Belle Paitz

Pleasanton junior Belle Paitz (22) has been selected as the Kearney Hub Female Prep Athlete of the Year. Paitz was the second-leading scorer on Pleasanton's undefeated state champion basketball team and the second-leading hitter on the volleyball team that reached the state semifinals.

KEARNEY — Take athletic ability, stir in confidence and consistency, add some versatility and a positive attitude and you come up with Pleasanton’s Belle Paitz.

The 5-foot, 9-inch junior stood at the center of the Bulldogs’ success this year — a state championship effort in basketball and a state tournament semifinals appearance in volleyball.

Her role in Pleasanton’s good fortunes has landed her the honor of being named the Hub Territory Female Athlete of the Year, completing a Bulldogs sweep of this year’s Hub prep honors with Katy Lindner being named the Volleyball Player of the Year and Kaci Pierce the Basketball Player of the Year.

Alongside each, stood Paitz.

She was the second-leading scorer on the 28-0 basketball team (10.8 points per game) and the second-leading hitter on the 32-2 volleyball team (3.1 kills per set).

“She’s very athletic. She jumps well. In volleyball she operates above the net, which is a necessary thing in the front row. And she’s strong,” Pleasanton volleyball coach Shane Nordby said. “She did a lot of our serve receive, our passing. She was one of our top defensive players.

“Belle was a big constant for us most of the year.”

A constant that her teammates could count on and feed off.

“She just brings a lot of calmness to the game,” Nordby said. “She has confidence in her game and you know what you can expect from her night in and night out. Most of the time, she’s delivered what you expect from her and many times more than what you anticipated. ... In big games, she showed up for us.”

Basketball coach Jordan Arensdorf also found her confidence influential, along with her attitude. He said she’s “Miss Positive.”

“She’s got a great attitude. ... I can’t say I’ve ever seen her be negative. She’s just a really positive person, an upbeat person who loves to play sports,” Arensdorf said.

Any sport, even football and baseball.

“I’ve always enjoyed sports because my big brother and my dad would always go out and play football and baseball and I didn’t want to be left out, so I would always go out and play with them,” Paitz said.

Her brother played quarterback, so she played running back or receiver, going out to catch passes.

“It was just fun,” she said.

But make no mistake, Paitz said basketball holds the warmest spot in her heart. It was the first sport she and her friends, the ones who are now her teammates, started playing in the third grade.

“That was really the only sport we played besides softball. We didn’t start playing volleyball until junior high. (Basketball) has been a big part of our community and my life,” she said.

It doesn’t hurt that she has access to her own court. Her grandfather, Erroll Phillips, turned half a Quonset into a basketball court.

“I go over there quite a bit and shoot. My brother and cousins always play with me and push me to be my best. And, I think my coaches and teammates push me to be the best that I can and that’s really helped me a lot,” she said.

That camaraderie with her teammates and Pleasanton’s identity with basketball made the state championship run and finals victory against Archbishop Bergan special.

It also achieved a goal Paitz and her friends had been working for since they started to realize their potential as junior high students.

Semifinal finishes in volleyball and basketball the year before only fueled their desire for a state title.

“We had been talking about it all year ... about how we wanted to have a state championship ever since we were in junior high. Coach (Randy) Bauer would always show us the state championship trophy and we always had that goal,” Paitz said. “I think it helped us over the last two years we’ve lost in the semifinals to Bergan in volleyball and I think playing them really helped us and we had that determination to win.”

It was a storybook ending, but it didn’t last long.

“Winning state, that was just awesome. It was the first time in school history that a girls team has won state,” Paitz said. “I wish we could have celebrated more because it was a big deal for us. It was a big deal for our town and everybody in our school and in our community because it was the first time a women’s team at Pleasanton had won a state championship and I think that was just special.”

A week after their victory – a week that included the Pleasanton boys’ return to the state tournament – the coronavirus pandemic closed the school, shut down the nation and brought a halt to high school sports.

The shutdown ended the spring sports season before it got out of the starting blocks and Arensdorf believes the Bulldogs would have been in the hunt for a trophy at the state track meet as well.

Paitz, a sprinter, would have been a big part of that. She especially wanted a chance to see what the team’s 4x100-meter relay team could have accomplished at state. The team has placed third the last two years.

“I missed (track) a lot because of this year. I kind of wanted to try the 300 hurdles so I could go into my senior year and maybe that could be my race. And I miss running with my friends and having coaches around to push you. It’s been tough,” she said.

Not being around her friends and teammates probably has been the toughest part of the directed health measures surrounding the virus.

She can’t wait until the weight rooms are open and they can get back together, even if it is in small groups.

“I’m pretty excited. I get to see everyone and we can start bonding and building that chemistry and working to get stronger for the season,” she said.

Arensdorf expects Paitz will be in the weight room every day “and playing as much basketball as she can, as long as they allow it.”

Nordby hopes there is a volleyball season. He said he would like one more season with the senior class that has been a big part of Pleasanton’s success the last three years. He would like to see if they can take that last step to get a volleyball championship.

“It would be sad if we didn’t have (a volleyball season),” Paitz said. “If it’s just family and stuff, I would be grateful. It’s my senior year I just want to play ball and have fun and hopefully get back to the state tournament and maybe into the finals.”