HHS to state: Niernberger stepping it up
Published on -3/6/2013, 10:01 AM
By KLINT SPILLER
When Hays High School junior point guard Jordan Windholz left the game against Salina Central with what was later ruled a tear in his anterior cruciate ligament, junior Kyler Niernberger was sick with the flu at home. He listened to the game on the radio.
Niernberger already was the starting point guard, but when he heard Windholz went down, he realized then he would have to take an even larger role within the team.
Windholz was the next player off the bench, and he typically subbed in for Niernberger. Now, the only point guard behind Niernberger is freshman Isaiah Nunnery, who is extremely talented but also young.
"I knew I would have to work even harder to get back to where I was before I got sick," Niernberger said.
Niernberger is not a flashy player. He isn't going to go off for 30 points on a given night.
He is a point guard, and he takes his role as facilitator seriously.
"I think he makes everybody better," said Hays High coach Rick Keltner.
Niernberger leads the team in assists with 86, a 4.3 average, and steals with 39, a 1.95 average. However, for much of the season, he has not been a tremendous offensive threat, attempting just 3.1 shots a game.
Keltner said it's not for a lack of ability. Niernberger just loves to pass.
"That's just my favorite thing to do," Niernberger said.
"I love passing the ball and hooking other people up with assists. It's just fun for me that way."
Like most players, Niernberger has had games where he's struggled, and since he handles the ball so much, he's had his share of turnovers.
But over the course of the season, Keltner said he thought Niernberger has gotten better, especially in the games that mattered the most.
In the sub-state tournament, Niernberger was one of several Hays High players who stepped up and played better than their norm.
Against Great Bend, Niernberger had six points, five steals and an assist. Then he played even better against Liberal. He navigated Liberal's press, sometimes singlehandedly, and dished out six assists and scored seven points.
He penetrated more as well, shooting 6 of 8 in the two games.
"I'm proud of him," said senior shooting guard Nick Petz. "He's changed so much the past few games. He has been a really big and helpful player for us the past two games."
It was a big step offensively for Niernberger, who averaged 2.1 points per game prior to sub-state.
"I just needed to learn when I need to drive and when I need to pass," Niernberger said. "Early on, I was more pass-first, but then Coach talked to me and told me we need offense."
On Thursday at the Class 5A state tournament in Topeka, Hays High will face Lansing (20-1), the No. 2-ranked team in the state who runs a similarly aggressive defense to Liberal's.
Lansing has contained teams to just 42 points per game, and Niernberger likely will be pressured at the point.
However, Keltner said he's confident in his primary ball handler.
"He plays his butt off," Keltner said. "Kyler has a big heart. I'm really proud of Kyler. I think his decision making is continuing to get better."