On Saturday, March 2, 2013, Northwest won a Class B girls basketball state championship for the first time since 1982.
The Vikings were led in their state tournament run by high-scoring junior guard McKenzie Brown, who put up 67 points over the three wins.
Northwest entered the state tournament as the No. 3 seed and wasn’t favored to exit Lincoln with a state trophy, not with four-time defending state champion Seward on its side of the bracket.
But a resilient team knocked off the Bluejays in the semifinals and outlasted Norris in double overtime in the championship game to finish on top to end the first season with head coach Mike Herzberg.
Now, fast forward six years…
On Saturday, March 2, 2019, Northwest won a Class B girls basketball state championship for the first time since it repeated in 2014.
The Vikings were led in their state tournament run by high-scoring junior guard Whitney Brown, who put up 63 points over the three wins.
Northwest entered the state tournament as the No. 6 seed and wasn’t favored to exit Lincoln with a state trophy, not with three teams that had defeated the Vikings in the regular season a part of the field.
But a resilient team avenged early-season losses to Seward and Waverly and won the rubber match against Crete in the championship game to finish on top to end the first season of the second stint of head coach Russ Moerer.
Some of the similarities are eerie, but regardless of how they got there, McKenzie and Whitney Brown now share the title of state basketball champions in their family.
Following Saturday’s championship victory, Whitney couldn’t wait to conclude postgame interviews to dish out some good-natured teasing towards her older sister.
“(I’m) definitely going to go out there and tell her that I told her so because all of my siblings jokingly doubted us,” Whitney said. “My sister would tell us that we’re not going to make it there. But she’s joking. …
“Just to be able to say that to her, I’m going to have a big smile on my face out there.”
Basketball has always been a love for the Browns. When she was younger, Whitney would often throw up long swishes and attempt backward shots during halftime of McKenzie’s games.
While both sisters frustrated defense after defense focused on trying to stop them, they have done it in slightly different fashions.
McKenzie was a threat to score from deep from the start of her high-school career, which ended with her standing atop the Vikings’ career scoring chart.
Whitney also broke into the starting lineup as a freshman, but standing at 5-foot-2, she had to be a little more creative to generate her shots.
“My family – they’re all tall, so I don’t understand why I got the short gene,” joked Whitney, who now stands at 5-6. “But I was able to work with that. Everyone, as I was playing when I was younger, they all kind of underestimated me because I was short and thinking that I wasn’t going to be able to do anything. That just motivated me to work harder.”
“With my sister by my side and my dad (Mick) who taught me everything I know, my family pushing me to be my best is what made me the player I am today.”
Whitney said she always looked up to her older sister and wanted to be able to shoot from outside like McKenzie.
“When I was younger watching my sister play a lot, she’d hit (shots) from the volleyball line, just like really deep,” Whitney said. “That wanted me to be able to shoot from back there. I’d hear of high school girls around being able to do that, so it’s something people aren’t going to expect so they’re playing off you. I think it’s one of the threats that you can use as a player.”
She also studied how McKenzie and her teammates would work together to overcome defenses focused on shutting her down.
“Being younger and watching my sister play and go against the defense, maybe a box-and-one, but still fighting back just made me know that it’s possible,” Whitney said. “If somebody does something like that, you just have to work together as a team and set screens.”
In recent years, Whitney has taken advantage of her family’s indoor practice court to keep working on her shooting.
“I call it a barn, but people make fun of me because it doesn’t have animals,” she said. “When my dad built it a couple of years ago, my summer coach and I made a deal that I’d have to make 250 3-pointers three to four times a week during basketball season and during volleyball season and track season, I do that as well.
“It’s nice not having to stress or worry about getting people to go open the Northwest gym for me and just being able to walk across my yard.”
Whitney’s performance during the state tournament got her noticed and made her the recipient of accolades from around the state this past weekend.
What those people didn’t see was her getting large bags of ice taped to her lower legs as quickly as possible following the first two wins.
“At the end of the summer, I was on the verge of a stress fracture,” Whitney said. “We went into the doctor and I was going to (physical therapy) three times a week. It went away, but I think having to shoot every day, going to practices and playing all those games has been really wearing them down.
“I’ve been going to PT. It’s nothing big. They’ve just been sore legs.”
The question now is whether or not Whitney is sore from smiling and saying “I told you so.”
Dale Miller is a sports writer for the Independent.