Tri County having fun on 9-game win streak
Winning leads to expectations, which then can produce pressure.
That’s where the Tri County boys basketball team was at the beginning of the season. The Trojans posted their first winning season since 2012 by going 18-7 one year ago and finishing No. 6 in the final Class D-1 rankings after being the only D-1 team to defeat eventual state champion Lourdes Central Catholic during the regular season.
With four starters back from that squad, expectations were high as the Trojans started this season at No. 8 in Class C-2. The pressure of living up to those standards, however, might’ve been a factor in Tri County’s roller-coaster 4-3 start in the first 20 days of the season.
In the first seven games, the Trojans were upset by Wilber-Clatonia in the opener, came back to beat current No. 2 Centennial for the Broncos’ only loss this season, then got pasted by 30 points in the next game by D-2 No. 2 Johnson-Brock and dropped a four-point decision four days later to D-2 No. 1 and defending state champion Falls City Sacred Heart.
Since the loss to Sacred Heart, fifth-ranked Tri County (13-3) has won nine straight, including a 41-39 victory over C-2 No. 6 Freeman in the semifinals of the MUDECAS tournament.
After the first seven games, “they really started to have fun playing basketball,” Tri County coach Cory Jensen said. “They played great in the summer, and once the season started, they had all this pressure and possibly affected them. Once they let go of that pressure, they started having fun.”
Another key was replacing the leadership of last year’s lone senior starter — guard Riley Knust, who led the Trojans in scoring, assists and steals. A pair of guards — 5-foot-10 sophomore Cole Siems and 6-2 senior Creighton Niemeyer — is averaging double-figure points as they did one year ago to help fill that void.
Siems, who sank 10 three-pointers on his way to 36 points in a win over College View on Jan. 15, is at 17.8 points per game. Niemeyer, the Class D boys 1,600-meter state champion in track last spring, is averaging 13.3 points, 6.8 rebounds and a team-high 4.1 steals per game.
“We’ve had to fill Riley’s leadership by committee and we’re finally starting to get our roles figured out,” Jensen said. “Creighton has become our vocal leader. He communicates great with me and his teammates and he’s someone who holds the other kids accountable.”
While Siems is one of the top three-point shooters in C-2, he’s also expanded this game this season to other areas, averaging 4.9 assists and three steals per contest.
“Riley took care of a lot of things last year which allowed Cole to just be a shooter and scorer as a freshman,” Jensen added. “Cole is getting more comfortable assuming those other responsibilities, and the last five games he’s been on fire shooting the ball.”
Evan Larson, a 6-1 senior, is also capable of stretching the defense with his three-point shooting. Larson averages 12.4 points per outing and has connected on 37 three-pointers this season, one less than Siems.
The Trojans’ tallest players are the 6-3 trio of senior Chad Niemeier and sophomores Lucas Weise and Ethan Knust. Weise is at eight points and 6.4 rebounds, while Niemeier is averaging almost four blocked shots a game.
The Trojans often are outsized by their opponents, but they’ve held their own, particularly against a Freeman team that has five players 6-4 or taller.
“We try to offset that with athleticism and quickness,” Jensen said. “We like to get out in transition and score, but I think we showed in the Freeman game that we can play a little more patient if we have to.”
Tri County, which is looking for its first state tournament berth since 1988, could face Sacred Heart and Johnson-Brock in next week’s Pioneer Conference tournament. The Trojans will play Sacred Heart in the MUDECAS final on Feb. 11 at Beatrice High School, a game postponed from Jan. 12.