West High Faces Balanced Waukee For Spot in Class 4A Title Game


Jeff Yoder Photo / iagameday.smugmug.com

Ryan Murken

Your Prep Sports

DES MOINES – West High spent the week leading up to the state tournament devising a defensive game plan designed to slow the top individual player in the state.

After getting past Muscatine and 4A’s all-time leading scorer Joe Wieskamp in its opener second-ranked West High faces a much different challenge in the semifinals.

While Muscatine relied on Wieskamp for nearly all of its offensive production, West High’s semifinal opponent Waukee (20-4) ranks as one of the most balanced teams in Class 4A.

All five starters for ninth-ranked Waukee are averaging between 8.9 and 12.5 points per game entering its semifinal matchup with defending champion West High (20-4) on Thursday at 6:30 p.m.  

“They are a very good team,” West High coach Steve Berman said. “They aren’t very deep, they play six guys, but those six guys can all play. They have very good balance.”

For a week West High was forced to practice defending a way it hasn’t defended all year in an effort to slow Wieskamp, who entered averaging nearly 34 points per game.

The Trojans now get less than 48 hours to prep for a Waukee squad that had four players with more than 11 points in a 60-58 quarterfinal win over seventh-ranked Johnston on Tuesday.

Waukee brings a five-game winning streak into Thursday’s semifinal and has had three players score in double figures in four of those five wins.

“Before the tournament I talked to people from Des Moines to get a feel for everything and what you hear is they are awful good,” Bergman said. “You didn’t hear anybody say they have this weakness or that weakness. We all have weaknesses but they are very solid.”

There are some similarities to be drawn between the Warriors and defending 4A champ West High.

Both teams have height at multiple positions on the court but don’t rely on a back-to-the-basket post.

Nathan Johnson, a 6-foot-7 senior and Dylan Jones a 6-foot-8 junior combine to average 23 points and better than 16 rebounds per game.

“They aren’t one of those pound it inside teams,” Bergman said. “They are a little bit like us, they are long but that doesn’t mean the ball is going inside into the post all the time.”

Johnson is the top offensive weapon in the Waukee arsenal.

The rangy forward averages a team-high 12.2 points per game and had a team-high 18 in the quarterfinal win over Johnston.

Johnson has plenty of help.

Junior point guard Noah Hart averages 9.8 points and ranks fourth in 4A in assists while senior Jaxx Rittman averaging 8.8 points per game and is a 42-percent 3-point shooter.

“They are big but they’ve got good guard play with Hart and Rittmann,” Bergman said. “And they have a huge wing (Johnson) that can shoot the 3 and he is very athletic. He got to the rim a lot last night.”

The biggest difference between the two teams is experience.

West High is making its eighth consecutive semifinal appearance and has won four of the past six state titles.

The Warriors are making their first ever semifinal appearance following the first state tournament win in program history on Tuesday.

“They are very solid,” Bergman said. “They run a lot of stuff on offense and they run it all well. They don’t have a lot of weaknesses.”