Multi-talented Spartans state-bound
No. 8 Grundy Center turns wide range of athletic successes into basketball berth
The Spartan girls’ basketball team hasn’t taken offense to the moniker, but a number of girls who play both sports would be happy to show you their nice, new state basketball qualifier banner.
Another trio has state cross country experience, and there’s a handful of girls who’ve taken a few laps around Drake’s blue oval for state track.
Have we mentioned girls’ golf?
When the eighth-ranked Grundy Center girls’ basketball team takes the court at 8:30 p.m. at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, it will be the Spartans’ first state tournament showing since Grundy Center closed down Veterans Memorial Auditorium with a Class 2A championship 13 years ago. But all that time passed in between doesn’t mean they’ve forgotten how to hoop.
Grundy Center (22-1) meets No. 7 Iowa City Regina (21-4) in tonight’s 2A quarterfinals in Des Moines. And while it’s not the volleyball court at the U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids, the hardwood at Wells Fargo Arena won’t have an entirely unfamiliar feel for the girls dressed in maroon and white.
“It’s great to be honored and known as a volleyball town, but also we’re an athletic group of girls and we can do more than just one sport and we finally showed it,” said Grundy Center junior Kylie Willis. “It means a lot, it means all the hard work that we’ve put in since the third grade is finally paying off and we’re finally proving too that we can play basketball, it’s not just volleyball.”
Make no mistake, it’s still volleyball, too. Grundy Center is fresh off its 10th state volleyball tournament appearance this past fall, and all of those visits have arrived since 2000, but a combined 63-6 record on the basketball court over the last three seasons has refreshed the community’s memory. Capped this season with the first trip to state since back-to-back appearances in the 2A title game in 2004 and 2005, the Spartans are eager to show what they can do in the program’s sixth pilgrimage to Des Moines.
“A lot of us are volleyball players and some of us are cross country runners, but I think we still kind of take it personally,” said junior Hailey Wallis. “Our whole lives we’ve been playing basketball, probably more than volleyball, and we’ve had just as much success in basketball as we have volleyball so I think we really wanted to prove something this year.”
Willis and Wallis are part of the junior class that fills 10 of the 13 basketball jerseys, including all five starters and three regular reserve players. Wallis leads the way with a 14.4 points per game scoring average, Brooke Flater adds 10.2 points per game, while Willis (6.9), Reegan Zinkula (6.4), Maddie McMartin (4.7), Cora Saak (4.3), Sarah Lindeman (2.7) and Sydney Mathews (2.1) round out a typical night’s active lineup.
But this bunch of Spartans makes their stand defensively. Grundy Center ranks sixth in 2A by allowing just 34.9 points per game, and that’s third-best in the eight-team state field. As much as it is a strategy for head coach Matt Lindeman, it’s equally about his players’ competitiveness and attitude.
“It really comes back to these girls, it’s a very resilient group, a very hard-working group,” said the fifth-year head coach. “They put in a lot of time in multiple facets of different sports to be successful, and that’s what it takes. We’ve got very mentally tough girls, girls that are willing to do whatever is asked of them and that means a lot.”
Lindeman is quick to point to his team’s 3-0 record in overtime games as the perfect example of his team’s tough demeanor. In those extra periods, the Spartans outscored their opponents 26-5, including a 12-4 OT advantage to beat No. 13 Pekin 44-36 in the regional championship.
In a 10-day span in December, Grundy Center outscored West Marshall 4-1 in overtime and Dike-New Hartford 10-0 to pick up a pair of pivotal wins.
“We’ve played some tough teams to get to the tournament, even to get us to regionals, but this group has gone through quite a bit at different times and has been very resilient and seemed to just find ways to make it happen,” coach Lindeman said. “The way we’ve been able to finish ballgames just shows how mentally tough our girls are. We play pretty darn good defense night in and night out, and we’ve done a great job all year of finishing games.
“A 26-5 total in three overtime wins, not that we’ve done anything different, but girls have just stepped up when we needed them to.”
Tonight they will be tasked with stepping out to stop the second-most prolific 3-point shooting team in 2A. Regina has 190 3-pointers this season, led by point guard Mary Crompton and shooting guard Kennedy Wallace. Crompton, an Illinois State signee, is eighth in 2A with 58 3-pointers while Wallace, a Truman State commit, is second with 77 treys.
The Regals’ starting post Alex Wiese averages a double-double (15.4 points, 10.6 rebounds).
“They have two really good players, one really good outside player then a great post,” said Flater. “Eventually it’s going to come down to what we can do. Our defense is always getting after it and always hustling.”
Iowa City Regina is in its fourth-straight state tournament, having advanced past the first round each of the last two years.
“They’re good, but at this point in the season we’re just playing how we play and working on how we can get better because that’s the only thing we can control,” said Sarah. “We’re pretty confident in ourselves and our abilities so we’re just trying to keep it going.”
Iowa High School Girls’ State Basketball Tournament
At Wells Fargo Arena, Des Moines
Tuesday, Feb. 27
No. 1 Treynor (22-1) vs. No. 8 West Sioux (21-3), 6:45 p.m.
No. 4 Iowa City Regina (21-4) vs. No. 5 Grundy Center (22-1), 8:30 p.m.
Wednesday, Feb. 28
No. 3 Cascade (22-3) vs. No. 6 Dike-New Hartford (23-2), 10 a.m.
No. 2 Panorama (23-1) vs. No. 7 North Union (20-2), 11:45 a.m.