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YORK — Matt Kern can kind of laugh about it now, his York Duke girls basketball story.

“Oh man,” he said, counting backwards. “2006-2007 was my first year. We were 2-17.”

Seems like a long time ago now, but Kern was intent on building a program. One built for the long haul. One that resembled this hard-working community just off the interstate.

Tayte Hansen, Jenny Kadavy and Kennedy Mogul were second graders back then. Almost ready for Kern’s Duke Hoops junior program which they could start in third grade.

On Thursday at Pinnacle Bank Arena, Hansen will be the first Duke to ever play in four state tournaments when York faces Elkhorn at 10:45 a.m in the quarterfinal round. Kadavy and Mogul will play in their third. Most from their community will follow their bus to Lincoln.

The opportunity is not lost on Hansen, who is second on the team in scoring and averages 9.3 points per contest.

Tayte Hansen passes against Aurora in a regular season matchup.

“It is a really big accomplishment to make it to the state tournament,” Hansen said. “It shows the hard work and dedication we have put in together throughout the season. And knowing that there are a lot of teams whose season ended last week, but we get to keep playing, humbles us in the fact that we better take every opportunity we get to play together.”

That’s a quote, today, that seems a real long way away from 2-17, now that the Dukes have cemented themselves as a perennial power in Class B. Kern knows it’s part luck, part hard work to get where the Dukes are.

“A lot of desire and hard work by a lot of people,” he said. “Our administration has always been great. With great parents around us and girls who want to be pushed and have the desire to work hard and be competitive that makes it all work.”

The Dukes were one of the early powers in the state tournament — celebrating its 40th tournament this year — winning championships in 1978 and 1979. When Kern showed up, they hadn’t won a game in Lincoln since the 1979 finals and had been to state just three times.

In his desire to build a program, his current Dukes know a few things. First, that the girls before them would always be a part of future success. And, summer trips would be a time for team building that Kern hopes might help them develop trust in close games and pressure-filled situations like this week.

Hansen says both work. She’s been on both sides of Kern’s program. As the girl looking up and as the one making a difference.

“Coach Kern has always done camps and the high school girls would come and help us and be our coaches,” Hansen said. “So getting to see how much the program meant to them and having them be there meant a ton to us as little kids.”

“We looked up to them and always aspired to be the players that they were.”

Now, they have other little girls looking at them, including the coaches daughter. Just as important to Hansen as she readies for her final few times in a Duke uniform.

“It means a lot to us,” she said, “because we remember when we were those little girls playing with the high school girls and now that we are the high school girls we want to make an impact on the little girls who come to camps.”

All part of building a program and not just having a few good seasons every now and then, the Dukes have also taken summer trips to Wyoming and Kansas the past few years to encourage team building. Last summer they went to a cabin near Manhattan, KS and didn’t play any basketball.

They went ziplining and to The Escape Room.

“We talked a lot last summer about overcoming fears,” Kern said. “We get into some deep talks in the summer. It helps our kids to be real and to be willing to be real for your teammates.”

It’s been a key part of the 22-3 Dukes success this season. York can attack you in a variety of ways, like they did in the B-5 district when they used 22 points from junior Lauren Riley to beat Hastings 48-28. The next night, in the 44-42 district final over Aurora, no one scored more than nine.

Riley leads the Dukes at 14.6 points per game, and after Hansen, Carsyn Zumpfe averages nine points and 4.5 rebounds. Tenly Hansen, Tayte’s sister, chips in 8.7 points.

Kadavy does a little bit of everything with 2.6 points, but 4.6 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.5 steals. “An angry defender,” Kern said. “And one of our most underrated players.”

They thought Mogul – a spark off the bench – was done for good on when she broke a bone in the top her hand in the conference semifinal against Aurora. The Dukes lost 66-45. She scores 4.4 points off the bench in 18 games and was cleared for district play.

“Kennedy is so important to what we do,” Kern said. “We thought she was done, but was a big spark for us at districts. She can really defend inside and outside for us.”

Elkhorn is a familiar opponent, beating the Dukes 43-31 in the York Holiday Tournament on December 30. A situation that happened two years ago when the Dukes turned the table at state.

“We hope to do the same this year,” the coach said. “We’ll have to be tougher offensively and play better defense. Elkhorn is playing really well.”

They’ll be in Lincoln with the foundation of a program set. One that took patience and hard work and effort. All things that Kern hopes are leading to lessons learned not just for his current players but future Dukes as well.

If he had a doubt, his players are listening.

“We don’t care who scores the points or who plays when, so there isn’t any drama ever,” Hansen said. “We all want the same goal. Honestly, that is probably why we are so close together because on those team trips we would have deep conversations that most of the girls hadn’t shared with other people.

“Everyone gained a new trust for each other and we connected through more than just being on the same basketball team, we all became best friends.”

Those are the real basketball lessons in York. Lessons way bigger than any result at the state tournament.

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Tony has been covering prep sports in Nebraska since 1998. He has worked for three weekly newspapers and has written for the Grand Island Independent since 2003.
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