KEARNEY — The Shelton girls have been pushed around for years.
Now, they’re pushing back.
The Bulldogs are off to a 4-1 start heading into Friday’s game at Red Cloud (0-4). For many teams, that’s a good start. For the Bulldogs, it’s phenomenal.
When they beat Franklin in the second game of the season on Dec. 7, it ended a 44-game losing streak dating back to 2017
“It was pretty exciting for them,” coach Jeff Thober said. “They seemed to enjoy it pretty well. We’re happy for our senior, Jadyn Branson, because she hasn’t gotten to experience anything like this in her years as a basketball player.”
Branson, is the only senior on the team. Shelton’s last two wins came during her freshman year. The first of those wins ended a 56-game losing streak.
After going 4-18 in 2012, the Bulldogs went 4-120 over the next six years. Three of Shelton’s four wins in 2012-13 were over Harvard — the team they beat twice the next year for their only two wins that year.
Call it the “seven-year ditch.”
But the Bulldogs are climbing out of it, thanks to a lineup dominated by freshmen. Eight of the top 10 scorers are freshmen, led by MaKenna Willis, who is averaging nine points per game. Branson averages eight points per game and sophomore Brianna Simmons averages 7.4.
From there, on down the bench, there’s a lot of freshmen. Eleven of the 14 players on the roster are freshmen and they’re shouldering the load..
“We have a bunch of hard-working girls. They’ve put in a ton of time and they work hard on the court,” Thober said. “They’re young, athletic, raw girls who are out there competing.”
They’ve had success in junior high and youth leagues, winning their share of games. Thober has won his share of games, too, at Ravenna and Centura, before taking over the Shelton team this year.
“It’s just nice to find a bunch of competitive girls who are willing and ready to work hard and get better,” he said. “And they’ve done that.”
While winning four straight, the Bulldogs have yet to pick up a signature win. The four teams they’ve defeated have combined for four wins.
“It’s early. And our schedule was put to us with some winnable games,” Thober said. “We realize the season’s long and we’ll have a lot of ups and downs during the season and right now we’re kind of on an up.”
Having a team dominated by freshmen, Thober expects to see some inconsistency throughout the year.
“Freshmen can do a couple things. ... They can come an go or they can come on strong later in the year. We’ll just play it out and see how it comes along,” Thober said. “Obviously we’re just trying to build depth and get better for the future. At the same time we have a senior and we want to win as many games as we can for her.”