Grand Island Northwest High girls basketball coach Russ Moerer is the 2019 Independent Girls Coach of the Year. Standing in the school's main gym, Moerer is holding the game ball from the Class B state championship game, which is signed by all the team members. (Independent/Barrett Stinson)

It was late May when Northwest was looking for a girls basketball coach.

Viking Activities Director Mike Sorensen had contacted coaches from numerous schools but was having no luck.

Then Sorensen and Northwest Superintendent Mike Fisher came up with Russ Moerer, who was an assistant coach on the boys basketball team at the time.

Moerer had some experience with the Northwest girls basketball program. He was an assistant with Scott Mazour for seven seasons before taking the head coaching job from 2004 to 2008.

“It was a shot out of the blue. I was working in my classroom and Mike asked me what do I think about being the girls basketball coach again. I basically told them ‘OK.’ It was that simple,” Moerer said.

His first season back at the helm could not have gone any better as the Vikings claimed the Class B state championship this past March.

For his accomplishments, Moerer has been selected as the Independent Girls Coach of the Year.

Moerer said the success of what Northwest accomplished goes to the girls for buying into what he wanted to bring in.

“I think our approach was to stay in the moment and to get better today. When you start stringing consecutive days where you do start getting better over the course of a basketball season and when you have a lot of talent, a great coaching staff and the best strength and conditioning coach in the country in Troy McNeil, then good things can happen,” Moerer said. “But none of that is possible without the talent and the incredible work ethic these girls showed this year.”

Sorensen said it took a while for the players to get used to Moerer.

“They didn’t know what to think at first. He’s a quiet guy with a dry sense of humor,” Sorensen said. “But he’s an intelligent guy. His system helped the girls out.”

Northwest started 2-2 against four teams that were ranked in the top 10. They lost to Waverly and Seward but defeated Norris and Crete.

The Vikings entered the postseason with a 15-5 record. They posted two wins to claim the Class B, District 6 championship over Scottsbluff (58-50). After that, they posted wins over Seward (58-51) and Waverly (48-41) in the first two rounds of the state tournament.

There were some pressure moments in each of those games. Scottsbluff led for most of the game until the fourth quarter. Against Seward, the Bluejays opened the second half on an 8-0 run to take a 34-32 lead in the third quarter.

And Northwest trailed Waverly 22-6 to start the game. The Vikings found a way to come out on top in all three games.

Moerer said the Vikings did a great job of staying in the moment.

“That goes back to our approach because the girls didn’t panic in those moments,” Moerer said. “We just continued to play the possessions after that. That helped us not to play too high or too low. Basketball changes so quickly so we needed to stay even keel.”

The Vikings got out to an early lead in the championship game, taking a 49-43 victory over Crete to win the school’s fourth state girls basketball championship.

Whitney Brown scored 23 points in the victory.

But other players did the little things that didn’t show up in the boxscore. Megan Cooper had seven points and had three assists. Crete’s best player Morgan Maly did score 24 points but was 8-for-20 on shooting with much of that coming on putbacks.

Shanee Suttles had eight points and three assists, but she went 6-for-6 from the free-throw line. Lauren Hauser and Whitney Jensen combined for 24 rebounds in the semifinal win over Waverly.

Moerer said it was like that the entire season.

“From night to night, it seemed like someone would step up in some way for us,” Moerer said. “When a person was called to deliver, they delivered in some way. It may not show up in the boxscore, but they delivered.”

So what was it like for Moerer to return to coaching?

“That really could have been really difficult but the kids made it very easy,” Moerer said. “They bought in and they did what we asked as a staff. They were really easy to work with and worked very hard on top of that. It was a great situation all the way around for everyone involved. That’s a blessing.”

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