PONCA – Over the past six years, the Ponca girls basketball team has qualified for the state tourney most recently for the fourth time and were one win away from a state title this past season.
After finishing their 2019 campaign with a loss in the opening round of the state tournament, Ponca was right back in the postseason this time making it to their second-ever championship game.
Head coach, Bob Hayes recently completed his fourth season leading the Ponca girls. He said they entered the year with some experience and then younger girls who didn’t have a lot of varsity experience.
“Blending those two together was, not that the girls were going to give us problems or anything, but just blending the talents together was a challenge for us,” said Hayes. “We thought it really worked out; we just seemed to get better as the year went on.”
The Ponca girls started off strong with a nine-game winning streak which included winning their division during the Shootout on the Elkhorn. Following tough home losses to BRLD (54-48) and Crofton (44-33) who both finished with over 20 wins, Ponca again put together a stretch of eight consecutive wins. The Indians dropped a three-point game (53-50) to Wynot in the Lewis & Clark Conference championship game.
After winning against a team from South Dakota (Elk Point-Jefferson), Ponca topped Homer during the regular season finale and then in the opening round of the C2-4 subdistrict tourney. The Indians suffered a 47-33 loss to Guardian Angels Central Catholic in the title game but earned a wild card in the district final where it came down to foul shots in a 39-37 win over Lourdes Central Catholic of Nebraska City.
Coach Hayes added the team really prided on their defense.
“It got us through,” Hayes added. “We had told them when we started the subdistricts that there’s going to be games where our defense is going to have to carry us because our offense isn’t always going to be there. We told them tonight is one of those night’s where our defense carried us.”
Ponca entered state as the #4 seed in the Class C2 bracket with a 21-4 record. The Indians first took control of #5 Grand Island Central Catholic 56-38 before avenging the season-ending loss the year prior by defeating #1 Oakland-Craig 51-43. Oakland-Craig finished third in 2019 and fourth this past season.
After making it back-to-back state tourney appearances, it was the upperclassmen experience that pushed away the nerves.
“We told the girls that we had to play well against Oakland and take care of the ball and rebound and things like that against them,” Hayes mentioned. “They responded very well, played a good defensive game against Oakland and offensively we were happy with how the game was going.”
Ponca then suffered a 41-37 loss in the championship game to #3 Hastings St. Cecilia. The Indians ended the year with a record of 23-5.
The senior group was the first group of freshman girls that coach Hayes had the opportunity to coach and they included Maggie McGill, Kaci Day, Bree Gill, Meg Keller and Morgan Nelson.
“Led by example and were hard workers,” said Hayes. “Every day they came into practice and they just gave it their all. They’re a group that never took a possession off, set a great example for our younger girls and hopefully our younger girls were paying attention.”
Day paced Ponca in scoring (15.3), rebounding (6.6) and steals (2.4) per game. Day, who was named to the C2 All-State Team, set three individual school records being free throws in a season (139); field goal percentage in a season (55%) and field goal percentage in a career (54.7%) while ending fifth all-time in Ponca scoring history with 994 points. As of mid-April, Day was being recruited by Concordia (Seward) and Doane.
Coach Hayes added that next year’s group will have to step up their intensity for each and every possession.
“That was something that we’re going to have to replace with our seniors,” Hayes added. “Because the experience that they had, understood that. And I think that’s the biggest thing is knowing that you can’t just go into a game. You got to have a sense of urgency when you take the floor and you got to understand in big games the little things really count.”
Freshman Ashlyn Kingsbury only missed one game being the subdistrict championship game due to an injury but finished the year with 11.1 points per game (second) and third in rebounding on the team (4.2). Fellow freshman, Samantha Ehlers was third on the team in scoring with 7.2 points per game and second in rebounding with 4.5. Junior Alyssa Crosgrove was fourth in scoring (6.1) and second in assists per game (2.2).
Senior Maggie McGill led the team in assists with 2.3 per game while scoring 3.9 points per game which was fifth-best on the team.