COLO - The win streak started 10 weeks ago, but Colo-NESCO coach Wayne Cafferty believes his team truly turned the corner a bit later.
Displaying an improved cohesiveness and work ethic in practice after Christmas break, the Class 1A seventh-ranked Royals carried it over to the floor - resulting in 17 straight wins and the school's seventh trip to the Iowa Girls Basketball State Tournament.
And similar to their winning surge, those improved attributes have continued to grow.
T-R PHOTO BY TROY HYDE
The Colo-NESCO girls’ basketball team poses with its state tournament qualifier banner after winning its Class 1A regional final over Meskwaki Settlement School on Monday at Newton Senior High School. Pictured are front row: (from left) Shelby Anthony and Shayla Dean; middle row: Ashlyn Eley, Madison Eley, Haley Stoeffler and Hannah Buseman; back row: Leah Vincent, assistant coach Dana Johnson, Melanie Van Loon, Madison Farren, Caitlyn Riese, Tabitha Halferty, Makaelyn Neuendorf, Samantha Riese and head coach Wayne Cafferty.
"It's learning to play together as a group and working harder in practice," Colo-NESCO coach Wayne Cafferty credited for his team's win streak. "That showed up pretty quick after Christmas and we raised our level of play. There's been better ball movement, knowing where people are at and gaining a better trust for their teammates."
The Royals (23-2) will need their budding chemistry in full force when they face fifth-ranked Notre Dame of Burlington (21-3) in the first round at Des Moines' Wells Fargo Arena Monday. Tip-off is set for 1:30 p.m.
Befitting their name, the Nikes boast a fleet-footed contingent that averages 72.7 points a game led by senior guard Morgan Myers (15 ppg). The Maryville University commit is one of four players to average 9.4 points or more for Notre Dame in its first-ever tournament appearance.
Iowa Girls State Basketball Tournament
At Wells Fargo Arena, Des Moines
Villisca (21-4) vs. Newell-Fonda (22-2), 10 a.m.
Marquette Catholic (16-6) vs. Ar-We-Va (21-3), 11:45 a.m.
Colo-NESCO (23-2) vs. Notre Dame (21-3), 1:30 p.m.
Earlham (16-9) vs. Central Lyon (23-2), 3:15 p.m.
Great guard play, speed and an aggressive press are a few of the challenges the Nikes will present according to Cafferty.
Sophomores Taylor Hickey (12.5 ppg) and Courtney Coffin (11.1 ppg) anchor Notre Dame's brisk backcourt and each shoot better than 36 percent from beyond the arc. Alex Yacko (9.4 ppg), a 5-foot-10 center, and Kori Mesecher (7 ppg) round out the Nikes' starting five.
"They have some really nice shooters out there. They're not just shooters, they're ballplayers and they can take the ball to the basket as well," Cafferty said. "They're good defensive players too. We'll just have to hang with their balance."
The Royals wield their own balanced attack led by resurgent senior forward Madison Eley (13.2 ppg), who missed all but one game last season due to an ACL injury. Shifty sophomore guard Shayla Dean (8 ppg) is second in the state with 161 steals, while 6-foot-1 junior center Caitlyn Riese (11.4) rounds out Colo-NESCO's all-district trio.
Madison Farren (5-9, 7.7 ppg) and the recent return of Samantha Riese (6-2, 4.4 ppg) supplement the Royals' paint presence, while Shelby Anthony (6 ppg) and Haley Stoeffler (5.3 ppg) spread the floor.
"If we can handle the ball better than we have in the tournament so far, we'll have the advantage inside," said Cafferty, who doesn't have a major preference on the pace of the game. "On Monday we did a lot more half court sets, took our time and pounded it inside. We've shown over the course of the year we can get out and run too.
"We'll just have to find our comfort zone and see what the pace of the game is and adapt to it."
The Royals average 57.9 points per outing but proved they can play up-tempo scoring a 69-67 victory over Meskwaki in their regular season finale.
"It doesn't matter what tempo we play at, as long as we win by one," smiled Cafferty.
Regardless of the pace, Cafferty's state tournament resume, including a 2002 runner-up finish, should help his Royals stay even keel inside Wells Fargo Arena.
"We just have to play our game and know that it's just a basketball court," said Caitlyn Riese. "We can't let it get into our heads too much."
Forced to watch her team from the sidelines last year, Eley is ready to embrace the moment.
"It's loud and nerve-wracking, but it's also exciting," said Eley relaying Cafferty's description of the state tournament environment. "We need to enjoy every second of it, because we'll remember it for the rest of our lives."
When those inevitable intense moments of the tournament arise, the Royals can rely upon their developing chemistry, work-ethic and trust to push through.
"If we push and work hard, we'll get to where we want to be," Dean said.
Colo-NESCO also reached the girls state tournament in 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 2002 and 2005. Colo reached the tourney in 1980. ... Royals' assistant coach Dana Johnson was a member of the 2002 second-place squad. ... All three of Notre Dame's losses came against Class 3A ranked teams including No. 6 Mediapolis, No. 8 Central Lee and top-ranked Davenport Assumption. ... Monday's winner advances to play the victor of Earlham (16-9) vs. No. 1 Central Lyon (23-2) in a semifinal game Thursday at 10 a.m.