Jeff Yoder Photo / iagameday.smugmug.com
By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY – City High girls basketball coach Bill McTaggart said he hasn’t dwelled on his team’s quick exit from the 2017 state tournament as motivation for this season.
But his players apparently are taking a different approach.
“We’ve been thinking about that this entire season,” sophomore point guard Rose Nkumu said after the top-ranked Little Hawks clinched another berth to the state tournament by defeating Bettendorf 65-40 in a Class 5A regional final on Tuesday at City High. “Just keeping that chip on our shoulder and keeping us humble.
“We really don’t want to go out in the first round this year. Our plan is to make it all the way to the championship, and hopefully, win it.”
The Little Hawks took a major step in accomplishing that lofty goal by dismantling Bettendorf behind 35 points from all-state senior forward Ashley Joens.
“This is just a typical day for Ashley,” McTaggart said of the 6-foot Joens. “She’s like three players for us.”
City High improved to 23-0 overall and will play a first-round game in the state tournament on Monday at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines. Bettendorf ended the season with a 17-6 record.
Joens struggled at times in the first half against Bettendorf’s sagging defense, but still had 18 points by halftime on 7-of-16 shooting from the field.
McTaggart then gave Joens some advice during the break that carried into the third quarter.
“I thought she was pressing a little in the first half,” McTaggart said. “I told her to relax and hit the open girl. There were a couple times when she would usually pass the ball. In the second half, she hit the open girl and created some openings for us, and then she went to work.”
Joens spent most of the game playing in the paint on offense and was constantly surrounded by two and three defenders in Bettendorf’s zone defense.
“I started rushing shots a lot during the first half, and after I just relaxed and played, I could just play my game and it all worked out for the better,” said Joens, who has signed a letter of intent to play basketball for Iowa State.
Joens agreed with Nkumu that last season’s first-round loss to Cedar Falls in the state tournament has served as inspiration for this season.
“Any time you lose at all, especially at state, it just gives you motivation to come out and be better than you were last year and get further than you did before,” Joens said. “Obviously, the big goal is to win state, but the motivation just carries over to that.”
The fact that Joens is one of the few seniors on the City High roster also serves as motivation because she knows her next loss would mark the end of her record-breaking high school career.
“She’s very serious and she’s been a great captain in sense of refocusing the girls,” McTaggart said. And I think a game like this in the first half, I think that was good for us.”
McTaggart said he doesn’t dwell on how last season ended partly because he knows his players don’t have to be reminded about it.
“I know that Ashley wants to end it in style and she’s carried this team,” McTaggart said. “It would be fitting for her to win three more (games).”
Joens nearly outscored Bettendorf by herself. She and the Bulldogs both had scored 30 points at one point early in the fourth quarter.
Bettendorf scored the game’s first points on a 3-point basket, but then City High answered with a 13-2 scoring run.
Joens made her first of two 3-point baskets in the game to give City High a 22-9 lead with 1 minute left in the first quarter.
The Little Hawks then stiffened on defense and held Bettendorf to just two baskets and five points in the second quarter. City High needed that defensive effort because it also struggled on offense in the second quarter, scoring just seven points.
Joens made a conventional 3-point play late in the second quarter that gave City High a 29-16 lead at halftime.
The Little Hawks expanded the lead to 48-30 after three quarters and to as many as 26 points in the fourth quarter.
The players and coaches then posed for pictures and exchanged hugs with family, friends and classmates after the game.
Joens said she doesn’t feel any pressure being a senior because she is so used to competing in pressure situations.
“I’ve played so many games that it just comes naturally,” she said. “If you just relax and play, then you’re good.”
Bettendorf 11 5 14 10 – 40
City High 22 7 19 17 – 65
Bettendorf (40) – Emily Ivory 2-7 0-0 6, Grace Erpelding 1-2 0-0 3, Erin Hatch 3-4 0-0 8, Jordan ratigan 1-8 0-2 2, Kylie Wroblewski 8-14 0-2 16, Allie Brownson 2-4 0-0 5, Laurel Braaten 0-0 0-0 0, Autumn Jensen 0-2 0-0 0, Eleanor Drexler 0-1 0-0 0, Emma Johnson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 16-42 0-4 40.
City High (65) – Ashley Joens 13-29 7-10 35, Grace Nkumu 4-9 3-3 12, Aubrey Joens 3-12 0-0 9, Paige Rocca 1-7 2-4 4, Sam Greving 1-3 0-0 2, Ella Cook 0-0 0-0 0, Ayanna Lindsey 1-2 1-1 3, Ashley Kuennen 0-0 0-0 0, Shevonna Norris 0-0 0-0 0, Skye Spencer 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-62 13-18 65.
3-point field goals – Bettendorf 6 (Emily Ivory 2, Erin Hatch 2, Grace Erpelding, Allie Brownson); City High 6 (Aubrey Joens 3, Ashley Joens 2, Grace Nkumu. Fouls – Bettendorf 15, City High 9.