NORFOLK, Neb. — They’re back.
Two years later, the Crofton Warriors are back in a familiar setting: The Nebraska State Girls Basketball Tournament.
It’s what they’ve thought about for the past 12 months.
A year after coming up short of qualifying for the state tournament, Crofton cruised past Twin River 48-25 in Friday evening’s District C2-2 matchup in Norfolk to secure a place at state.
“We were talking about that before the game, that we knew what it felt like to be down and not get there,” senior Josie Sanger said.
“We all just thought, ‘That isn’t happening this year.’ We didn’t want to feel that way again.”
Crofton (21-3) has now advanced to the state tournament for the 13th time in 15 seasons under head coach Aaron Losing, who has guided the Warriors to eight state championships.
Not having that opportunity last season, though, proved to be all the motivation the team needed this season.
“Coach brought it up at the beginning of the season, and we worked 10 times harder in practice,” senior Aubree Potts said.
“Even just this week, we put in a lot of hard work. We didn’t want that feeling again.”
The team’s three seniors — Sanger, Potts and Danielle Steffen — took the reins on making sure the Warriors were primed for a big season in 2019, according to Losing.
“Our seniors, they’re a real motivated group,” he said. “They put in tons of work in the off-season, and I’m really pleased for those kids.”
Still, though, Twin River (13-11) didn’t let Crofton run away with things in the early stages Friday at Norfolk Catholic High School.
The Warriors led 7-4 after the first quarter and then 21-14 at halftime.
“We were nervous, I think,” Sanger said. “We told each other, ‘We haven’t won anything yet.’
“But they put up a good fight; gave us a run.”
A three-pointer by junior Alexis Arens midway through the third quarter gave Crofton a 28-16 lead, and the Warriors led by double digits the rest of the game.
Sophomore Kaley Einrem led Crofton with 18 points, three assists and four steals, while Sanger added 15 points, five rebounds, four assists and three steals.
On a night where sophomore Lacey Sprakel (eight points, five rebounds) and Arens (five points, four steals) didn’t get as much as space inside, the tandem of Sanger and Einrem came up big, according to Losing.
“They’re both capable of that,” he said. “We like our balance, so we know they don’t always need to do that.”
In the end, it was the team aspect that won the day for the Warriors, according to Potts. She said the players have embraced a ‘We Over Me’ motto this season.
“You never want to think about yourself; it’s always about the team and the girls around you,” Potts said.
“It’s really special to do this with these girls.”
Crofton will await its seed, opponent and time for the first round of the Nebraska State Tournament, which begins Thursday in Lincoln.
Those three seniors will again provide the leadership for the Warriors, who won a state title in 2016 but were then eliminated in the first round in 2017.
“They were freshmen the last time we won a championship, and they’ve been very hungry to get back there and see what they can do,” Losing said.
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