Spartan three-step

Grundy Center secures share of third-straight NICL West title

T-R PHOTO BY THORN COMPTON • Grundy Center junior Brooke Flater, right, sends up a shot in the paint while AGWSR senior Mandy Willems (14) attempts to contest during the third quarter of the Spartans’ win over the Cougars in Grundy Center on Friday night.

GRUNDY CENTER — From the opening tip in Friday’s big NICL West Division matchup between the Grundy Center girls basketball team and AGWSR, it was clear both teams wanted to take this game and with it at least a share of the division crown.

The game was a back and forth affair, with both the Spartans and Cougars maintaining control for long stretches of time, but in the end it was Grundy Center who made enough plays down the stretch to eke out a 57-53 win on their home court.

Spartans junior Brooke Flater, who finished the game with 12 points, said this win was big because it was her third time earning at least a share of the conference title.

“It’s very exciting just because it will be our third year and with volleyball too winning all of those conference championships, it’s just a good feeling with my team and classmates,” Flater said.

Flater and fellow post player Kylie Willis were huge factors in the Spartan victory, as they combined for 26 points along with playing lock-down defense in the paint all night.

T-R PHOTO BY THORN COMPTON • AGWSR senior Mandy Willems (14) drives the lane while Grundy Center junior Kylie Willis makes contact during the fourth quarter of the Spartans’ home win over the Cougars. Willems finished with a game-high 25 points, 16 of which came in the fourth quarter.

After trailing by two points at halftime, 19-17, the Spartans (16-1, 10-1) started off the third quarter on a 9-1 run, on their way to outscoring AGWSR (16-2, 9-2) 17-7 in the frame. Flater scored seven of her 12 points during the quarter, and Cougars head coach Laurie Gann said her girls just didn’t seem to have an answer for Flater all night.

“Flater really hurt us inside and we have to work on some of that as we come up against some stronger post play later on,” Gann said.

Grundy Center head coach Matt Lindeman credited both Flater and Willis on their ability to score down low when called upon, as well as play some tough defense.

“Our girls stepped up and played big. Our posts played big, Kylie was big inside and Brooke played big, those two together were huge,” he said.

Flater said it’s her familiarity with her teammates, especially with Willis, that allow her and the team to stifle their opponent’s offensive momentum.

T-R PHOTO BY THORN COMPTON

“I think our defense is great, we have always been really focused on defense and I just think growing up together we all know how to talk to each other on screens and stuff,” Flater said. “Especially me and Kylie, we kind of can work together and we talk, it’s just fun with her.”

While Flater and Willis each had great nights, it was once again Hailey Wallis who led the Spartans in scoring with 19 points. Wallis scored nine of her 19 in the final frame, going 6-for-7 from the free-throw line in clutch situations, and she wasn’t the only Spartan to score when needed most.

Grundy Center started the second quarter trailing 14-10, and the Cougars went on a five-point run to start the second and extend their lead almost to double digits. Needing a big shot to spark a run of their own, Willis and Wallis each hit from short distance and Reegan Zinkula buried a 3-pointer to bring the game back within one possession.

“Reegan hits a three in the corner there and that was a big three,” Lindeman said of how his girls fought back. “There were just times where we needed something and somebody stepped up and was able to get it. These girls have been through moments like this.”

Though they came out on the losing end, the Cougars showed plenty of fight as well, scoring a whopping 27 points in the fourth quarter to never quite let the Spartans feel comfortable with their lead.

T-R PHOTO BY THORN COMPTON

Senior Mandy Willems, back on the court after missing the game against Belmond-Klemme the night before with an ankle injury, scored 16 of her game-high 25 points in the fourth, and she said it was nice to be back out with her team and making shots.

“It felt good to knock a couple of shots down when my team needed me to, but ultimately it didn’t really matter in the end,” Willems said. “I guess it felt good to get back on the court.”

While Willems was clearly saddened by losing the game and likely losing a share of the NICL West title, she acknowledged that the way her team never stopped fighting and continued to claw back and force Grundy Center to hold them off was good practice in case a similar situation were to happen in the rapidly-approaching postseason.

“I think this was a good experience for our team because we want to make a late postseason run and hopefully get down to Wells Fargo [Arena],” Willems said. “I think that will really help us.”

Gann agreed with her senior leader that this was a good lesson for her girls, who still will enter the postseason as a trendy pick to reach the state playoffs, and she admitted that much of the inability to walk out with a win on Friday fell on her shoulders.

T-R PHOTO BY THORN COMPTON

“We are proud of the way we battled, we had some mental mistakes and some weaknesses in late-game situations that we see we need to improve upon if we are going to get to the state playoffs,” Gann said. “I told them I take credit for that as the coach and I will get that fixed and put you in better positions at the end of the game to be able to come back.”

Compared to the team’s other loss this season, a 65-47 loss to West Marshall in Ackley that the Cougars never quite seemed themselves in, Gann said this was a much better showing from her girls, but some of the younger players still have to get used to playing in pressure situations.

“I felt like sometimes it’s a little bit of the big-game atmosphere, we had some deer-in-the-headlights look on some players, but then again we treated this as practice for hopefully getting to a regional final,” Gann said. “It is going to be the same kind of atmosphere, so we needed this.”

Both the Spartans and Cougars still have a few games left on the schedule before turning their eyes to postseason matchups.

Lindeman said, though there is still work to be done, he can’t help but feel good about where his girls sit considering how well they handled the pressure late against a good team like AGWSR.

T-R PHOTO BY THORN COMPTON

“It’s those moments that help prepare you, we have some regular season left but those moments are what you need to get prepared for the tournament because that’s what it’s going to be like. I thought we grew a ton tonight,” Lindeman said. “It gives us more confidence and that’s what we need. You get better with playing better competition and these guys were really good, we were fortunate to get a win. It’s fitting that we split over there and down here.”

The Cougars next take on Waterloo Columbus on Monday in Ackley, then they round out the season with South Hardin at home and on the road at Hudson.

Grundy Center has almost a week off before traveling to Tama on Thursday to take on South Tama County, then they head to Eldora the next day to play South Hardin in their NICL West finale before welcoming in Dunkerton and Nevada to finish off their schedule.

Grundy Center 57, AGWSR 53

At Grundy Center

AGWSR (16-2, 9-2) — Ally Finger 0 0-0 0, Mandy Willems 5 12-13 25, Aubrie Fisher 5 3-4 14, Taryan Barrick 3 1-2 7, Rachel Sicard 0 1-2 1, Alyssa Hames 1 0-0 3, McKenna Kuper 1 0-2 3, Whitanie Nederhoff 0 0-0 0. TOTALS 15 17-23 53.

GRUNDY CENTER (16-1, 10-1) — Hailey Wallis 5 6-7 19, Maddie McMartin 1 0-0 3, Sydney Mathews 1 0-0 3, Kylie Willis 4 6-6 14, Brooke Flater 3 6-8 12, Reegan Zinkula 1 1-2 4, Sarah Lindeman 1 0-0 2, Cora Saak 0 0-0 0. TOTALS 16 19-23 57.

AGWSR 14 5 7 27 — 53

Grundy CTR. 10 7 17 23 — 57

3-Point Goals–AGWSR 6 (Willems 3, Hames, Fisher, Kuper), GC 6 (Wallis 3, Zinkula, McMartin, Mathews). Total Fouls–AGWSR 16, GC 18. Fouled Out–none.