Not many high school basketball coaching resumes get much better than that of North Platte St. Patrick’s head boys basketball coach William O’Malley.
The 2022 Huskerland Nebraska School Activities Association D-1 coach of the year won his first state championship last season, but came up just short this season, with a runner-up finish. The Irish’s run the past two seasons has put them in elite company in Nebraska high school athletics. Much of that is due to the guidance of O’Malley, but it’s also thanks to a group of players who routinely filled the statsheet.
“I always hope for the ultimate goal of winning a state championship,” sophomore Brecken Erickson said during the NSAA boys’ basketball state tournament in early March. “I knew we had a very good shot at winning it last year and I still think we have a very good shot at winning it this year as well. Our team has done amazing with filling needed spots and us being so good defensively this year is a very big key and we hope it’s enough to win it again.”
The Irish were consistently rated in the top five throughout the 2021-22 season for NSAA boys class D-1 and made the state tournament for the third consecutive year. They entered the state tournament as the No. 1 seed with a 26-2 record after a third place finish one year prior. St. Patrick’s won the state title for the first time since 1928, the first state championship for O’Malley. The Irish were led that season by senior Jack Heiss who averaged 20 points per game while Erickson averaged 14.5 points.
This past season, the Irish picked up right where they have left off and entered the state tournament again, as the No. 1 seed with record of 23-2. In just the last two seasons, O’Malley’s squad has lost just four games.
“There’s always the internal drive to want to perform well, but there is a higher expectation when you’ve had success,” O’Malley said. ” To take other teams’ best shot and keep standing can be a real challenge.”
St. Patrick’s only two losses were on the road to C-1 schools. The Irish returned three key starters and have also received big contributions from new incoming starters Zarek Branch and Will Moats. The expectation for this season was not necessarily having to repeat for O’Malley, but for his players to succeed.
I truly do just aim for helping the guys maximize their ability,” O’Malley said. “I knew we had good players coming back so I hoped they could perform well. They have certainly done that.”
St. Patrick’s kicked off its state title defense against No. 8 Mead on March 8 in the first round at Pinnacle and won in a close one 48-37. Erickson carried the Irish with 20 first half points and finished with 28 points and 15 rebounds.
The semi-final game was a rematch of an earlier regular season battle versus No. 5 Dundy County Stratton. St. Patrick’s went into halftime down by one and clawed back late in the fourth quarter to secure a 43-40 victory and play for a chance at a second straight state championship. The Irish were once again led by Erickson who had 15 points, and 15 rebounds in the game.
The only team left standing in the Irish way of repeating as state champions was Johnson Brock, the states No. 3 seed with a 24-4 record. Similar to the semi-final game St. Patrick’s went into halftime with a seven point deficit. After some halftime adjustments the Irish fought down to the wire and closed the gap to a two-point game with under a minute to play but fell just short and took home the class D1 runner-up trophy.
St. Patrick’s season came to an end with a 25-3 record and another trophy going into the trophy case.
“It really is how close a team can come to being its best,” O’Malley said. “That’s a hard thing to put your finger on, but I can tell you that over the years some teams without a great record have been very successful in my estimation. They were completely committed, competed at all times, and were a pleasure to work with. Helping them understand that success is not just measured in wins and losses is a critical part of my job.”
Fromer Irish star and current Hastings guard Jack Heiss said everyone in the community is extremely grateful for all of O’Malley’s hard work and dedication over the last 12 years as coach.
“He (Coach O’Malley) wants the best for everyone,” Heiss said. “Mr. O’Malley cares for players on and off the court. He is the most selfless person I know. He is an amazing person, it was a blessing to get to play for him for four years.”
Another former Irish basketball player and 2018 graduate Aiden Skillstad said O’Malley did not just help him on the court, but off the court as well.
“Coach O’Malley is the biggest role model I have encountered in my life,” said Skillstad. “His passion to help students become the best person they can be in the classroom, court, and life is second to none. Coach O’Malley is a culture builder and at the forefront of his classroom and locker room culture is belonging. With belonging comes a family like environment which is filled with respect and love.”
Coach O’Malley says at times when he gets stressed, getting into the gym and seeing the players’ energy and enthusiasm is truly what he loves the most about his job.
“Being around young guys and trying to help them mature into the men God created them to be, I am amazed at how life giving it is to be around them,” O’Malley said.
The Irish look to keep the state tournament streak going next year and look to add even more accolades to the impressive schools and coach’s resume. Next season O’Malley looks to build on his 300+ win career and to also lead St. Patrick’s to another chance at a state championship.