Back-to-back Regular Season Losses Help City High Refocus for Postseason Run

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Photo by Jeff Yoder

Ryan Murken

Your Prep Sports

IOWA CITY – Bouncing back from a loss is something that nearly every team has to deal with multiple times throughout the course of a basketball season.

For City High, responding to a defeat came as a virtual unknown.

City High didn’t lose a game last season before falling into the Class 5A state title game and two seasons ago the Little Hawks lost just once before the state tournament.

Juniors and three-year starters Rose Nkumu and Aubrey Joens were 61-3 during their prep careers after a 14-0 start to the season that rocketed City High to the top of the 5A rankings.

When adversity hit in the form of a 14-point road loss at cross-town rival West High on the final day of January it put the Little Hawks in an unusual position.

“We haven’t lost very much here and it we weren’t used to it,” Nkumu said. “I don’t think we knew how to respond right away.”

The loss to West High snapped a 41-game regular season winning streak and staggered the defending 5A Little Hawks ever so slightly.

Less than 48 hours after its first regular season loss in more than two years City High dropped back-to-back games for the first time since 2015 with a 79-69 loss at No. 11 West Des Moines Dowling.

Two weeks after its loss total from the past two seasons nearly doubled in a span of three days sixth-ranked City High (19-2) is back at the state tournament prepared to use its regular season adversity to its advantage.

“We are not a team that has experienced losing much so I think it was good to have two losses and even back-to-back it was something that we had never had happen to us before,” Nkumu said. “It was something we had to take to heart and look at ourselves in the mirror and say this is what we have to do to fix it and move on.”  

City High has won five straight entering its 5A state quarterfinal rematch with eighth-ranked West Des Moines Valley (17-5) Monday at 11:45 a.m. at Wells Fargo Arena.

Unlike last season City High enters the state tournament with a loss but the Little Hawks believe the late season slip ups have been the cause for an increase focus over the last several weeks.  

“I think it helped us learn what we have to do to win those big games in tough situations,” Joens said. “We had to face some adversity and I think that was something we needed.”

Following the loss to West Des Moines Dowling City High got back on track with a 67-37 win over Dubuque Senior.

The Little Hawks then rattled off consecutive wins over ranked teams Cedar Rapids Prairie (62-36) and Cedar Rapids Washington (60-54) to wrap up a seventh consecutive Mississippi Valley Conference divisional title.

Joens and Nkumu, who had lost one regular season game during their first three seasons, both described the back-to-back setbacks as humbling.

“It’s a difference experience, we weren’t used to it a lot and it definitely humbled us,” Joens said. “We knew we had to come out better and towards the end of the season we had to keep getting better.”

As much as the losses stung it was the level of competition the Little Hawks saw in those losses that City High hopes pays off this week.

Defending 5A champion West High was ranked fifth in the final poll and had a nine-game winning streak end in the regional final while West Des Moines Dowling returns to the state tournament for the third consecutive season.

“I think the losses helped us learn and gave us some adversity but playing those teams really showed us what we have to do in order to win big games like that,” Joens said. “That could help us down the road.”

City High will have a chance to show what it has learned on Monday against a West Des Moines Valley team that knocked off Cedar Rapids Washington 76-62 in a regional final.

The Tigers are led by Maryland recruit Zoe Young and are making their third consecutive state meet appearance.

Young, a 5-foot-10 senior point guard Young ranks fifth in the state in scoring at 23.4 points per game and also averages 5.6 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game.

City High is making its third straight appearance at state after reaching the title game for the first time since 2008 last year.

“We have some experience on this team,” Nkumu said. “There are girls that have been the tournament two times so it’s just building on that experience and having the veterans guide the underclassmen and making sure to pass on the knowledge to them.”  

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