BENKELMAN — The Dundy County-Stratton Tigers have shown their opponents little mercy this season. Stinging, you might say, from a first round defeat in last year’s state tournament.
Now, at the state tournament for the fourth time in as many season, head coach Nathan Behlke brings a team to Lincoln that is 25-0 and hammering its opponents to the tune of winning by nearly 30 points per contest.
“We definitely have a pretty focused group,” Behlke said. “I am not sure that the goal was necessarily to go undefeated, but they sure want to get back to Pinnacle Bank Arena on Saturday morning.”
The made it in 2015 — beating Howells-Dodge on the semifinals, then the Jags returned the favor in the first round last year — losing a perfect season in the finals to O’Neill St. Mary’s.
Ranked second by the Omaha World-Herald, DCS has played just one team — Class C-1 district finalist Chase County — within 10 points this season. That was a 45-41 win in January.
Senior Aubrey Frederick, a Hastings College volleyball recruit, leads the Class D-1 field in scoring. She averages 16.5 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. Behlke said she’s been tough to guard all season.
“She fell in love with the weight room,” her coach said. “She can jump out of the gym. She really can do it all for us, but she has a bunch of help, too.”
The supporting cast, which features two more senior starters and two sophomores, is a competitive bunch. Fellow seniors Madison Lambley, a spark off the bench, was a medalist at state cross country, and Payton Zarkowski a qualifier for the state golf tournament last fall. Starting guard Emily Jones was on the state volleyball team with Frederick.
“Just great kids and great athletes,” Behlke said. “Emily really makes us go and does all the little things. Payton is probably our best shooter.”
Also in the starting lineup are sophomores Kami Porter (11.1 points) and Adalene Krutsenger (7.5 points, 4.0 rebounds). Porter is second on the team in scoring and combines with Jones for a backcourt that creates havoc for opponents, as they have combined for 170 steals and 136 assists.
“Kami is a go-getter,” Behlke said. “She’s has real quick hands — she steals it from me in practice all the time — and she usually get the job of guarding the opponent’s best player.”
There sights are now set on a bigger goal for a pair of communities that haven’t had much girls basketball success prior to this group of senior who are now 101-7 in their high school career. Benkelman was at state just once in 1984 and Stratton in 1998, neither won a game.
Behlke said the familiarity with Lincoln, the state tournament and this group has helped prepare them for what’s ahead.
“Our seniors know how things get done,” he said. “They have won four district titles, three conference titles. It helps us that we have been down there and it’s not very often you do it four times in a row.
“We’re excited. We are just going to keep at it and go down there and play as hard as we can and see what happens.”