KEARNEY — After qualifying for the state tournament last year, the Loomis Wolves are back this year with a larger sense of purpose.
“I think they thought this was where they were going to be from the start of the year. ... It was one of their goals,” Loomis coach Drew Billeter said. “Last year, our kids were just excited to get down to the tournament. This year one of our main goals is to try to win our first game and advance to see what happens against Falls City Sacred Heart.”
Loomis (23-2) faces Parkview Christian (19-7) at 8:45 p.m. Thursday in the Class D2 state tournament at Lincoln East High School.
Parkview Christian has the home-court advantage, only having to travel across town, but the Wolves have the state tournament tradition, having qualified for state 19 times and owning two state championship and two state runner-up trophies.
But last year was a learning experience for the young Loomis team. Their trip to the state tournament ended in a 52-38 loss to Osmond, the eventual runner-up.
“This year we’re a lot more businesslike in how we’ve gone through practice and how we’ve approached this week,” Billeter said. “Last year, the kids were just excited to make it and it was exciting to make it because we hadn’t been there for a while. This year there’s a different attitude and a different mentality.”
Parkview Christian will be making its third trip to the state tournament and is in search of its first state tournament trophy. Three Patriots averaged between nine and 11 points per game, led by 6-2 senior forward Logan Page, who is averaging 10.5 points and six rebounds.
“They’re lengthy, pretty athletic, with a lot of seniors on the team. Their five starters are seniors,” Billeter said.
Loomis is a little bit different.
Six-five center Joshua Marcy and 6-foot guard Nolan Benjamin are the only seniors who have seen extensive playing time. Marcy averaged 13.4 points per game and Benjamin 10.9, while sophomore guards Quinn Johnson and Shay Swanson are netting 15 and 11.9 points per game.
“Defensively we’ve played pretty well lately. We’ve played some good teams here lately and beat some of those teams so I think we’re playing pretty well,” Billeter said. “Offensively ... we share the ball pretty well and we’re getting a lot of contributions from a lot of guys.
“Joshua has been our bread and butter because he’s such a big target inside. Rebounding and physicality, he’s been our go-to guy. ... Shay Swanson is quick and can score getting to the basket and Nolan and Quinn can light it up from the outside.”
Loomis has battled through its share of tough competition by winning the Fort Kearny Conference regular-season title. The FKC had five teams play in the district finals, and two others, Ansley/Litchfield and Sumner-Eddyville-Miller, narrowly missed qualifying for the district finals.
“That was a pretty good accomplishment in my opinion. We had five or six really good teams in our conference,” Billeter said.
The Wolves’ other accomplishment, he said, was “resiliency in coming back when we’ve got behind.”
Loomis trailed Elm Creek by 20 points and came back to win. The Wolves also had come-from-behind victories over Amherst and Axtell.
“That’s the biggest thing I’ve been pleased with is the ability to keep fighting and not giving up and finding ways to win,” Billeter said.