CRETE, NE – The Crete girls’ basketball team was something of a wildcard when the season began.
The Cardinals (16-4), in July, said goodbye to five-year head coach Isaiah Dell, who took the same job at Lincoln Southeast.
That got Crete thinking – who do we know from Lincoln Southeast?
A month later, former Knight’s girls coach and future hall-of-famer John Larsen was the named the next head coach of the Cardinals.
“The community has been great, the kids have been great,” Larsen said. “They’ve made it an easy transition for me. So far, things are working out really well.”
Crete knew they hit a home run. Over a 30-year span, Larsen’s record at LSE was 560-169. 29 consecutive winning seasons. 25 consecutive state tournament appearances. Nine state championships.
He had the credentials. What he had to work with at Crete – a team that went 12-11 the year prior and that hasn’t been to the state tournament since 2007.
The upside – Crete graduated only one senior, Camry Moore, last season. She was a key player, ranking second on the team with 11.8 points per contest.
The top scorer, Morgan Maly, returned. The 2017 all-state pitcher and state champion in softball led the Cardinals in 2017-18 with 18.3 points and 8.5 rebounds per game as a sophomore.
In her junior season, Maly, who verbally committed to Creighton women’s hoops in December, has the Cardinals soaring. Crete has won nine straight games dating back to Jan. 11. The streak was headlined by a Central Conference Tournament championship win (39-31) over No. 4 Seward on Jan. 26.
“We’ve grown a lot,” Maly said. “We’re still really young. As we’ve progressed throughout the season, Coach Larsen has done a great job of taking the younger players under his wing, and giving them confidence.
“We’ve just grown together. We’re clicking right now, and our chemistry is really good. That’s been evident over the last month, and we’re just really excited to finish out strong.”
The win streak started with a 51-37 home victory over York on Jan. 11. Since then, Blair, Columbus, Schuyler, Lexington, No. 7 GI Northwest, and No. 4 Seward, twice, have all fallen to Crete.
Maly has been the focal point, leading Crete and Class B with 19.8 points per game. Her 8.4 rebounds per contest is the eighth best average in the state.
While the 6-foot guard/forward can get downhill quickly, she’s also a serious perimeter threat. Her 43 made three-pointers are the second most of any player in Class B. Her 37.7 percent success rate from beyond the are is the third highest in the same class.
“She’s been the focus of every team’s defense,” Larsen said. “She hasn’t had any easy games where she can just catch and shoot, or just take a couple dribbles and get to the basket. She has someone on her all the time. Sometimes, two players. So, to still be able to average 20 points per game with defenses stacked against you is a true testament to how good she really is.”
Maly said it – the team is still young. The Cardinals again have just one senior this season. Kayla Fitzgerald. As of now, it appears that Crete will return every starter next year.
Under Larsen’s tutelage, the sky is the limit for Maly.
“He’s a smart guy,” Maly said. “He knows what to do. He got us all to buy into his scheme and game plan. He gets us excited to play. We just love playing for him, because he’s a great coach and he gives us a lot of confidence. It’s been a really easy transition and we’re very grateful for him.”
No. 1 Crete is on the road Thursday night to face Platteview (13-8). Tip-off from Springfield is set for 6 p.m. Coverage begins at 5:35 on Ol’ Red 99.5. The game can be heard at 99.5 FM or live here.
Hear the full interview with Morgan below.
You can follow Tommy on Twitter @Tommy_NCN.