Breaking Down the Class 5A Girls State Basketball Tournament

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Photo by Jeff Yoder

Ryan Murken

Your Prep Sports

The Matchups

No. 6 City High (19-2) vs. No. 8 West Des Moines Valley (17-5)  

A couple of recent state tournament regulars meet in a quarterfinal rematch from last season won by City High 78-62.

City High is making its third consecutive state tournament appearance and enters riding a five-game winning streak after back-to-back games to West High and West Des Moines Dowling.

The defending 5A runner-up, City High has one of the top backcourt duos in the state in juniors Rose Nkumu and Aubrey Joens.

Nkumu and Joens combine to average 41.8 points 12.9 rebounds and 6.1 assists per game.

West Des Moines Valley is making its third straight appearance at state and fifth in the last six years.

The Tigers have reached the state title game twice in the past four seasons winning the 5A title in 2017.

Valley enters the state tournament battle tested this season with nine games against state tournament qualifiers.

The Tigers went 4-5 in those games with wins over 5A qualifier Johnston, West Des Moines Dowling and Ankeny Centennial all coming during a 5-0 start to the season.

No. 1 Johnston (21-2) vs. No. 14 Urbandale (13-9)

Top-ranked Johnston returns to the state tournament for the fifth consecutive season chasing its first ever title.

The Dragons have reached the semifinals two of the past three seasons, finishing runner-up in 2016 and falling to City High in the semifinals last season.

Johnston brings an 11-game winning streak to Wells Fargo Arena and has won 20 of its last 21 games including a pair of wins over Urbandale by 26 and 19 points.

The Dragons are 8-2 against state tournament qualifiers with wins over five of the other seven teams in the 5A field.

Urbandale earned its first state tournament trip since 1994 with a 64-59 win at ninth-ranked Cedar Rapids Prairie in a regional final.

Don’t be fooled by the record, six of the nine losses for Urbandale have come to state qualifiers and the J-Hawks own a pair of wins over state qualifier Ankeny Centennial.

The J-Hawks are seeking to keep their Cinderella tournament run going with their first state tournament win since 1986.

No. 2 Waukee (18-4) vs. No. 11 West Des Moines Dowling (16-7)

Perhaps the most intriguing of three opening-round rematches between CIML opponents features one of the top players in the state in Dowling junior Caitlin Clark and one of the hottest teams in 5A in Waukee.

Waukee returns to the state tournament for the sixth straight year playing its best basketball of the season.

The Warriors have won 13-of-14 and nine straight, a winning streak that includes wins over four state qualifiers and fifth-ranked West High in the Region 7 title game.

Waukee hasn’t missed a state tournament since 2013 but the Warriors haven’t had any success on the state’s biggest stage since claiming the first title in program history in 2015.

The Warriors have dropped three consecutive 5A quarterfinals after falling to Johnston 73-48 in their state tournament opener last March.

Led by Clark, a top-five national recruit by ESPN, Dowling is making its third straight state tournament appearance and sixth in seven years.

The 5-foot-11 Clark leads the state in scoring at 32.2 per game and had 23 in a 57-53 regular season win over Waukee back on January 15.

No. 3 Southeast Polk (19-3) vs. No. 10 Ankeny Centennial (15-7)

After a two-year hiatus Southeast Polk returns to the state tournament capable of claiming the second title in program history.

The Rams feature one of the state’s most dynamic scoring tandems in the state in senior point guard Maggie McGraw (20.1 points per game) and sophomore Grace Larkins (21 ppg).

Like Johnston, Southeast Polk has wins over five teams in the Class 5A field including a 51-44 victory over Ankeny Centennial on November 27.

The Rams lost February games to Waukee by 23 and Johnston by 22 but rebounded with a win over West Des Moines Dowling in the regular season finale before winning a pair of regional games by an average of 31.5 points.

Ankeny Centennial is making just the second tournament appearance in program history but won the 5A title in its first trip to state in 2016.

Annually one of the best defensive teams in the state the Jaguars are the toughest team to score against in the 5A field, allowing just 38.4 points per game.

The Faces

CITY HIGH: Aubrey Joens, 5-9, Jr. Iowa State commit ranks third in 5A in scoring at 23.1 points per game and leads City High with 7.4 rebounds per game.

WEST DES MOINES DOWLING: Caitlin Clark, 5-11, Jr. A top-five national recruit by ESPN Hoop Gurlz, Clark leads the state in scoring at a 32.2 per game clip to go with 6.7 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game.

JOHNSTON: Maya McDermott, 5-5, Jr. A Northern Iowa recruit, McDermott averages a team-high 19.2 points and leads Class 5A with 5.7 assists per game.  

URBANDALE: Maya Gyamfi, 6-1, Jr. The top shot blocker in the 5A field with 56, Gyamfi has recorded double-doubles in four of the last five games and averages 13.8 points and 9.5 rebounds per game.

WAUKEE: Jori Nieman, 5-8 Sr., Nieman is the third leading scorer for the Warriors but the senior point guard is the one that makes it all go, averaging 12 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game.

WEST DES MOINES VALLEY: Zoe Young, 5-10, Sr. Maryland recruit is the second leading scorer in 5A at 23.4 points per game but also averages 5.6 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 1.6 blocks per game.

SOUTHEAST POLK: Maggie McGaw, 5-11, Sr. Iowa State signee is averaging 20.1 points, 5.6 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game.

ANKENY CENTENNIAL: Rachel Schon, 6-1, Sr. Leads the Jaguars in scoring (12.9 points) and rebounding (9 rebounds) and had 19 points and 10 rebounds in a regional final win over Pleasant Valley.

The Forecast

There are few strangers in the 5A field.

City High and West Des Moines Valley meet in a rematch of a state quarterfinal from last season and the other three opening-round matchups are regular season rematches between CIML foes.

If regular season results are duplicated on Monday at Wells Fargo Arena and City High can get past Valley the Little Hawks would have a semifinal rematch with top-ranked Johnston while Southeast Polk and West Des Moines Dowling would meet for a second time.

Second-ranked Waukee has the balance to make a title run if it can get past Dowling in the opener and never rule out Ankeny Centennial which is annually among the top defensive teams in the state.

The Favorite

Perhaps the only thing more difficult that picking a winner in a strong and balanced 5A field is providing a probative favorite.

There is no shortage of teams worthy of wearing the favorite tag starting with defending runner-up City High which spent most of the season ranked number one.

Top-ranked Johnston, perennial contender Waukee and talent-laden Southeast Polk could all be labeled as favorites.

The Focus

Last season West High snapped a five-year CIML run of 5A dominance becoming the first team from outside the CIML to win a 5A title since 2012.

With CIML seven CIML qualifiers this season it is up to City High to carry the flag for the rest of the state.

The Little Hawks knocked off a pair of CIML teams in reaching the title game a year ago and lost its only game with a CIML foe this season at West Des Moines Dowling.

If City High can’t reach the title game it will be the fifth all-CIML final in the past seven seasons.

Five Fast Facts

*- The Urbandale front court duo of 6-foot-1 posts Maya Gyamfi and Jada Gyamfi have combined for 99 blocked shots, more than the total for six teams in the 5A field.

*- Southeast Polk is the only team in the state with two players averaging 20 points per game in senior Maggie McGraw (20.1) and sophomore Grace Larkins (21).  

*- The top three free throw shooting teams in the state are all in the Class 5A field in Southeast Polk (76.1%), Waukee (75.2%) and City High (73.3%).

*- West Des Moines Dowling junior Caitlin Clark has scored 708 points this season, third most ever by large class player behind the 798 City High’s Ashley Joens scored last season and the 737 Amber Harrington of Davenport North scored in 2009-2010. The 32.2 points per game for Clark is the highest average for a big school player since Harrington scored 35.1 per game.  

*- City High junior guards Aubrey Joens (23.1) and Rose Nkumu (18.7) average a combined 41.8 points per game, most among any duo in the state.

The Schedule

Monday’s Quarterfinals

No. 1 Johnston (21-2) vs. No. 14 Urbandale (13-9), 10 a.m.

No. 6 City High (21-2) vs. No. 8 West Des Moines Valley (17-5), 11:45 a.m.

No. 2 Waukee (18-4) vs. No. 11 West Des Moines Dowling (16-7), 1:30 p.m. 

No. 3 Southeast Polk (19-3) vs. No. 10 Ankeny Centennial (15-7), 3:15 p.m.

Thursday’s Semifinals

Johnston/Urbandale winner vs. City High/West Des Moines Valley winner, 10 a.m.

Waukee/West Des Moines Dowling winner vs. Southeast Polk/Ankeny Centennial winner, 11:45 a.m.

Friday’s Championship

Semifinal winners, 6 p.m.

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