Tilden Elkhorn Valley teammates Amber Miller and Hannah Ollendick will both proudly wear their school’s green and white colors one final time Friday night.
As members of the Light team in the Northeast Nebraska All-Star Basketball Games, the two will be part of the girls game that starts at 6 p.m. followed by the boys contest at 8 at the Cox Activities Center on the campus of Northeast Community College.
Ever since they were little girls, Miller and Ollendick had dreamed of playing in the state basketball tournament. Both were fifth-grade student managers in 2012, which had been the last time a Falcon girls squad had qualified for state.
“When I first saw (Miller), she was a little pipsqueak third-grader,” Elkhorn Valley coach Brendan Dittmer said. “One of the first things I remember about her was she kept getting knocked to the floor all the time in third- and fourth-grade basketball, and she’d always bounce right back up.”
In Ollendick, Dittmer said he saw a younger version of an all-time Falcon great.
“When Hannah was a third-grader, I kind of pegged her. I said ‘You’re my next Katie Rich,’ " he said.
Rich — a 2009 graduate of Elkhorn Valley — became an NAIA all-American at Concordia University in Seward. She’s now Katie Broekemeier and teaches in the Elkhorn Valley school system.
Miller, Ollendick and classmate Sierra Rystrom had success at the youth and junior-high levels, so when the trio entered Elkhorn Valley High School in the fall of 2015, folks in Tilden and Meadow Grove thought the next trip to state could be right around the corner.
“I think this group came in as freshmen and it was kind of expected of them,” Dittmer said.
All three started as freshmen and gained valuable experience during an 11-12 campaign that ended in the subdistrict semifinals.
“We were short on numbers that first year. But once we got the number of girls up, they pushed us and we were able to do more drills, that really helped,” Ollendick said.
The Falcons did improve the next two years with records of 16-8 and 17-7, but both seasons finished with losses in subdistrict finals.
Going into their senior seasons, the three knew they had one final chance to make it to Lincoln and took a 21-4 record into the subdistrict final against a talented Elgin Public/Pope John team. The Falcons prevailed in a hard-fought battle, 44-42.
A few days later, the green and white traveled to Central City for a district final matchup with 20-4 Lawrence-Nelson. With a trip to the state tournament on the line, the Falcons came out on top 49-41 and the folks from Tilden and Meadow Grove made their plans for an early-March weekend in Lincoln.
“We’d been wanting to get down there all four years and this year, we finally connected as a team,” Miller said.
“For them to carry that weight, for the three years prior and to get it done their senior year was probably what made it more special and probably more enjoyable when we got down there,” Dittmer said.
But the Falcons’ opening-round contest against top-seeded North Platte St. Patrick’s was far from enjoyable — at first.
Elkhorn Valley trailed by as many as 14 points in the final quarter but a 3-pointer by Miller early in the fourth started a Falcon comeback that was culminated when Ollendick sank a free throw with 1.6 seconds remaining to give the green and white a 55-54 upset victory.
“That’s one of the more memorable games I’m going to carry away when my career’s all said and done,” Dittmer said. “It was a moment that group of seniors was made for. They worked so hard for it.
“It was good to see the comeback happen and things that we’d worked on in practice all through the four years just kind of came to a full circle for them.”
The Falcons went on to earn a fourth-place trophy after falling to eventual state champion Fremont Bergan in the semifinals and Pleasanton in the consolation game.
“Getting to do that was a really exciting thing,” Miller said. “Even if it was a loss on our last game, getting a state medal wasn’t bad way to end our career.”
Miller felt a little nostalgic as she thought about playing with Ollendick for the last time.
“We were in everything together. We went to so many camps in the summer,” she said. “We were roommates, helping each other out. We weren’t just teammates; we were friends and that makes it a lot easier as a team when you’re really close together.”
Miller’s future roommate and teammate will be one of her opponents on Friday. Norfolk High’s Gabby Ruth and Miller will room together and play volleyball at Mount Marty in Yankton this fall, along with Ruth’s twin sister, Alex.
Unfortunately, Ollendick may not be able to play on Friday.
“I fell on my hand the last all-star game (May 24 in O’Neill), so I went to the doctor and they told me it was fractured,” she said. “I’ll try to practice on Thursday and see how it goes and go from there.”
Ollendick will continue her basketball career at Northeast Community College. “I’ll do my generals during basketball and then apply for the nursing program,” she said.