An odd way to begin a story previewing the Hastings High girls basketball season? Maybe.
The thorn in the Tigers’ side as of late? Absolutely.
The York Dukes have caused the Tigers to feel disgust, heartbreak, anger, and then some over the last four years.
The Tigers have watched York gallop into the state tournament two of the last three years after the Dukes ended Hastings’ season in two district finals and one subdistrict semifinal. In 2016, the Dukes sent Hastings packing in the opening round of the Class B state tournament.
Hastings has surely seen enough of York, but head coach Greg Mays knows his team is going to see more of the Dukes in the future, including in their regular season matchup on Dec. 21.
“We better not be over it,” Hastings head coach Greg Mays said. “They’re going to be awful good this year, a lot better than they were last year. I’m not sure we’re ready to even compete with them yet, we’re going to be so young that we’re going to be battling to hopefully by the end of the year be in their ballpark.”
The Tigers will miss four starters and seven seniors from last season, returning just junior Dacey Sealey to the starting lineup. Sealey averaged 9.0 points and 7.0 rebounds per game last season.
Sealey was a key part of the Tiger volleyball team that advanced to state for the first time since 2008. The long season had Mays thinking Sealey should rest before jumping into basketball.
But it turned out that a concussion suffered by Sealey has sidelined her for some of the preseason anyway.
“She’ll miss opening weekend and I know she’s really frustrated,” Mays said. “In the long run I think it’ll be good for her. Hopefully she will have fresh legs in February.”
Hastings has some bench experience returning, but Mays knows his team will have to grow up quickly with its new players on the floor.
“We’re trying to build around Dacey and she can’t even practice,” Mays said.
Mac Long, who hit a game-winning layup to defeat crosstown rival Adams Central last season, will see more of the floor this winter. Long averaged 4.0 points last year, mostly coming in off the bench. She even has some postseason experience after helping guide the Tiger soccer team to Creighton’s Morrison Stadium and the state tournament in May as a fill-in goalie.
“She’s going to be a big part of what we do, although she’s only a sophomore,” Mays said of Long. “She’s really only probably played in 10 or 11 varsity games but she’s going to carry big weight for us.”
KK Laux saw ample playing time during her freshman season as a point guard. She got her first taste of a state tournament in October with the Tiger softball team.
Senior Daelene Hinrichs and junior Lauren Hinrichs are also returning letter-winners.
Mays expects juniors Nyagour Duang and Rileigh Borrell, as well as AC transfer Maddie Hilgendorf to contribute as well. Hilgendorf, a sophomore, played varsity for the Patriots, who went to the Class C-1 state tournament.
“(Hilgendorf) is energetic and loves basketball. I think she can help us but she’s also a sophomore,” Mays said. “She’s played in more varsity games and has a little more varsity experience than some of our girls did. So maybe that comes in handy.”
Mays said, other than experience, the one thing Hastings is missing is a bigger body that can also handle the ball.
“We don’t have that big guard/forward; somebody who can guard a guard and rebound against a post,” Mays said. “That’s what we’re really missing. The kinds of things Kamri Adler or the Steiner sisters (Megan and Mariah) did last year. We’ve kind of got a hole right there.”
The Tigers played just 18 games last season. Most notably, their conference tournament was canceled due to weather.
Hastings also had some bad luck before the holiday break when senior leader Abby DeWitt experienced torn ligaments in her leg that required season-ending surgery.
Without one of their senior leaders and best players, the Tigers had a difficult time finishing out the season.
“What we lost was just a ton of scoring punch,” Mays said. “We were able to keep it floating for a while once Abby went out…Abby was probably our primary threat that could score two or three different ways. What it left us with was a lot of girls who could score one way. It put a lot of pressure on us and we were never able to establish any consistency out there.”
Mays isn’t quite sure yet where scoring might come from this season either.
“The big question is who is going to score. That’s what we were left with last year,” he said. “Mac will definitely look to score. She’s the greediest player we’ve had since Sophia Pankratz. Greed is good on the offensive side. She wants to score. Then, Dacey, she has long deferred to the older girls. This year I think she looked around and said, ‘Holy cow, if I don’t score, we might only score 15 points.’ So she started taking the ball to the hoop.
“I think KK Laux could be a shooter for us. I think Daelene Hinrichs could be a scorer, more of a driver. And can Lauren Hinrichs turn that height (6-foot, 1-inch) into some points? There’s a lot of ifs and buts out there.”