Looking Back at The Best of the Girls Basketball Season

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Photo by Jeff Yoder

Ryan Murken

Your Prep Sports

The opening day of the state tournament is just around the corner.

It has taken more than three months but the field has been narrowed down to 40 teams across five classes that will chase state championships beginning on Monday.

Defending 5A runner-up City High is among those teams that will be chasing a title next week at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.

Before taking a closer look at what lies ahead at the state tournament here is a look back at the best of the girls basketball regular season so far.

Best Individual Performance: Aubrey Joens against Cedar Rapids Prairie. Joens had games with more points and rebounds but her 32-point, 6-rebound effort against the then fourth-ranked Hawks wasn’t just efficient (11-of-18 shooting, 7-of-9 from 3) but it came at the perfect time for City High which had lost its previous two games against ranked teams.

Best Individual Performance Part 2: Lauren Zacharias against City High. Zacharias was so steady this season it became easy to take games like the West High senior point guard had in the first meeting with the Little Hawks for granted but no triple-double should go unrecognized. Zacharias had 12 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists in a 64-57 overtime loss.

Comeback Player of the Year: Clear Creek Amana junior Karsyn Stratton. This category usually goes to a player that missed significant time a year ago. That wasn’t the case for Stratton but the junior battled back from a pair of injuries that cost her games this season to average 19.6 points and 6.5 rebounds per game.

Coach of the Year: West High’s BJ Mayer. West High (17-4) graduated its top two scorers, both division I players, from last year’s state title team and then lost senior starter Emma Koch to injury before the season and the Mayer-led Women of Troy still lost four fewer regular season games than a year ago.

Best Game: West Branch vs. Regina. The regional semifinal meeting between the two long-time rivals had it all. A scorching hot start, a second-half comeback, late-game drama and eventually overtime. Sasha Koenig hit a free throw with .7 seconds left to force overtime but Regina held on for a 54-50 win.  

Breakthrough Performer: West High sophomore Audrey Koch. Koch went from a steady reserve as a freshman last season to a star in her sophomore campaign averaging 16.3 points and 7 rebounds per game, both team highs.

Best Clutch Performance: Eviyon Richardson against West High. Richardson scored three total points in her first two career games but the City High freshman exploded for 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting including the go-ahead basket in a 64-57 win over West High in her third career game.

Biggest Shot: Lauren Zacharias against Cedar Rapids Prairie. With the game on the line West High put the ball in the hands of its senior leader and Zacharias made it the right call with a running bank shot as time expired that lifted the Women of Troy to a 55-53 win.

Most Versatile player: City High junior Rose Nkumu didn’t play a lot of positions but Nkumu did just about anything that was asked of her on the court averaging 18.7 points, 5.4 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 3.6 steals per game.

Unsung Hero: West Branch junior Kaiya Luneckas. It’s easy to overlook a player that average 1.9 points per game. In fact, most players averaging less than two points aren’t a big part of a team’s success. That wasn’t the case for the 6-foot-1 Luneckas who averaged a team-high 8.2 rebounds per game for 15-5 West Branch.

Best Under the Radar Performer: Liberty High junior Cora Saunders. The Lightning won just three games in their first season in the always rugged Mississippi Valley Conference but Saunders quietly put together a strong season averaging 12.5 points per game while shooting 44 percent from 3-point range.  

Defensive Player of the Year: West High senior Cailyn Morgan. West High was once against among the top defensive teams in Class 5A and the defensive game plan for the Women of Troy was usually constructed around the versatile Morgan. A the 5-foot-9 Northern Iowa recruit had 30 steals while usually drawing the opposing team’s top scorer.

Newcomer of the Year: Regina junior Sam Greving. Obviously Greving wasn’t new to the area prep basketball scene but she was new to Regina and the 5-foot-11 forward proved to be a huge boost for the Regals averaging 12.7 points and team-high 7.7 rebounds per game.

Freshman of the Year: Makinley Levin wasted little time making an impact in her first season at Solon. Levin led the Spartans in scoring at 9.7 points per game and was third on the team in rebounding and steals.

Bench Player of the Year: West High freshman Emma Ingersoll-Weng. A staple under West High coach BJ Mayer has been a solid bench and Ingersoll-Weng helped continue that tradition this season. Ingersoll-Weng averaged 7.3 points off the bench but more importantly was instant energy and ranked second on the team with 36 steals.

Most Valuable player: City High junior Aubrey Joens. Someone was going to have to pick up the production of graduated Miss Basketball Ashley Joens and Aubrey Joens has more than done her part in that department. Joens ranks third in 5A in scoring, averaging a career-high 23.1 points while shooting 47 percent from 3-point range, but also leads the team with 7.4 rebounds per game and adds 3 steals.

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