In three of the past four seasons, the Stuart Broncos finished with a winning record. Over that span, they've compiled a total record of 51-36.
However, a little extra work would need to go into maintaining those marks in 2022-23.
The Broncos entered the season with a young roster, featuring two seniors (also the only returning starters), two juniors, four sophomores and seven freshmen.
More than halfway through the regular season, Stuart already has 11 wins and looks the part of that consistent winner. Coach John Miller notes that the young players, many of whom had no varsity experience coming in, are playing with a lot more confidence right now.
"You can kind of see it in the intensity in drills and practice," he said. "Especially in the games, it's the body language and stuff. They just look pretty comfortable right now."
Many of those new to the varsity level are among those making big contributions to the cause.
The team's two seniors, Schuyler Mustin (20.6 points per game) and Anthony Heiser (8 ppg), lead the team in scoring.
Not far behind is freshman Drew Schmaderer, who averages 7.1 a game and is 13 for 40 on 3-pointers so far. Another freshman, Kaden Ramm, is 11 for 45 on 3s.
Ben Paxton and Hunter Tubbs are two sophomores seeing time as well. The aforementioned players all have played at least 50 quarters this season.
"I feel good about our depth," Miller said. "I'm not too worried about, I guess, foul trouble and things like that."
The extra work that would be needed in the offseason has so far "come along nicely," in the words of Miller. Many teams in Nebraska are either senior laden or have more young players. Miller sees a healthy combination of both on the Broncos.
"A lot of teams are either experience-laden juniors or seniors or they just call them young and I guess we're kind of a little bit of everything," he said. "We play freshmen, we play sophomores, we play juniors, we play a couple of seniors.
"I don't see it as a grade thing, I think they've done a pretty good job of just figuring out how to play some good basketball and go from there."
Perhaps the Broncos' biggest win thus far came on Jan. 13, a 52-50 triumph over Elgin Public/Pope John in overtime on the road. It was the kind of game that the team needed, one in which they were able to show they could get over the hump.
"You get into those late situations and sometimes there can be a little doubt," Miller said, "So to be able to get that win was huge just from a confidence standpoint and to keep moving forward with the rest of our season."
The next game a week later took a turn in the other direction, as the Broncos fell 84-81 to Santee on the road. The team didn't get back home until midnight and had a home game the next day against Class C1's Valentine.
Miller was curious to see how his team would come out in that game following an emotional one that didn't break their way.
The answer? Soundly.
Stuart went on to beat Valentine 57-41. Two days later, in its most recent game, the team beat Burke, South Dakota, 63-20.
"I thought we came out ready to play," Miller said of the Valentine game. "I thought our kids were energized, and I thought that was a great sign."
Stuart will be the No. 4 seed in the upcoming Niobrara Valley Conference tournament. Making a deep run and keeping that momentum going into subdistricts will entail taking care of the little things, which Miller hopes will help his team close out big games.
"All those little things we keep stressing and we want to get rid of those things because when you get into those tight games like that," Miller said, "those little possessions make a big difference."
O'Neill is back in the ratings for the first time since the preseason, bumping out Laurel-Concord-Coleridge. This makes the top six teams of this week's ratings members of the Mid-State Conference. The Bears are still receiving consideration along with Wakefield, Lutheran High Northeast and Clarkson/Leigh.
Santee cracks the ratings for the first time all season after a win over Stuart. This puts it above the Broncos and kicks out Elgin Public/Pope John, which lost to Wausa earlier in the year. O'Neill St. Mary's joins the Wolfpack as a team under consideration.
Hartington Cedar Catholic's impressive résumé got even stronger this past week. The Trojans came back to beat Wayne on the road in double overtime after being down 11 in the first quarter. This accompanied wins against Guardian Angels Central Catholic and Ponca. Cedar Catholic did fall to South Sioux City, a team rated fifth in Class B, on the road by three. The Trojans return to action on Tuesday, when they host either GACC or Crofton in the quarterfinals of the Mid-State Conference tournament.
Wayne's loss to the Trojans will sting for a bit. The Blue Devils have the resources to be just as good as they have been the past two years. It's really a matter of staying consistent for four quarters. Wayne will host West Point-Beemer on Thursday. Then on Tuesday, they'll start the Mid-State Conference off with a tough test; a quarterfinal showdown against …
Norfolk Catholic, which handled Lutheran High on Friday before falling to O'Neill on Tuesday. Much like the Blue Devils, the pieces for the Knights are still there to make another deep run. For them, it's about not only being consistent on offense, but also taking care of the ball. Norfolk Catholic heads south on Highway 81 on Friday to face Humphrey St. Francis before opening the Mid-State tournament with Wayne. The teams played for the conference title a year ago, with the Blue Devils prevailing by four.
Pierce bounced back from losing its first two games of the year with wins over Battle Creek and West Point-Beemer. Like the rest of the field, the Bluejays will have a tough task in the Mid-State tournament. However, not only do the Bluejays host their quarterfinal game against Battle Creek on Monday, but Pierce High hosts both the semifinals and finals. It's a big edge that could bode well for the black and blue. Just ask Wayne, which won the tournament a year ago on its home court.
O'Neill has been one of the hottest teams in the area over the past month. Since losing at home to Wayne in double overtime on Dec. 17, the Eagles have rattled off 10 straight wins, including one at Boone Central and one at home against Creighton. The team has shot 46% from the field and 35% from 3 in that span. The Eagles host Atkinson West Holt on Thursday. Then on Tuesday, they'll start the Mid-State tournament with a quarterfinal bout against …
Boone Central, which picked up wins against Ord and Columbus Scotus, then fell on the road to a tough Central City team on Tuesday. Boone Central has been consistent all year, but now comes a part of the schedule it's struggled with. The team has faced five Mid-State opponents this year and lost to four of them, the exception being Norfolk Catholic. Boone Central faces Battle Creek on Thursday before taking on O'Neill.
Elkhorn Valley picked up wins against Creighton, Boyd County and Osmond/Randolph this past week before adding the cherry on top on Tuesday, a come-from-behind win over Summerland. To be able to show that kind of resilience against a great team in the Niobrara Valley Conference and your own subdistrict speaks volumes. The Falcons host either Atkinson West Holt or Neligh-Oakdale on Monday in the conference tournament quarterfinals.
Summerland still probably has a bad taste in its mouth after the most recent loss. This is a young team that tightened up just a little as the Elkhorn Valley game went on. That said, it is a game it led by 10 at one point, an impressive feat on its own. The Bobcats will need to regroup quickly. They travel to face Wausa on Thursday, then host either Chambers/Wheeler Central or O'Neill St. Mary's in the NVC tournament quarterfinals on Monday.
Howells-Dodge picked up wins over Tekamah-Herman, Pender and Battle Creek this past week, winning by an average of 22.3 points. The Jaguars are now winners of 13 straight games and will look to keep it going with an East Husker Conference tournament championship on their minds. That quest begins on Tuesday, when the team hosts either Oakland-Craig or West Point-Beemer in the quarterfinals.
Wynot won its only game this week, a 57-48 game over Plainview. The Blue Devils are about to be tested in the Lewis & Clark Conference tournament. The team is rated No. 1 but is by far the smallest competing school. Before then, they'll hit the road to face Ponca on Thursday. Once the tournament starts, Wynot will have a tough opener against Winnebago at home.
Creighton had another tough week, losing to Elkhorn Valley and O'Neill St. Mary's. The Bulldogs have lost four straight and, although they were all to quality opponents, the team will need to right the ship fast. Creighton hosts North Central on Thursday. Then on Tuesday, the Bulldogs host Bloomfield in the quarterfinals of the Lewis & Clark tournament.
Bancroft-Rosalie beat Humphrey/Lindsay Holy Family on Friday, then lost to Winnebago on Tuesday. The Panthers are an athletic, talented and balanced team that can play with anybody when they're on. As tournaments draw near, it's a matter of staying "on," and a big part of that equation includes playing as a group. Bancroft-Rosalie begins a big test Saturday, when it hosts Tekamah-Herman in the first round of the East Husker tournament.
Humphrey St. Francis placed second in the Goldenrod Conference tournament last week, losing to Nebraska Christian 69-56 in the final. The Flyers then handled St. Edward 69-24 on the road on Tuesday. The Flyers have pieces to make noise, but doing so involves beating the Nebraska Christians of the state. St. Francis will be tested heavily this week with games against Norfolk Catholic on Friday and Lutheran High Northeast on Saturday, then Central Valley on Tuesday.
Santee's had an eventful week. The Warriors beat Stuart 84-81 on Friday in a big Niobrara Valley Conference win. Austyn Saul scored 25 points in the contest, enough to put him over 1,000 points for his career. Santee now has the highest wild-card rating in Class D2 and also will have the No. 1 seed in the NVC tournament. Its next game will be Monday, Jan. 30, in the quarterfinals against either Boyd County or North Central.
Stuart continues to show itself as one of the more fundamentally sound teams in the area, even with such a young roster. That will be tested from the get-go in the Niobrara Valley tournament. The Broncos will face either Niobrara/Verdigre or Elgin Public/Pope John (which they previously beat in overtime) in the quarterfinals. Should they win, it's possible they see Santee in the semifinals. Before then, they'll host St. Mary's on Thursday.
Wausa lost its only game of the week 48-35 to Winside on the road. The Vikings have now lost five of their past six games after starting the season 7-1. The purple and gold need to get more out of the roster outside of Jaxon Claussen, who often has been one of two, or the only one, registering double digits. The immediate future doesn't get easier. Wausa hosts Summerland on Thursday and Tri County Northeast on Friday. Then the Vikings face a tough Wakefield team on Monday in the Lewis & Clark quarterfinals.
GAMES TO WATCH
Thursday: O'Neill St. Mary's at Stuart, Laurel-Concord-Coleridge at Wakefield, Summerland at Wausa
Friday: Norfolk Catholic at Humphrey St. Francis
Saturday: Humphrey St. Francis at Lutheran High Northeast
Monday: Lewis & Clark Conference quarterfinals: Winnebago at Wynot, Wausa vs. Wakefield.
Tuesday: Mid-State Conference quarterfinals: Norfolk Catholic vs. Wayne, O'Neill vs. Boone Central, Pierce vs. Battle Creek.