Lindsey Murphy

Necedah's Lindsey Murphy, left, returns to lead to the Cardinals as they hope to build on back-to-back winning seasons.

ERICA DYNES/Star-Times

The last two years have seen Necedah take huge steps forward in its girls’ basketball program.

During the 2015-16 season, the Cardinals went 14-11 and won their first playoff game in over a decade. They followed that up last year with a 14-9 record, a 9-5 mark in conference play (tied for third in the Scenic Bluffs Conference), went on a school-record eight-game winning streak and once again picked up a win in the postseason.

These were major steps in the right direction for a program that recently endured a 93-game losing streak in SBC play from 2008 to 2015. And the best news of all for Necedah fans is they are poised to keep the ball rolling this season as well.

The Cardinals seemed headed for a bit of a drop-off last year after the success of 2015-16, with a roster consisting of nine freshmen, three sophomores, four juniors and only one senior. Instead, a team short on experience improved Necedah’s position in the Scenic Bluffs Conference standings.

"Experience was the big key, and then our younger girls really started to understand what it look to play at that next level, to jump from middle school to high school varsity basketball," said Necedah head coach Pete Lowery, who enters his 10th season at the helm. "We had good team chemistry from the start. That was huge. For the older girls we did have playing to accept and understand that these younger kids can play, that was a huge step toward the success we had."

Now, with nearly everyone back from last season’s squad, the Cardinals could be on the verge of taking yet another leap as a program.

Senior guard Lindsey Murphy returns to lead Necedah after averaging 13.3 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 2.4 steals per game last season. For her efforts, she was named to the all-conference first team at the end of the year. In addition, Murphy was an All-SBC second-team selection during her freshman and sophomore seasons.

So far in her career, she is averaging 11.0 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 2.7 steals per game.

"Lindsay brings energy and an understanding of the game," Lowery said. "She can be our point guard, she can be our shooting guard, she could play in the post if we need her. She's very versatile. She is definitely kind of the catalyst we have."

While Murphy was somewhat of a known commodity heading into last season, it was the performances from some of the Cardinals’ younger players that allowed them to turn a potential rebuilding year into another success.

Guards Miah Hansen and Danielle Becker both earned spots on the all-conference second team as freshmen last season. Hansen posted 7.5 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.4 steals per game, while Becker added 5.4 points, 3.4 rebounds, 3.0 steals and 1.1 assists per contest.

In total, the Cardinals bring back each of the 13 players that scored at any point last season.

Winning a conference title could still be a tall order for Necedah given that Bangor, which has won three straight SBC titles and went undefeated in conference play last year, brings back three All-SBC first-team selections and three second-team picks.

Nevertheless, Necedah comes into a season with lofty expectations. That itself could be considered an achievement for a program not even three years removed from snapping a conference losing streak nearing triple digits.

"It's night and day," Lowery said of the program's progress. "To see kids that want to be at practice, to see kids who want to improve, who are investing their time and not just interested in putting in their time. It's a major step forward."

"To know that we can go into games and be competitive, and actually give (opponents) the game we're supposed to give them is wonderful to work with."

The program has come a long way, but don’t expect it to be enough for a Cardinals team hungry for more.