Photo by Jeff Yoder
Your Prep Sports
IOWA CITY – Any fan that has watched City High this season or an opposing coach that has turned on tape of the Little Hawks is well aware of the talent in the backcourt.
The junior guard combo of Aubrey Joens and Rose Nkumu is the highest scoring duo in the state combing for nearly 42 points per game.
Joens and Nkuumu are each electric playmakers, all-state performers and Division I recruits that have shared the spotlight this season after the graduation of last year’s Miss Basketball Ashley Joens.
While Nkumu and Joens draw most of the attention from media and opposing defenses they aren’t the only capable shot makers in the City High backcourt.
Junior Paige Rocca is a Division I recruit in her own right, a more than capable scorer and a key as sixth-ranked City High (19-2) attempts to make another state tournament run starting on Monday with a 5A quarterfinal at 11:45 a.m. against No. 8 West Des Moines Valley (17-5) at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.
“I guess I’m in the shadows or whatever but I feel blessed to play with them,” Rocca said. “I’m trying to do anything I can to help us if it is making shots or getting rebounds or steals.”
Last year as Nkumu and Aubrey Joens played secondary roles to Ashley Joens during her impressive senior season Rocca had a strong debut averaging 8.8 points per game in her first year of extended action.
As a junior Rocca has seen her role expand yet still is overshadowed by perhaps the best guard combo in the state.
Rocca enters the state tournament average a career-best 9.8 points per game and has become a strong solid option when defenses key on Joens or Nkumu.
She holds a scholarship offer from Northern Illinois and is hearing from other colleges.
“I’ve really worked to improve this season and I talked to my coaches about how much improvement I have made,” Rocca said. “My coaches have really helped me get better.”
Rocca has shown the ability to come up with big games.
She had 20 points in an overtime win over West High this season and has scored in double digits 10 times this season.
“She has definitely improved her shot and she has hit big shots for us,” Nkumu said. “She knows when to look for the right people and she’s been big on defense too. She’s been big for us.”
The 5-foot-8 Rocca has improved her scoring this season but her biggest improvements have come in other areas.
As a sophomore Rocca was known primarily as a shooter. This season she has she has become a solid perimeter defender, has more than doubled her rebounding numbers averaging 4.5 per game and ranks second on the team with 2.8 assists per game.
“We believe in her,” Nkumu said. “She is a dog on our defense end and on the offensive end she gets big rebounds and she looks to create for herself.”
Rocca was 2-of-15 shooting in two regional wins but had 17 rebounds and six assists in thosegames.
“She had nine rebounds (against Bettendorf) and she had eight rebounds last game so she has stepped up big on that end,” City High coach Bill McTaggart said. “She has improved as a player.”
Rocca will be a key for City High at the state tournament.
Last season teams schemed defensively to slow Ashley Joens and either Aubrey Joens or Nkumu at the state tournament.
Devising a plan to stop one player in common and two is a challenge but finding a plan that limits three scorers is almost impossible.
That is what makes Rocca an important piece of the City High puzzle this week at Wells Fargo Arena.
“She is going to have to step up big for us at state,” Bill McTaggart said. “She is our third scorer and she is capable of having big nights.”
Like her teammates in the backcourt Rocca returns to the state tournament with experience.
She was a starter on City High’s 5A runner-up team a year ago and averaged six points and two rebounds in three games at state.
“Playing at state is a whole different environment and you have to have a whole different mentality,” Roca said. “It’s a totally different experience and you have to be ready.”
Joens and Nkumu are used to having game plans built to take away their scoring opportunities and they expect to see that this week starting on Monday against West Des Moines Valley.
If that is the defensive plan City High sees at state Nkumu and Joens are confident Rocca is in for big games.
“She has been patient and trusted in us and we trust in her,” Joens said. “She has hit some big shots for us and she is bound to have a big game coming up.”
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