|Nate Bahe has started 10 of Nebraska Wesleyan's 18 games this season, or basically whenever the Prairie Wolves need someone to fill a spot.
Nebraska Wesleyan athletics photo
By Brian Lester
Nate Bahe was pretty much an unknown coming out of high school.
Over the past two seasons at Nebraska Wesleyan, however, the junior guard has established himself as a go-to player when the injury bug strikes.
He took Jack Hiller’s spot in the starting lineup during a nine-game stretch earlier this season when Hiller was out with a broken foot.
Last season, Bahe was called upon to fill in for preseason D3hoops.com All-American Nate Schimonitz, who missed 10 games because of an injury.
In 18 games, he has started 10 times, and he’s the perfect example of the versatility the Prairie Wolves bring to the gym every night in their quest to win a second consecutive national championship.
“I can play 1 through 5, just like our other guys can. It doesn’t matter who is in the game. We are all pretty interchangeable,” Bahe said.
Prairie Wolves coach Dale Wellman supports that statement without any hesitation. The proof is in the record, of course. Nebraska Wesleyan was 30-3 a season ago and won its first national championship. It is 18-0 this season and has won 31 consecutive games dating back to Jan. 31, 2018.
“I felt coming into the season that we had nine or 10 guys that we could play and not have any drop-off,” Wellman said. “Our rotation shortened up because of injuries, but I never felt like the five guys we put out there were any less capable of getting the job done. I’ve told our team that as long as we don’t turn the ball over and we get good shots, I don’t care who is shooting the ball.”
Take the game against Simpson on Jan. 9, for instance. Hiller and Schimonitz were both out with injuries. Preseason D3hoops.com All-American Ryan Garver, who hasn’t missed a game this season, was battling a sore ankle and limping considerably.
If that wasn’t bad enough, starting center Clay Reimers, a transfer out of Concordia (Neb.), spent a lot of time on the bench because of foul trouble.
Bahe took over and lit up the scoreboard for a career-high 39 points, connecting six times from beyond the arc along the way.
“I just step up when I have to. It’s not really anything new,” Bahe said. “I play the best that I can and help put our team in a position to win.”
And about that performance in which he nearly scored 40?
“I guess I was feeling it a bit that night, but any of our guys could have done the same thing,” Bahe said.
That night against Simpson could have proven disastrous. Only a handful of teams can survive adversity the way the Prairie Wolves have. The panic button isn’t even an option.
“Concern probably isn’t the right word,” Wellman said. “I learned a lot last year when Schimonitz went down, and having gone through it once, dealing with injuries this year hasn’t been as stressful. We have experience being down a starter or two.”
The addition of Reimers and fellow Concordia University transfer Cordell Gillingham helps take away the stress. Reimers is putting up 8.6 points per game. Dylan Dirks has seen his scoring average rise by nearly three points (8.4 compared to 5.9 a year ago).
And then there is Bahe, who is, arguably, the most versatile athlete on the team. He is pouring in 11.8 points per game and is on pace for the best scoring average of his career.
“He can do a little bit of everything and has absolutely blossomed into a good basketball player,” Wellman said. “He is capable of being a starter or coming off the bench and is the most athletic guy on our team. He’s tough and such a hard worker. He’s the epitome of what we try to be about on the basketball court.”
Nebraska Wesleyan has thrived thanks to its depth and has handled success and the hype of being the top team in the country well.
“We are all level-headed,” Bahe said. “We didn’t get a lot of recognition last year, but this year, with the No. 1 ranking, we know we have a target on our back and that everyone is going to give us their best shot. It’s about us being ready no matter who we play.”
The best teams won’t let the pressure get the best of them. They embrace it. And that’s exactly what the Prairie Wolves have done.
“We rallied around the fact that we weren’t getting a lot of national attention last year, but now that we’ve accomplished what we did, we don’t want to sit back,” Wellman said. “We’ve talked about embracing the challenge of being the No. 1 team and everything that goes with it, and with the injuries, we’ve embraced that challenge and have become a better team because of it.”
The Prairie Wolves have no set goals. They just go out and enjoy each day and hope it leads to something special.
“Coach always preaches to us to do something special. He doesn’t have certain goals for us. We just take it game by game and work to do something special,” Bahe said.