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Your Prep Sports
DES MOINES – Days before the state tournament Bill McTaggart made a prediction about how the 5A tournament would play out.
“Everyone at state can score,” McTaggart said last week. “It’s the team that plays the best defense that wins down there.”
The long-time City High coach turned out to be right.
However, it was West High that was top dog on defense and in Class 5A on Friday.
Ninth-ranked West High (19-7) held top-ranked City High to a season-low scoring output in a 56-45 win over the Little Hawks in the first all Iowa City state title game in state history at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.
The win came after City High (25-1) swept the regular season series between the two cross-town rivals and gave West High its first title since winning the 4A crown in 2012.
“I don’t know if we had to win it that way but I think it makes it special because that is kind of what we’ve done, we guard,” West High coach BJ Mayer said. “When we can guard we make it tough on people.”
Lauren Zacharias led three players in double figures with 15 points but it was defense that ruled that day for West High on Friday.
Using a man-to-man defense that emphasized swarming Ashley Joens, the state’s leading scoring, West High held City High to a season-low 45 points on just 30 percent shooting.
Joens had 20 of her game-high 26 points in the second half but it wasn’t enough as City High had its perfect season end.
They were trying to take Ashley and Aubrey (Joens) out and they did a very good job,” McTaggart said. “We had a hard time hitting shots and give all the credit to Iowa City West they played an excellent game.”
West High face guarded Aubrey Joens, holding the sharpshooting sophomore to four points on three field goal attempts.
The rest of its defensive attention was focused on Ashley Joens, who had 32 points in a 79-70 win over West High in January.
West High double and triple teamed Joens who entered averaging 31 points per game, helping off every time the Iowa State recruit put the ball on the floor.
“We wanted to play lockdown defense on their best players and Cailyn and Paige and Logan did an incredible job,” West High senior Rachael Saunders said. “We were helping the helper, we were always looking to get the box out, the charges anything we could to keep Ashley and Aubrey off the boards and we happened to come out on top today.”
West High trailed 9-8 after the opening quarter but took the lead nine seconds into the second quarter on a pull-up jumper by Saunders.
The Saunders jumper started a 9-0 West High run that gave the Women of Troy a 17-9 lead they would never give up.
West High held City High scoreless for more than eight minutes at the end of the first and start of the second quarter while building its lead.
“They just collapsed everybody and we weren’t hitting our shots,” Ashley Joens said. “They did a great job defensively, you have to give them credit. We just needed to come out a little more ready to go.”
City High closed the gap to 18-16 on a jumper by Ashley Joens with 43 seconds left in the first half but Zacharias drilled a 3-pointer at the buzzer to put West High up 21-16 at intermission.
The lead never shrunk lower than five the rest of the game.
“The biggest thing we couldn’t get down early by a lot,” Mayer said. “We needed to kind of stay close and we got down three or four early but we closed that gap and were able to stay ahead and I thought that was huge because I thought if they got ahead we might start pressing.”
West High closed the season on an eight-game winning streak with the final four wins coming over top-10 teams.
West High lost four consecutive games in January and needed a road win at eighth-ranked Pleasant Valley in the regional final just to make it back to state.
The Women of Troy knocked off third-ranked West Des Moines Dowling in overtime in the quarterfinals and No. 10 Indianola in the semis.
“I think that our schedule even though we took a few losses in the middle really helped us deal with adversity,” Saunders said. “Having that stretch just made us that much more aware of how we could overcome our challenges and they were just another challenge that we needed to overcome and we came out on the winning side today.”
The common theme in each of its first two state tournament wins was defense but West High saved its best defensive performance for Friday.
The 45 points per nearly 32 below the season average for City High which had scored under 70 points five times before Friday.
“I think we executed obviously really well on defense,” Zacharias said. “Coming out with a win. Cailyn and Logan did a great job on them.”
Logan Cook had 14 points and Cailn Morgan added 10 for West High which shot 50 percent from the field.
Saunders had a game-high 12 rebounds as West High held a 34-22 rebounding edge.
They are pretty resilient kids and they are pretty smart kids,” Mayer said. “The nice thing is some of the stuff that we put in this morning is stuff that we have done before. It was just a little different.”
Ashley Joens was the only City High player in double-figures on Friday going 8-of-14 from the floor.
The rest of the Little Hawks were a combined 5-of-30 and 3-of-18 from 3-point range.
“They tried to take Aubrey out this time and they did a very successful job of that and we were off on our shooting,” McTaggart said. “It wasn’t our best defensive game either, we had some breakdowns but Iowa City West was the better team tonight.”
The 26 points for Joens gave her 86 in three games at the tournament, fourth most in a 5-player state tournament game and the most ever in a 5A tourney.
“It’s just been an amazing time,” Joens said of her prep career. “We’ve had great teams and to be able to play with my teammates who have been great, it’s been amazing.”
West High 8 13 16 19 – 56
City High 9 7 13 16 – 45
West High (56) – Cailyn Morgan 4-8 1-1 10, Lauren Zacharias 5-10 4-5 15, Rachael Saunders 2-5 3-4 7, Logan Cook 6-12 2-2 14, Emma Koch 3-4 1-3 7, Matayia Tellis 0-2 0-0 0, Audrey Koch 0-0 0-0 0, Paige Beckner 1-1 0-0 2, Team 21-42 11-15 34.
City High (45) – Rose Nkumu 2-8 2-2 8, Ashley Joens 8-14 7-9 26, Paige Rocca 0-5 2-2 2, Aubrey Joens 1-3 2-2 4, Samantha Greving 1-3 0-0 2, Ayana Lindsey 0-3 0-0 0, Ashley Kuennen 0-1 0-0 0, Ella Cook 1-7 0-0 3, Team 13-44 13-15 45.
3-point field goals – ICW 3-9 (Morgan 1-3, Zacharias 1-2, Cook 0-1, Paige Beckner 1-1); ICH 6-25 (Nkumu 2-6, Ash. Joens 3-7, Rocca 0-3, Lindsey 0-1, Kuennen 0-1, Cook 1-7). Rebounds – ICW 34 (Saunders 12); ICH 22 (Ash. Joens 7). Assists – ICW 6 (Zacharias 3); ICH 2 (Ash. Joens 2); Turnovers – ICW 14; ICH 9. Total fouls – ICW 17; ICH 14. Fouled out – None. Technical fouls – None.
Rose Nkumu, City High
Ashley Joens, City High (Captain)
Cailyn Morgan, West High
Lauren Zacharias, West High
Grace Berg, Indianola
Jennah Johnson, Johnston