Spartans vs. Cougars a clash of styles
DES MOINES — Today’s Class 2A final in the Iowa Girls’ High School State Basketball Tournament between No. 6 Cascade and No. 8 Grundy Center is a clash between two teams who have truly earned their way into the championship match.
Both teams have had tough roads to reach this point, as Cascade had to hold off No. 10 North Union in a triple-overtime barnburner in the semifinals that the Cougars eventually won 62-53. They were able to do so even without starting center Abbie Ruggeberg, who was out on Friday and will be out in today’s final due to an undisclosed reason.
Grundy Center has won two close games in the first two rounds, downing No. 7 Iowa City Regina in the quarterfinals in a 46-45 decision then taking out No. 2 Treynor in the semifinals, 42-39.
Spartans head coach Matt Lindeman said despite seemingly having the upper hand defensively, he just doesn’t know much about the opposing Cougars.
“We will find a bunch out here in just a little bit,” Lindeman said immediately after watching Cascade win in the semifinals. “We will meet together and put our plan together, we’ve got a little more than 24 hours, though not much, but we will put our plan together and see what we can do tomorrow night.”
Likewise Cougars head coach Michael Sconsa said he doesn’t have much familiarity with what Grundy Center does, but he does know of their reputation.
“I know they are good, I mean beyond good,” Sconsa said. “They have five juniors starting and have been knocking on the door for a while. I remember last year North Linn had a heck of a game against them. I have to go beg, borrow and deal to see what we can get for some film but I do know they are athletic, I know they are well coached and I know they play a really good schedule.”
The Spartans (24-1) have valued defense all season, entering the tournament as the second-best defensive team in the field, while the Cougars (24-3) have surrendered the second-most points out of any 2A tournament team.
In the first two games of the state tournament, Grundy Center has only allowed an average of 42 points per game, while Cascade has given up 48.5 points per game in its first two matchups.
What Cascade might lack in defense, it more than makes up for in offense. Even without Ruggeberg in the starting lineup, the Cougars boast two scorers who average double digits in guards Nicole McDermott and Anne Ryan.
McDermott has averaged 18 points in the first two games of state, while Ryan is sitting at nine per game. Junior Rachel Trumm is also finding the bucket at the Well, scoring 10 points in each of the first two games for Cascade.
Lindeman said keeping those guards down will be a key in the contest, but his girls have faced some great guard play already in Mary Crompton from Regina and Kayla Chapman and Konnor Sudmann from Treynor.
“Their guards are very good, just as a team they are very strong, so we’ve got to look at what’s the best way for us defensively,” Lindeman said. “They play a 2-3 zone so we will work on some things in the morning to help us execute with that and come back out here and play again.”
The Spartans haven’t had as much offensive firepower as the Cougars in the first two state games, but what they have been able to do is score timely buckets. Junior Hailey Wallis is coming off an 18-point performance in the semifinals against Treynor where she went 3-for-5 from the 3-point line, while junior posts Brooke Flater and Kylie Willis have combined to average 17 points and 14 rebounds in the first two state games.
Flater and Willis each scored in the double digits in the first game against Regina, a team that was also missing its top interior defender.
Outside of Flater, Willis and Wallis, the rest of the Spartans have come up big when needed, with girls like Maddie McMartin, Reegan Zinkula, Cora Saak, Sarah Lindeman and Sydney Mathews all hitting shots in clutch moments and playing some lights-out defense.
Coach Lindeman said he thinks the other girls can get even more involved in the offensive flow than they have currently in the state run.
“We need to do a better job executing offensively,” he said. “I think we will have opportunities, it’s just about maximizing those opportunities when they are there. Execution has to be at a high level.”
The teams only share two common opponents, as both have faced Regina and Dike-New Hartford. On top of the win over the Regals in the quarterfinals, Grundy Center beat the Wolverines 55-45 during the regular season.
Cascade faced Regina in the regular season, winning 51-39, and it beat Dike-New Hartford in the state quarterfinals by a 61-44 decision.
The Spartans have played in quite a few tight games this year, winning each of the last three elimination games by an average of four points. Sarah Lindeman said that experience playing in close games should help in this finals match.
“Since we’ve been in so many overtimes and close games we are just super used to it now,” she said. “We don’t get riled up, we don’t worry about it, we are confident in ourselves because we know we can do it just like every other time.”
The game at Wells Fargo Arena to decide if Grundy Center or Cascade walks away as the 2A state champion will start at 5 p.m. tonight. During halftime, former Spartan great Kim Van Deest will also be inducted into the IGHSAU Basketball Hall of Fame. Van Deest was a six-on-six star for Grundy Center from 1985-1989, leading the Spartans to a state tournament berth in 1988 where she was named the captain of the all-tournament team. Van Deest joins Kay Riek as the only Spartans in the IGHSAU Basketball Hall of Fame.