Third time’s a charm
West Marshall breaks through regional finals with 43-37 win over No. 8 Iowa Falls-Alden
CONRAD — Three hundred and sixty-four days earlier, for the second year in a row, the West Marshall girls’ basketball team tasted bitter defeat in the Class 3A regional finals.
The Trojans finally found the charm the third time through.
West Marshall overtook eighth-ranked Iowa Falls-Alden with a 13-5 third-quarter advantage and never looked back, beating the Cadets 43-37 in the Region 6 championship game on Saturday night behind a complete team performance on both ends of the court.
Having come up one win short of the state tournament each of the last two seasons — by a combined five points — the Trojans (14-7) found their motivation in the memories of how miserable those regional final losses felt.
None were more motivated than Teresa Disney.
West Marshall’s junior post fought back the emotion for as long as she could before unleashing it in a river of tears after the final horn sounded the state tournament berth she wanted to honor a loved one with nearly one year ago to the day. On Feb. 17, 2018, Disney’s grandfather passed away and then she sprained her ankle and only got to play two minutes in the Trojans’ regional final loss to South Tama County.
She’d been waiting 364 days for another shot at getting to state, and when West Marshall head coach Fred Zeller called her number, Disney didn’t disappoint. The Trojans’ second-half surge was driven by the team’s post dominance, and Iowa Falls-Alden’s 3-point blitzkrieg was off target.
So Disney’s nine points, Renae Schaper’s team-leading 12 points and two Grace Girard buckets powered West Marshall into the state tournament for the 10th time in program history and the first time since 2012.
“Both of my siblings went to state — David when he was a freshman and Joe twice — and last year it was the same day except the 17th that my grandpa died on substate when I sprained my ankle, so I tried to do this for him,” Disney said through tears. “I was about to cry before [the game] ended.”
Instead, West Marshall salted the game away at the free-throw line — sort of — as Iowa Falls-Alden (19-3) came up empty in its comeback attempt.
Having trailed by as many as seven points in the first half, the Trojans outscored the Cadets 13-5 in the third quarter to capture a 25-22 lead they never relinquished the rest of the way.
“I think our kids deserved a little good luck instead of bad luck,” said Zeller, who will coach his fifth Trojan contingent at state. “We’ve had chances the last two years, and we were very deserving both those years, and tonight we came out and played like we have to play against a good team like Iowa Falls-Alden.
“I thought our defense was excellent, for the most part we didn’t give them easy looks, and in the second half we finally figured out we had to go inside. We had to go inside because we had nothing going offensively in the first half, and in the second half we were quite a bit more patient to get it inside and we figured out we had to.”
Kayla Cripps also scored nine points for the Trojans, including back-to-back layups playing off post passes, and Schaper’s and-one basket put West Marshall on top with 1:14 left in the third quarter. Karlyn Snider made 2-of-3 free throws with 3.5 seconds left and the Trojans led 25-22 heading into the fourth.
Another Trojan push put seven straight points on the board — four for Disney and three for Cripps — and West Marshall’s eight-point lead was enough cushion to help them overcome another bumpy night at the free-throw line. A 53.4 percent free-throw shooting team, the Trojans went 10-for-18 at the stripe in the fourth quarter, including 7-for-12 inside the final minute, to seal the victory.
“I remember last year feeling really upset, I missed a lot of free throws at the end, and we’ve been to the regional final three times in a row and hadn’t gotten to state,” said Cripps, a senior. “It feels good to get back there. We played with more drive, more focus.”
Defending Iowa Falls-Alden demanded it, too. The Cadets entered the game as the fifth-leading 3-point shooting team in all of 3A, and in the end it was the death of their postseason run, too. Iowa Falls-Alden fell in love with the long-range shot and abandoned its drives to the basket, opening the door for West Marshall’s second-half comeback.
IFA finished with eight 3-pointers and just four 2-pointers — and a season-low 37 points — against West Marshall’s sixth-ranked defense. The Cadets, who defeated West Marshall in the second game of the season, 60-51 in Iowa Falls, simply struggled to shoot the ball.
“We knew it was going to be a battle,” said IFA head coach Brandon Uhlenberg. “We really wanted to get up and down and be a fast-paced game but we weren’t able to establish that.
“We’re two polar opposite teams, without a doubt, and unfortunately we picked a bad night to not shoot it very well. This was by far our worst shooting performance. We’re streaky at times, but never like this.”
Katie Meyer scored a game-high 20 points for the Cadets, who were shooting for their first state tournament appearance since 1996.
Instead, West Marshall returns to Wells Fargo Arena for a state quarterfinal clash with Center Point-Urbana (21-2) at 10 a.m. on Feb. 26. The Stormin’ Pointers — ranked third by the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union — are seeded second and the Trojans are seeded seventh.
“It was a very emotional game for our kids and the coach,” said Zeller, choking up. “When you’ve coached as long as I have, sometimes you think this is your last shot at it and who knows? Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t, but I thought once the game got started any doubts we had that we could play with them were erased.
“I’m not sure that we were the better team, but tonight we were, especially in the second half, and our kids played with confidence down the stretch. It was a lot of fun.”
West Marshall 43, Iowa Falls-Alden 37
WEST MARSHALL (14-7) — Avril Sinning 0 4-6 4, Kayla Cripps 4 1-3 9, Karlyn Snider 0 5-9 5, Teresa Disney 4 1-3 9, Grace Girard 2 0-0 4, Renae Schaper 4 4-5 12. TOTALS 14 15-26 43.
IOWA FALLS-ALDEN (19-3) — Madalyn Juhl 0 0-0 0, Grace Juhl 0 0-0 0, Grace Renaud 1 3-4 6, Katie Meyer 7 2-3 20, Darby Dodd 2 0-2 6, Ellie Meyer 1 0-0 3, Jenny Wibholm 1 0-0 2. TOTALS 12 5-9 37.
W. MARSHALL 4 8 13 18 — 43
IA FALLS-ALDEN 9 8 5 15 — 37
3-Point Goals–IFA 8 (K. Meyer 4, Dodd 2, E. Meyer, Renaud). Total Fouls–WM 12, IFA 22. Fouled Out–M. Juhl.