Your Prep Sports
IOWA CITY – For the better part of the last decade winning a state championship has been a realistic goal for the City High girls basketball team.
After seeing each of the last three seasons end with a state tournament loss hoisting a state championship trophy has gone from a realistic goal to a unanimous one for preseason top-ranked City High this season.
“We all talked about it before the season and obviously our goal is to win state, we have been there in the past and we haven’t completed it,” City High senior Aubrey Joens said. “We all kind of know that’s what we want to do and I think everybody is on the same page.”
It’s easy to see why nothing short of a state title will satisfy the Little Hawks this season.
City High returns all five starters from last year’s team that went 19-3 and lost to eventual state champion West Des Moines Valley in the Class 5A state quarterfinals.
The list of returnees feature a trio of Division I signees in the back court including a pair of four-year starters in Joens and Rose Nkumu.
City High brings back 99 percent of its scoring and 98 percent of its rebounding from a year ago and adds talented freshman Kelsey Joens to the mix.
Add that all up and there is only one acceptable finish this season.
“We said from the very first day of practice when we got together as a team ‘we all know what our goal is’,” Nkumu said. “We know where we want to end up at the end of the season, no one had to even say it.”
City High has been close the past three seasons.
Sandwiched around losses to Cedar Falls and West Des Moines Valley in the 2017 and 2019 5A quarterfinals was a 56-45 loss to cross-town rival West High in the 2018 title game.
City High has won conference and regional titles and had an undefeated regular season while posting a sparkling 66-6 record during its three-year state tournament run.
Yet one thing has eluded the Little Hawks – a state title.
“Every year the goal has been to win state, in year’s past it maybe wasn’t as clear that was the goal,” Joens said. “As we’ve gone through we’ve done about everything but win a state championship so that is definitely the clear goal.”
What will it take for City High to get over its state tournament hump?
For long-time coach Bill McTaggart the answer is simple.
“Rebound, rebound, rebound, rebound,” McTaggart said. “We have to rebound and play defense. We had our moments last season but we have to be more consistent.”
McTaggart may be right since offense shouldn’t be a problem for this City High group.
Joens returns after a breakthrough season in which she ranked third in 5A in scoring at 23 points per game.
The 5-foot-9 Iowa State recruit is shot a career-best 46 percent from beyond the 3-point line last season and should see even more open looks this season as opponents attempt to cover City High’s balanced offense.
“I’ve never had this many shooters,” McTaggart said. “This is my 22nd season at City this is the most shooters I have ever had.”
The offense all runs through Nkumu, a physical 5-foot-8 point guard headed to Marquette.
Always a strong playmaker off the dribble Nkumu took her offensive game to another level last season when she averaged a career-high 19 points and shot a team-high 50 percent from the floor.
“The experience of all of us playing together does help,” Nkumu said. “Everyone kind of gets back in the groove once we get on the court and the chemistry of having the same players on the floor helps.”
Rocca is the X factor in the Little Hawk attack, a strong shooter who came into her own a year ago while averaging 9.6 points per game.
A Missouri State recruit, the 5-foot-8 senior guard shot 32 percent from 3-point range last season.
“Rose, Aubrey and I have been in this spot three times and we are hoping to make it four and finish it this year,” Rocca said. “We’ve always wanted to win it but this is our last chance so we really want to win it.”
That trio alone is a handful but City High has more weapons.
Junior Ella Cook averaged 7.3 points and 5.4 rebounds a year ago and sophomore Eviyon Richardson started as a freshman last season and averaged 4.3 points and 3.6 rebounds per game.
Kelsey Joens, the 5-foot-10 freshman sister of Aubrey Joens is also expected to have an immediate impact.
“We have the most depth and versatility this year that we’ve had,” Aubrey Joens said. “We have lots of players that can shoot, we have players that can go inside and we are long and quick so we will be able to run a lot.”
Add everything together and the goal quickly comes into focus.
The trick for City High is not getting caught up in trying to win a state title every night.
“Every single person on the team had the goal to win state,” Rocca said. “It’s kind of an expectation but at the same time we know we have to take every practice and every game one at a time. We have to focus on getting better every day to be able to be at our best in the last game.”
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