Sarah Kaminski and the Lady Dawgs hadn’t hoisted the Greater Nebraska Athletic Conference tournament trophy for the better part of a decade, but that all changed on Saturday.
After a 1-0 win over Columbus in the semifinal, the top-seeded Bulldogs (9-1) opened the floodgates and found the net frequently in a convincing, 4-0 victory over second-seeded Gering to claim the conference crown at Bauer Field.
"It’s been a goal for these girls, and one the program has had out there for the last several years," Kaminski said. "It’s been like six or seven years since we last went undefeated and won the GNAC. So I’m proud of these girls because each one gave a little extra to finish two games strong."
After sneaking past a stingy Columbus defense which held the Dawgs to seven shots and one goal in the semifinals, a Mei Hou goal assisted by Gracie Haneborg in the opening minute of the second half, North Platte regrouped and found the goal four times against Gering in the finals.
"They were a little frustrated the first game because we had scoring opportunities and didn’t finish like we needed to," Kaminski admitted. "But I told them after the game to move on and keep improving."
And the Lady Dawgs did so with an aggressive offensive performance, getting 11 shots at the net, connecting on four.
"They obviously found the goal more times the second game, but I think that’s just a testament to the grit they play with every single game," Kaminski added.
Callie Haneborg led the Bulldogs in the championship game, accounting for three goals on five attempts. Freshman Kaitlyn Evans added one goal, while Hou, Gracie Haneborg and Abbie Hedgecock contributed assists on all four goals.
Haneborg scored the game’s first goal with 18 minutes, 41 seconds remaining in the first half, before Evans’ header at the 9:08 mark gave the Lady Dawgs a 2-0 halftime lead.
In the second half, Hedgecock connected with Callie Haneborg four minutes into the second period to extend North Platte’s lead to 3-0. Gracie Haneborg’s assist on a corner kick with less than 10 minutes in regulation led to Haneborg’s third and final goal, putting the game out of reach against Gering.
"She’s a feisty little thing," Kaminski said with a smile. "Callie’s hard on herself if there’s something she thinks she should have finished. She came out today during a game and said ‘ugh, I missed some goals,’ but one of her teammates reminded her that she also put a lot of them on the back of the net."
The Lady Dawgs improve to 9-1 on the season with the pair of wins on Saturday, which added some perspective for Kaminski as the season transitions into April and postseason play draws closer.
Through the first 10 games of the season, the Lady Dawgs currently average 3.9 goals per game and have allowed opponents an average of just two goals.
"This group loves each other and what they do. They work hard every day and are always up for a challenge," Kaminski said. "If there’s a group that can do it, then it’s definitely this group."
GNAC girls scores
Columbus 2, Scottsbluff 0
North Platte 1, Columbus 0
Gering 3, Hastings 2
Hastings 2, Columbus 1 (SO)
North Platte 4, Gering 0
North Platte’s chances at a consecutive trip to the Greater Nebraska Athletic Conference championship game ended with a 4-1 loss against top-seeded Columbus on Saturday at Bauer Field.
But, last year’s runner-up didn’t allow the semifinal loss to linger, ending the conference tournament with a 10-0 shutout over Gering in the consolation game at Madison Middle School — a performance led by Dylan Letourneau, whose six goals broke the program’s single-game record previously held by his older brother Ryan.
"Our kids played hard and stayed in it the whole game," North Platte head coach Danny Whitney said of the semifinal against Columbus. "That’s all we ask of them. If you can give it everything you’ve got for 80 minutes, the result will be what it is, but you can walk off the field being proud in what you put in."
The Discoverers got on the board early, netting one just six minutes into the semifinal on a Garrett Esch slash-and-dash past North Platte’s last line of defense. Esch added a second goal at the 14-minute, 38-second mark, leading Columbus into halftime with a 2-0 lead over the Bulldogs (6-6).
"We know Columbus was playing very good this season, and we know they would be fast and physical," Whitney said. "When mistakes start to pile on top of each other, (Columbus is) going to put them in the back of the net. I still think our kids stayed in it the whole game and never backed down."
Columbus opened the second period with an Ivan Lopez goal that ricocheted off the right goal post and scored, extending their lead to 3-0 with 32 minutes left in regulation.
Unwilling to give up, the Bulldogs found the goal after Collin Manzano connected with freshman Ty Hilderbrand, who drilled one past the Discoverers’ goalkeeper with 20:33 left in the game.
North Platte would give up another goal to end the game, losing 4-1 before trouncing past Gering in the third place consolation game.
"We talked about moments, and that moment was in the past," Whitney said. "So we looked ahead and made the next moment a successful one."
Letourneau led the Dawgs with six unassisted goals, while Clay Stone, Ryan Kaminski and Hilderbrand each netted one goal against a struggling Gering squad on a three-game losing streak.
Both North Platte boys and girls return to action on the road against Hastings on Tuesday.
GNAC boys scores
North Platte 2, Scottsbluff 1
Columbus 4, North Platte 1
Hastings 4, Gering 3
North Platte 10, Gering 0
Columbus 7, Hastings 0