TRAER - It's a date the Redhawks won't soon forget.
Though North Tama coach Brandon Clubb writes "January 5" on the white board before every game just to make sure.
That night marks the squad's first and only defeat of the season - and a turning point that heightened its sense of urgency the rest of the way.
T-R PHOTO BY TROY HYDE
The North Tama boys’ basketball team poses with the program’s first-ever state qualifier banner after defeating Iowa Mennonite School in the Class 1A substate finals Feb. 23 at Benton Community High School in Van Horne. The Redhawks make their state tournament debut Monday against Ankeny Christian Academy at 3:45 p.m. inside Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.
"It was a blessing for us," Clubb said of the team's 54-45 road loss to Jesup. "After the game we told the guys, 'This is going to make us better.' It kind of refocused us and put us in a better frame of mind."
Since then, North Tama (25-1) has won 15 straight games, claimed a third straight Iowa Star Conference South Division title and earned the school's first-ever state tournament berth.
The sixth-ranked Redhawks continue their journey against Ankeny Christian Academy (24-1) in the quarterfinal round of the Iowa Boys State Basketball Tournament Monday at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines. Tip-off is set for 3:45 p.m. and just minutes before - North Tama will likely walk past a familiar sight as they prepare to take the floor in an unfamiliar setting.
Iowa Boys State Basketball Tournament
At Wells Fargo Arena, Des Moines
Danville (25-0) vs. Wapsie Valley (17-8), 10:30 a.m.
Storm Lake St. Mary's (24-1) vs. Riverside, Oakland (24-1), 12:15 p.m.
Lone Tree (25-1) vs. Boyden-Hull (22-3), 2 p.m.
North Tama (25-1) vs. Ankeny Christian Academy (24-1), 3:45 p.m.
"After the Jesup loss we sat in the locker room and heard their team cheering. Coach (Clubb) said, 'Listen to this, and let it sink in," North Tama forward Mitchell Boerm said. "We realized we can be beat and there's a lot of great teams out there. On any given night, anything can happen.'"
The third-seeded Redhawks won't need any reminder when they toe the court against the sixth-seeded Eagles, who ride a 12-game streak and substate final victory over No. 8 Murray into the tourney.
To extend the greatest season in the history of the program, North Tama will have to counter ACA's triple threat of Ben Taylor, JJ Waddle and Damon Stubbs.
"They're similar to some of the teams we've seen, those (guys) are kind of the three pieces to the puzzle," Clubb said of the Rolling Hills Conference champions' top trio.
Taylor is a 6-foot-7 senior who averages 16.5 points and 12 rebounds per game, while Waddle (jr., 13.8 ppg) and Stubbs (soph., 13.4 ppg) combined for 85 3-pointers at a 35-percent clip this year. Both Taylor and Waddle were members of the Eagles' only other state qualifier team, which lost a quarterfinal game in 2010.
Fortunately for the Redhawks, defense has been their calling card - limiting opponents to 38.6 ppg.
"We're not going to be able to press everybody every night but we can play defense in the half court. We're able to apply pressure without getting beat," Clubb said. "We've really prided ourselves in holding the team's leading scorers under their average and holding the team below their offensive average."
Maturity is another asset the Redhawks hang their hat on with 11 upperclassmen compared to just four at ACA. Taylor is the lone senior for the Eagles, while North Tama boasts 10.
"Our guys are able to handle pressure situations," Clubb said. "They've been through a lot this year and these kids have played varsity for a really long time."
North Tama's experience starts at the top with five senior starters including Boerm (15.0 ppg) and Nolan Hefty (9.6 ppg) in the front court. Jacob Wrage (11.0 ppg), Dalton Hulme (9.3 ppg) and Brent Billerbeck (5.2 ppg) comprise the backcourt.
"We play together and for each other," said Wrage, who leads the team in assists (121) and steals (89). "We're just a unit out there."
Along with their established history, the Redhawks have gained a greater grasp of playing on the big stage after completed practice at the McLeod Center in Cedar Falls Friday. North Tama will hold today's practice at Marshalltown Community College, before doing a final run-through at Drake's Knapp Center Monday morning.
While North Tama hasn't forgotten the night that changed their season for the better, Clubb is even more pleased to see his squad's year-long goals - laid out in each game's scouting report - still within reach.
"Those goals have been the same in every scouting report. We want to be a state tournament team, we want to be a state place finisher and we want to be a state champion," Clubb said. "These kids have bought into it and now we're where we want to be with a chance to do it."
Ankeny Christian Academy's lone loss this season came against Colo-NESCO, a 48-46 setback Jan. 14 in Colo. Clubb, whose squad defeated the Royals three times this year, said his team compared some notes and video with the Royals, which was a "big help" according to Clubb. ... The winner of Monday's game advances to Thursday's semifinal round to play the victor of No. 5-ranked Lone Tree (25-1) vs. No. 4 Boyden-Hull (22-3).