Over the past 15 years, Humphrey St. Francis has been one of the top Class D boys basketball programs in the state.
That statement is more fact than opinion, and another source of evidence this week further strengthened that.
The Flyers entered this season having played for a conference championship 11 times in the last 14 seasons. After Tuesday’s 78-35 victory over Nebraska Christian in the Goldenrod Conference tournament quarterfinals, St. Francis will have a chance to make it 12 conference finals in 15 years when it takes on Riverside at St. Paul on Friday.
“I didn’t realize that,” St. Francis coach Eric Kessler said. “It’s certainly a nice accomplishment for our school and our program. We don’t certainly dwell on it or talk about it. We take it one year at a time and try to do the best we can.”
In that time, the Flyers have won three straight Goldenrod Conference championships (2015 through 2017) and four straight Cornhusker Conference championships (2007 through 2010) as part of eight league titles won.
“I don’t know if we necessarily think about it. I mean, that’s a goal going into the year is to win the conference tournament championship,” coach Eric Kessler said. “That’s always one of our major goals. ... I don’t think we think about how well we’ve done in the past; we’re always looking forward. It’s certainly something of a goal of the season, kind of something where we always want to be playing our best basketball at that time as well.”
The last time that St. Francis did not win its opening conference tournament game was in the 2004-05 season, which the Flyers ended with a state runner-up finish despite a 15-11 final record.
After that, it was five straight trips to the conference finals, with the last four resulting in championships, and after a loss in the 2011 semifinals, the Flyers won the final Cornhusker Conference title in 2012. Their fourth-place finish in 2013 is the worst they have fared in its previous eight seasons playing in the Goldenrod Conference — and they have a chance to qualify this season for the finals for the sixth time.
“We've had a lot of great players who have worked very hard who have continued to keep things rolling in the right direction,” Kessler said.
The success in conference tournaments has helped springboard the program into bigger and better things, too. Eleven of its 25 all-time state tournament appearances, or 44%, have come during this 15-year stretch. Almost half (6 of 13) of its all-time state championship game appearances have come during this period, including titles in 2006 and 2016.
Nine times in that stretch, the Flyers have finished with at least 20 victories, and one other finished with 18.
What makes this year’s Flyers — off to a 12-0 start this season — different from previous years?
“That’s a good question,” Kessler said before zeroing in on two key areas — depth and inside scoring.
“We’ve always had talented guys who work hard, so we’ve been fortunate in that, but we’ve got guys who are really good who don’t get to play much,” he said. “Right now, we’re playing nine pretty evenly. That depth has been big with how we play and push the ball.”
He also lauded the play of post players Evan Foltz, Dylan Wemhoff and Kolbe Classen, all of whom are seniors.
“I think our big guys have really developed into more scoring,” Kessler said. “Usually, they’re more role players. This year, we’ve got some guys who have been able to score inside, which has helped take some of the pressure off some of our guards and guys who we’ve relied on for scoring in the past.”
But before any of that can happen, St. Francis will have its work cut out in making it to its 12th league title game in the last 15 seasons, however.
Yes, the Flyers own an 86-33 victory over the Chargers. But since then, Riverside has enjoyed the return of all-state athlete and four-year starter Tredyn Prososki to the lineup.
“I haven’t seen a lot of Class A games, but he’s one of the better players in any class, I would say,” Kessler said. “He could play in any level. ... He changes the whole dynamic. He’s a good ball-handler, and the rest of the guys play better when he’s there. Seeing them on film, it’s just a totally different team.
“They’re a top 10 team in D1 for sure, and I think there’s a great chance they’ll be in the state tournament. We have our hands full on Friday for sure.”
Battle Creek was the big mover this week, rising four spots to third — a move that was, at least in part, caused by previously third-ranked Oakland-Craig’s big loss against top-ranked Bancroft-Rosalie/Lyons-Decatur. The Braves have won all five games played in January — three against teams with winning records, including a victory at then-No. 8 Lutheran High Northeast. Oakland-Craig, Wayne, Ponca and Hartington Cedar Catholic all slid down one spot each.
The biggest debate came for the No. 8 spot.
Wisner-Pilger was in position to join this week’s ratings following a victory against Logan View/Scribner-Snyder, but the Gators fell to Twin River on Tuesday. Previous No. 8 Lutheran High lost to Battle Creek but bounced back to defeat Walthill. Twin River has won 10 of its past 12 games, but it’s hard to ignore a 31-point loss to Battle Creek when Lutheran High — which beat Twin River by 15 in December — played the Braves to within seven points last week. Also garnering serious consideration was Creighton (9-4), but the Bulldogs have just three wins against Class C competition.
So, after all that is considered, Lutheran High stays at No. 8 for right now.
The Class D ratings did not change.