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Lady Wildcats return four starters for the 2020-21 season

HARTINGTON — Losing a top player to a strong NAIA college program could hurt any team’s chances of being better the next year.

The Hartington-Newcastle Lady Wildcats may have lost Abbe Morten to Sioux City, but they return a bevy of talented players and add some youthful guns to the mix for the 2020-21 season.

Last year, Coach Josh Morten led the Lady Wildcats to the SubDistrict final and a loss to Cedar Catholic en route to a 10-12 season.

Now, in his sixth year, coach Morten, will see how close the program can come to the 2017-18 season when they went a combinedbest 19-4.

“We have experience with returning four starters from last year’s team,” Coach Morten said. “We have a great group of ladies who work hard and are easy to coach. We have a lot of girls that will see the floor and get good playing time.”

Morten is hoping the team will be able to use strong defensive play to produce transition points.

“How we will play remains to be seen. I would like to get back to more of a press and man-to-man style defense with it equating to fast pace and moving the ball up the floor on offense. (With only a small number of) practices in it is tough to tell exactly what a perso has,” he said.

Even though the Cats return four starters, Morten said the team will have to build a lot of depth in order to have a good season.

“You take away the four starters from last year, add the fifth from this year and the remainder of the team hasn’t played a lot of varsity,” he said. “So, the experience is there for the first five, but we don’t have much experience after that.”

Returning to the mix are seniors Kayden Jueden, Keanna Korth, Makenna Clarkson, Keeley Wiepen and Delayne Sudbeck and sophomore Alivia Morten.

“We are getting back to getting used to a different sport than a few weeks ago,” Jueden said after the team began its transition from volleyball for most of the girls. “We have a lot of the same girls and we are still a really young team – just like volleyball. We have experience from last year so that’s pretty comforting. Abbe was a big part of our team and was a lot of the offensive side of things for us, so we’ll miss her a lot, but I think we will figure things out.”

The girls proved in volleyball that they work well as a team. They should be able to do the same in basketball, Jueden said.

“It may take a little bit – just like volleyball. Our strength is our working together, but that’s the cold hard truth. None of us will be that star player, but we will do it for each other. We will get it done when we need to get it done. We have good chemistry together.”

The roster will have to mature as a whole so the Lady Wildcats can face off against some of the better small-school competition in the state.

“As usual, our schedule is tough,” Coach Morten said. “You look at Northeast Nebraska girls basketball — class C1, C2, D1 and D2 are always tough. Ponca, Wynot, Humphrey St. Francis and Crofton will be tough teams on the schedule.”

Then of course, there is the looming specter of the threat from the coronavirus.

“I am confident we can get a full season in, but it is not my call,” Josh Morten said.

Jueden said these are the days when no athlete should take anything for granted.

“I am a little worried. Nebraska is getting pretty high (with cases) right now. It’s kind of crazy. All of our jamboree games got cancelled, so that was kind of like ‘whoa.’ It’s totally different for everything. Basketball is going to be a whole different beast. You are actually right up to the other team and I am nervous that it will hit basketball a lot harder than volleyball season,” she said. “It’s scary and sad. This is obviously the last year I could do this, but the last time? Now you never know. You could go to school on Monday and it’s just gone. I feel bad for last year’s seniors and now I have that feeling that this could be over at any time. I just have to go with the flow and take everything in. Last year, they got hit out of nowhere.”

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