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From Pandemic to Perfection: The Unstoppable Elkhorn North Class of 2024

The year 2020 was a memorable and challenging one for many, marked by a global pandemic that brought the world to a standstill. Amidst these challenges, Luke Ford was faced with an additional challenge. He was about to take the position of the first athletic director at Elkhorn North High School, the newest high school in the district, scheduled to open in August 2020. 

Ford described these complications as “fun obstacles” that needed to be overcome.

“If you're a competitor, you see that as an opportunity to grow and get better, and so it was,” Ford said. “It was work, but it was fun.”

With new schools, the success of their athletic programs are often up in the air, as a whole new culture needs to be established, and having skilled athletes from the get-go isn’t always a given. However, Ford had hope in the incoming athletes for the girls basketball team. In March 2020, when sports were silenced due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Ford could still hear echoes of future success in the distance for the girls' program. 

“Truthfully, I remember the game,” Ford said. “The year before we split, we were watching Elkhorn High play. You’re looking at this group of sophomores, Riley Palmer, Molly Bruggeman, and others that were going to be juniors so [they were] going to be your leaders, I looked and I thought ‘we've got some girls that can play basketball here.’” 

Fast forward to March 2024. The freshmen who were just starting down their high school paths — during Ford's first year at Elkhorn North — are now seniors. Four years later, they have completed a journey that has culminated in capturing multiple state championships and has earned them the distinction as one of the most successful teams in Nebraska high school sports history.

Through their four-year run, the Wolves won four straight state championships. In other words, in all the years of their existence, Elkhorn North has never NOT won a girls basketball championship.

The Wolves were led by coach Ann Prince and her daughter Britt. Ann started her coaching at Midland University under Hall of Fame Coach Joanne Bracker, then entered the high school ranks as an assistant at Fremont and Elkhorn High. Britt was a star from the moment she suited up for the Wolves, averaging a cool 23 points as a freshman during the 2020-21 regular season, North’s first full year as a program.

I could feel about midway through my first season that the team had a special work ethic,” Coach Prince said. “They were very passionate, and we had the right mix of skill and grit to become a contending type of team. We had kids who were excited about playing for a brand new school, they were gritty, tough, green, and willing to do anything asked of them.”

The Princes led the team to an 18-2 regular season record and a 46-33 victory over Norris, one of the two teams to beat them during the regular season, to capture their first state championship.

Ford said that winning a championship in the first year was a big help for building the culture and pride of the new school.

“When you start a new school, because everything is new, school pride and the culture is really difficult to get up and going,” Ford said. “And when you're successful, that just breeds pride, ‘I'm a Wolf. This is our team. This is who we are.’” 

From there, Prince and the Wolves could not be stopped, only losing three games en route to three more championships. They achieved a rare championship four-peat, which ensured Prince and the rest of her Class of 2024 teammates will never know what it feels like to have not won a state basketball championship.

North’s run is just the third of its kind in Class B, Nebraska’s second biggest classification. The Wolves join the ranks of 2009-12 Seward, which won four straight titles, and 1995-2005 South Sioux City, who won 10 championships in 11 years under legendary coach Kelly Flynn.

Talent wasn’t the only thing contributing to the Wolves’ success, although that certainly played a part.

“If you were to talk to Britt Prince, she is going to be the last one to brag about how talented of an athlete and basketball player she is.” Ford said. “When your best player is humble and one of the hardest workers on the team, it's a magical thing because it just brings everybody up.”

He wasn’t the only one to notice. McKenna Murphy had her eye on the group from 20 miles away at Fremont High School. Ironically, Fremont was coached by Kelly Flynn himself during his second stint as a head coach. Murphy was part of two successful teams during her first two years, much like Prince. After falling just short of the championship her freshman year, Murphy helped lead the Tigers to a Class A championship as a sophomore. However, Murphy saw a different path ahead of her for her remaining two years down Highway 275 in Elkhorn. 

“They could have totally just pushed me to the side and been like, ‘Oh, we've already won two state championships, we don't need someone else,” Murphy said about her arrival at North.

But Murphy said that the team openly welcomed her, which made her realize special things were on the way. 

Prince and Murphy formed a dynamic duo, averaging a combined 39 points per game in 2022-23 and a combined 45.6 points per game this past season. Their excellence on the court contributed to both of them receiving Division I offers. Murphy will be suiting up for Colorado State. Prince will play for the Nebraska Cornhuskers, after receiving offers from multiple top Division I schools. 

Though the Wolves experienced success, there were some challenges along the way. They played with a target on their back every single match.

Teams are coming for you,” Coach Prince said. “There is a target on your back, special defenses are prepared to knock you off, there can't be a let up, or you open the door to defeat. You have players, people, opponents who smack talk about you, you have to be really mentally tough and prepared to show up every night in hostile environments and perform and be able to block out all the outside noise.”

Another challenge came this past season in the form of a late-season loss to Waverly, but their character prevailed. 

“The Waverly game was kind of our wake up call,” Murphy said. “We can't just come into every single game and win by a big margin. I think that was probably the best thing for our team, to lose that game, because it was at a perfect time to start focusing during practices and games. And [we] just needed to lock in.” 

And lock in they did.

The final journey for North's Class of 2024 unfolded in Lincoln in early March. Because of their loss in Waverly, the Wolves were the second seed instead of the top-ranked team in the field. That distinction belonged to Omaha Skutt, and it seemed inevitable that the two would meet in the championship. After battling back from a rocky first half against Scottsbluff in the state quarterfinals, and avoiding an upset against Beatrice in the semifinals, North got its chance against the SkyHawks. As with every game, North got Skutt’s best shot. The game was an instant classic, as North rallied back from a nine-point deficit in the third quarter to win by two points and secure their four-peat.

For the Princes, the four-peat is extra special, because they were able to accomplish it as a mother-daughter duo. On the evening of March 25, 2024, Coach Prince stepped down as head coach of the Wolves program with a record of 97-5, a cherry on top for what might be the greatest mother-daughter duo in the history of the state.

There has never been anything more special to me than to be able to work alongside my daughter to help propel a group of girls to come together to be a part of something bigger than themselves,” Coach Prince said. “To be able to accomplish this with her and with [the team] is simply a dream come true.”

It's March again, four years after the COVID-19 pandemic, four championships later. The gym is quiet. The last four years have been unforgettable for the Wolves. The next four years will see different faces and different challenges, but the legacy of Prince, Murphy, Halle Pribnow, Reese Booth, Sydney Stodden, and the numerous others who contributed to the dynasty will endure forever. Not just at Elkhorn North, where their trophies will be displayed at the young school for decades to come, but throughout the entire state. 

While many key figures are departing, they have laid a foundation for something special in the future. 

The run is tremendous,” Coach Prince said. “But what is even better is the culture and the standards set in place by the girls that have come through the program these first four years. They have set a foundation for what it takes to be successful.”


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