Chadron State's Moala Tautuaa and Wayne State's Ashley Arlen were program changers.
The honorary captains of the All-Nebraska Division II basketball teams elevated their teams and affected their communities in a big way, too.
“Obviously what she did on the court and helping us win games and win a region is something that everybody sees,'' Wayne coach Chris Kielsmeier said of Arlen. “The amount of publicity and excitement she brought to Wayne College is just as important. And she did it being a great leader and great student as well.''
Arlen, a senior from Cascade, Iowa, averaged 18.1 points and 9.4 rebounds for the Wildcats, who went 32-3 and reached the Elite Eight for the first time.
The team set a school record for wins, toppling the old mark of 27, while picking up fans along the way. Signs supporting the team popped up across town and the Wildcats played before a packed house when they won the Central Region title at home, another first for the program.
Kielsmeier said Arlen was a unique talent. She was the Division II Bulletin and the Northern Sun player of the year.
“There was nothing on the court she couldn't do,'' he said. “She was very, very physical with her back to the basket and could score as well as anybody in Division II with her back to the basket.
“Yet she could shoot the 3 extremely well. She also played the game so physical and so aggressively that she got to the free-throw line a ton. She was a great rebounder and developed herself into a good defender.''
Arlen, who never lost on her home floor in three seasons, was one of five seniors who led Wayne in what Kielsmeier called a remarkable season. The others were Alisha Brown, Clare Duwelius, Eva Benson and Ali Schwartzwald.
Arlen and Duwelius plan to continue their careers overseas after they graduate in May.
Tautuaa, who redshirted as a freshman, was a three-time Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference selection who led the Eagles in scoring (12.9) and rebounding (5.6) last season. He shot a school-record 62.6 percent from the field for his career and scored 1,160 points, tying for 17th all time.
“He's been through a lot of ups and downs with the program,'' coach Brent Bargen said. “He really developed into a great leader both vocally and with his work ethic. He's a highly competitive kid.''
Tautuaa is leaving the program on a high note. The Eagles went 13-13 this season, but won 11 of their last 13 games, the best Chadron State finish since 1946. They also advanced to the RMAC playoffs for the first time since 2001-02, losing to the University of Nebraska at Kearney in the first round.
Tautuaa had quite an adjustment moving to Chadron from San Diego. But he embraced the experience, working on a ranch in Wyoming between his sophomore and junior seasons. He worked as a plumber last summer.
“Can you imagine a 6-7 kid from San Diego on a ranch, with boots and buckles and hats and the whole nine yards,” Bargen asked with a laugh.
Bargen called Tautuaa the mayor of Chadron for his outgoing personality. Known by everyone, he is quick with a smile and a hug, the coach said.
Bargen said with Tautuaa's personality, as well as his skill and athleticism, he should have a chance to go pro next season.
“He really has grown and matured a lot,'' the coach said. “There weren't very many players like him in the conference.''
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