point play from senior Jack Lusk, but Bennington had an answer for every bucket by the Wolves. Elkhorn North briefly cut its deficit to three at 58-55 with two minutes to go, but the Badgers scored the next six points to seal the victory.

Holtz scored seven more in the fourth to finish with 17 while junior Trey Bird led all scorers with 18.

It was sophomore Gunnar Lym that tilted things in Bennington’s favor, however. With starting forward Isaac Conner in foul trouble, the 6-foot Lym cam off the bench to score a game-high nine points in the first half before finishing with 15 on 100% shooting. He worked the baseline well and converted some tough buckets, using head fakes to get defenders off their feet and finishing through contact over taller defenders. Lym scored five points in the season-opener then nine in Bennington’s previous game, and he’s made 12 of his 15 field goals through three games this season.

Senior Brandon Orgilbold led the Wolves with 14 points and five rebounds while junior Paxon Piatkowski, the nephew of Nebrasketball legend Eric Piatkowski, added 10 points.

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