WYMORE, NE – Basketball has always been big in the Murphy household.
When Mariah Murphy was born, her father and now head coach, Jeff, got the “ball rolling” as quickly as possible.
“I know when I was born in the hospital, he put a little rubber basketball in my crib,” Mariah said. “He and my mom (Kelli) have been coaching me since I was in fourth grade.”
It’s now Mariah’s senior year at Southern, and her dad really has the ball rolling now – the Raiders are off to a 7-0 start for the first time since 2013-14, which just so happens to be the last time Southern had a winning season in girls’ basketball.
“The kids are really confident in what they’re doing right now,” Jeff Murphy said. “The last couple of years, we’ve been about a .500 team, so to start the year at 7-0, if we can keep that momentum going, it’ll be a good year for us.”
Southern kept the momentum going on Tuesday night with a 34-15 win at Friend (1-7) on Tuesday night.
The Raiders have won every game this year by a dozen or more points, and have held all of their opponents to 31 points or less. It’s no wonder why Coach Murphy says defense has been the straw that’s stirred the Southern drink.
“We have some guards that are pretty quick and they’re really aggressive,” he said. “They get after it defensively. We make it very difficult for teams to get into their offenses and do what they want.”
Turnovers have also been key. Southern has forced 84 steals this year, and they’re averaging 14.9 giveaways per contest. Last year, they averaged 18.5.
Fixing turnovers is an endless battle, but Mariah can see the progress.
“We’ve really slowed down our offense, and we take really good care of the ball,” Murphy said. “We don’t rush our passes, and don’t try to force too many things. That’s really helped us out.”
The biggest help this year, perhaps, is all of the help that returned from last season. Southern brought back its entire starting lineup from a 2017-18 team that finished 10-13, including Mariah who led that team last year with 10.3 points per contest.
Budding star Kaylee Klover has also been crucial. After averaging 6.7 points per night as a freshman, she leads the Raiders early this season with 9 points per outing. Murphy is close behind with 8.2.
It’s not just the starters, though. Southern returns 95.4 percent of its scoring from a year ago. As any coach or player will tell you, that’s not a bad thing to have.
“These girls have played together for a lot of years,” Jeff said. “They get to know each other, what each other can do on the floor, and what their role is. That definitely helps with the success that we’ve been having.”
Jeff and Mariah have certainly played together for a lot of years. She watched her two older brothers, Jordan and Trevor, go through Southern when Jeff was the head coach of the Raider boys from 2009-2014.
“Mariah has been in the gym since she was old enough to walk,” Murphy said. “She’s been through more games than most kids will ever see in their lifetime. So, she’s grown up in the gym with me and her brothers. It’s been fun for her and I to have that experience.”
Their experience together this season could be reaching uncharted territory. The Southern girls basketball team has never before reached the state tournament in Lincoln.
It seems silly to be talking about state in December, but as the momentum keeps building, the thought keeps looming. Especially after the Raiders’ football team qualified for state in their first year of eight-man competition.
“That’d be a lot of fun,” Murphy said. “I watched when our football team made the state playoffs this year, and the support they had. We had to drive 4.5 hours for the game (in Creighton) and a lot of people went. The opportunity to play in Lincoln at some point would be a great experience for our students and community.”
When you spend so many years together playing and coaching basketball, it’s hard to pinpoint what exactly the “best” moment is. Games and seasons run together, travel schedules are long, games are frequent, and with anything, there are highs and lows.
When Mariah Murphy looks at the banners in the rafters of her high school gym, she sees an opportunity to cement her team, and her father’s hard work, into Southern history.
“That would mean a lot,” she said. “I mean, all of the banners in the gym, that’d be awesome to have our year up there. That’d be…so cool.”
Jeff Murphy interview
Mariah Murphy interview
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