REINBECK - The balance of power shifted, if ever slightly, on Jan. 25 inside a packed gymnasium in State Center.
Handing the West Marshall boys basketball team its first conference loss in the North Iowa Cedar League West Division in more than three years, Gladbrook-Reinbeck ended a 44-game string of dominance by the Trojans and signaled a potential changing of the guard.
Claiming a share of its first conference title since 2007-08, the Rebels split the league crown with West Marshall and enter the new season looking to further establish the momentum created from the breakthrough win.
T-R PHOTO BY TYLER STRAND
Gladbrook-Reinbeck juniors Cam Kickbush, left, and Zach Pierce lead the Rebels in their pursuit of a repeat North Iowa Cedar League West Division title. The Rebels shared the conference crown with West Marshall last season, finishing 13-1 in league play.
"It was big for us mentally just getting over the hump," said junior Zach Pierce, who led the Rebels in scoring (15.5 points per game) and rebounding (7.9) last season. "We want to go far and go to state, but we need to do things right first. If that's jumping a little higher, playing better defense, making more free throws ... we've just got to improve as a team."
While some uncertainty resides on the Rebels' roster after losing three starters from last year's 17-7 (13-1 NICL West) unit, G-R returns a pair of NICL West first team selections to build around.
Pierce, a 6-foot-4 post, joins point guard Cam Kickbush (12.6 ppg) who connected on 46 3-pointers last season at a 44 percent clip. The junior tandem is well known for its offensive prowess but is looking to ramp up its defensive game after the loss of top defenders Trevor Trunck and Jacob Smoldt along with fellow starter Logan Koester.
"We've got a lot of scorers, but the coaches' goal is to be a better defensive team," said Kickbush, who has developed a strong chemistry with Pierce over many years on the court. "I've played with Zach since fourth grade and we just know how to play together."
Cameron Clark, a 6-4 junior, and sophomore guard Colton Dinsdale are two players expected to bolster the defense. It remains the Rebels' primary focus in practice each day and G-R coach Scott Kiburis hopes a stronger defense will springboard the offense.
"Last year we were pretty slow on offense," said Kiburis. "Every possession was important and we created a lot from our defense. We're trying to hopefully speed the game up a little bit and on the defensive end is where we're going to get more opportunities down the floor."
Offensively, junior guard Luke Holman will look to fill the shooting prowess left by Smoldt, who drained 49 treys last year and averaged 10.7 points en route to all-NICL honors.
"(Luke's) exactly like Jacob other than he's left handed," said Pierce. "He'll go 10-for-10 on threes (in practice), he's just that good of a shooter."
Senior Chase Clark averaged six points off the bench last year and should provide solid minutes once he returns from a hamstring injury, while freshman Joe Smoldt and sophomore Tyler Eiffler are two others expected to contribute on a relatively young 12-member roster.
Outside of their top tandem, starting spots have yet to be established though Kiburis is confident in his team's depth and is putting more stock in finding the right combinations that work most effectively.
"It could be a situation where even if a guy is not starting the game, he could be as much if not a more important part of the puzzle," said Kiburis. "There's certain roles guys play and certain combinations, so starting the game isn't a key thing, it's how it all fits together. We always say, 'Who's finishing the game? Who does coach want in at the end of the game?' That's where it counts."
Kiburis expects another competitive battle for the conference crown this year with West Marshall at the forefront along with a handful of others. The G-R coach believes he'll have a "pretty solid team" this year, but it will take some time for the new pieces to come together and the defense to take shape.
Though so far, the Rebels are buying into the coach's point of emphasis.
"Defense is what gets you far in the playoffs," said Pierce. "If the other team scores 10 and we score 11, that's all you need."
The Rebels open the season at home against South Hardin on Dec. 6, and host defending co-NICL West champion West Marshall on Dec. 20.
Last year: 6-16, 3-3 CIC North
Top returners: Mason McCarville, sr., 3.7 points, 1.1 rebounds per game; Austin Kluver, jr., 2.6 points per game; Aaron Hauser, soph., 2.0 points per game.
Recap: The Bobcats graduated their top six leading scorers and their top five leading rebounders from last year's squad. Marshalltown welcomes in transfer Dylan Diveney to help fill some of the voids. Diveney averaged 14 points and eight rebounds for Clarke last season. This year's team could be quicker and more athletic but the Bobcats won't be as good from 3-point range.
Last year: 17-7, 13-1 NICL West
Top returners: Zach Pierce, jr., 15.5 points, 8 rebounds per game; Camden Kickbush, jr., 12.6 points, 2.6 assists per game; Chase Clark 6 points, 3.6 rebounds per game.
Recap: The Rebels should be in the mix to win the NICL West Division with its two top scorers from last year's 17-7 squad back this season. Pierce is one of the best players in the conference and Kickbush should give G-R a solid inside-outside game. The only loss in NICL West play last year came when the Rebels split two games with West Marshall.
West Marshall Trojans
Last year: 16-6, 13-1 NICL West
Top returners: Duncan Ferch, sr., 18 points, 7 rebounds per game; Matt Van Metre, sr., 6.5 points, 4.4 rebounds per game.
Recap: The Trojans graduated double-figure scorer Christian Vis from last year's team, but NICL West Player of the Year Duncan Ferch returns after averaging 18 points per game last year. The Trojans' lone loss last year in NICL West play was to Gladbrook-Reinbeck. The Trojans and Rebels are the two favorites entering the year this season as well.
Last year: 16-8, 10-4 NICL West
Top returners: Austin Heitland, sr., 10.1 points, 8.5 rebounds per game; Evan Janssen, sr., 9 points, 4.5 rebounds per game; Derek Schipper, sr., 5.9 points, 4.1 rebounds per game.
Recap: Leading scorer and current NIACC basketball player Josh Bagley graduated but the Cougars still return some strong pieces to a squad that won 16 games last year. Janssen and Heitland, who only played in 12 games last year, are the leaders, but another strong season could hinge on the production AGWSR gets from the role players.
Last year: 8-13, 5-9 NICL West
Top returners: Conner Ubben, sr., 13.2 points, 4.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists per game; Lane Caster, sr., 5.6 points, 2.9 rebounds per game; Ben Neff, sr., 4.5 rebounds per game
Recap: The Comets were at their best at the end of the season last year, collecting five of their eight wins in the final eight games. BCLUW also won two playoff games and will have higher expectations this season as Ubben returns from a solid junior campaign.
South Hardin Tigers
Last year: 7-15, 4-10 NICL West
Top returners: Bryce Zeisneiss, sr., 14.2 points, 8.6 rebounds per game; Eric Mulder, jr., 11.9 points, 3.6 rebounds per game; Sam Shindelar, jr., 7.7 points per game.
Recap: The Tigers only won seven games last year but five of their top six scorers are back, including Bryce Zeisneiss (14.2) and Eric Mulder (11.9), who were both in double figures last year. South Hardin has the most key returners of any other team in the NICL West, which makes them a darkhorse contender.
South Tama County Trojans
Last year: 6-16, 5-9 NICL West
Top returners: Grant Koch, jr., 6.9 points, 2.5 rebounds per game; Ian Slagle, jr., 4.8 points, 2.3 rebounds per game.
Recap: The Trojans started 4-1 in conference play last year before losing eight of their last nine. The top two scorers in Jose Fonseca and Sam Kuhter are gone, but junior Grant Koch should present some matchup problems inside. Ian Slagle also returns.
Grundy Center Spartans
Last year: 6-18, 3-11 NICL West
Top returners: Brady Hook, sr., 7.6 points, 6.7 rebounds per game; Lane Bangasser, sr., 4.8 points per game; Jordan Clapp, sr., 3.2 points per game.
Recap: The Spartans dropped their first six NICL West games a season ago and this year appears to be a rebuilding season as four of the top five scorers and rebounders have graduated. Brady Hook was second on the team in scoring and led the team in rebounds last year but Grundy Center won just six games.
East Marshall Mustangs
Last year: 3-19, 3-11 NICL West
Top returners: Ben Terrones, sr., 12.8 points, 4.4 rebounds per game; Nate DeBondt, jr., 3.4 points, 2.8 rebounds per game; Zach Johnson, jr., 3 points, 3.6 rebounds per game.
Recap: All three wins for the Mustangs last year came in conference play. The bad news for East Marshall is that two of the Mustangs' top three leading scorers from last year are gone, but Ben Terrones does return after leading the team at 12.8 points per game. Nate DeBondt, Nick Mommer and Austin Briney are all juniors who figure to have more prominent roles this season.
North Tama Redhawks
Last year: 26-3, 16-0 Iowa Star
Top returner: Paul Kaufmann, jr., 4.8 points, 1.9 rebounds per game.
Recap: The Redhawks had a special season a year ago, advancing to the semifinals of the Class 1A Iowa High School State Basketball Tournament. Unfortunately, that team was littered with 10 seniors, six of which led the Redhawks in scoring and seven who led them in rebounding. Paul Kaufmann is one of the few who returns with any kind of experience. Kaufmann averaged just less than 5 points per game.
Last year: 14-10, 11-5 Iowa Star
Top returners: Cole Osbun, sr., 6.3 points, 2.6 rebounds, 2 assists per game; Brady Stoeffler, soph., 3.2 points, 1.2 rebounds, 1 assist per game.
Recap: The Royals welcome back starter Cole Osbun from last year but four of the top five scorers graduated, including Brandon Niemeyer, who averaged 19 points and 9.5 rebounds per game. Jake Webb also averaged in double-figures on the Royals' 14-win team.
Last year: 11-11, 9-7 Iowa Star
Top returners: Luke Petty, sr., 12 points, 3.5 rebounds per game; Chad Plaehn, sr., 10.1 points, 3.4 rebounds per game; Brock Fisher, sr., 9.3 points, 4.7 rebounds per game.
Recap: The Wolverines are a trendy pick in the Iowa Star Conference South this season with their three top scorers all back for one last run. Blake Warren is the only starter not returning to a team that went 9-7 in league play a season ago.
Last year: 11-12, 3-13 Iowa Star
Top returners: Royce Timberwolf, jr., 10 points, 3.4 rebounds per game; Tyus Grant, sr., 8.7 points, 3.3 rebounds, 2 assists per game; Cordell Bear, sr., 7.2 points, 3 rebounds per game.
Recap: Meskwaki's young team returns with more experience and higher expectations this season. Royce Timberwolf leads what could be a deep roster full of underclassmen that could challenge for an upper-tier spot in the Iowa Star Conference. Eight of the Warriors' top 10 scorers from last year's 11-win team are back. Timberwolf was the only one in double figures but six other returners scored at least 5 ppg.