Basketball: HOIC boasts wide range of talent in new-look league
By BRANDON HURLEY
A conference in transition may be as wide open as ever.
The Heart of Iowa Conference said goodbye to a pair of its largest schools over the summer and welcomed in another in their place. Both Gilbert and North Polk jumped ship to join the Raccoon River Conference while West Marshall has joined the ranks of 2A schools.
The girls side yet again will feature a preseason top 10 squad, though the the boys’ grouping finds itself in the opposite situation, as the HOIC possibly endures a slightly down year, in terms of recent success - the top spot free for the taking.
All things considered, Roland-Story should be the favorite in both the boys’ and girls’ leagues due to a large swath of returning talent.
The South Hamilton boys, though known to surprise in the past, their 11-4 conference record a season ago, for example, seem to have their weakest team in five years, while the sharp-shooting, high-octane threat from defending champion Gilbert is obviously gone. PCM should trot out another strong team while West Marshall brings in a fairly decent basketball tradition. Saydel, despite its occasional flair of talent, should once again hover near the bottom, though Nevada should create a decent amount of defensive havoc. There’s no clear-cut favorite in the HOIC, which bodes well for a Greene County squad coming off a five-win campaign a year ago. Five teams finished .500 or better last year, with six of those squads (including Gilbert and North Polk), won at least seven league games. South Hamilton was 15-8 overall while Roland-Story, with its stable of young talent, was a surprising 14-8 overall. Newcomer West Marshall struggled through a down year last winter as a member of the North Iowa Cedar Conference, tallying a 6-17 record overall, and just three conference wins.
On the flip side, the girls league said goodbye to a bevy of talent. Departing Gilbert and North Polk are perennial top 10 contenders, which frees up space for the lower-tier, though the Heart of Iowa Conference is still home to ninth-ranked Roland-Story, the heavy favorites to win this year’s crown. The Norse fell a game short of the state tournament last winter, losing to Jesup, 53-47 in the regional championship, and look poised to secure the elusive berth. Roland-Story finished third in the HOIC last winter with a 10-3 record, tallying an overall 19-4 mark. In all, only three league teams finished the year above .500, and two of those are gone this winter (Gilbert and North Polk combined for 40 wins). Five teams secured at least seven wins last year, while South Hamilton, Greene County and Saydel combined for just six conference victories.
The Heart of Iowa Conference’s newest member, West Marshall, is fresh off an 18-3 season. The Trojans finished two games short of the state tournament, losing to Creston in the regional semifinals. Fortunately for the conference’s sake, four of West Marshall’s top five scorers all graduated.
Statistically, the HOIC boys took a major hit thanks to graduation and departures. The league’s top 10 leading scorers are all gone and only two of the top 10 rebounders are back, though that includes Adam Mcilrath or Roland-Story, who secured a HOIC-best 9.1 rebounds per game last winter. Saydel’s Camden Lo is the top returning passer, finishing second a year ago with 4.2 assists per game. Roland-Story’s Sam Skaar and Nolan Faber (each at 2.6 assists per game) are the only other top 10 returners. Mcilrath is also the top returning shot-blocker, securing the second most swats per game at 1.5. Skaar is the only returning player to have cracked the top 10 in three-pointers made last year, drilling 38 long balls, the seventh-best total during the 2020-21 schedule.
Roland-Story’s Reagan Barkema is the girls’ top returning scorer, having averaged 14 points per game as a sophomore, the fourth-best mark in the league. No other returning player cracked the top 10, though Roland-Story’s Reece Johnson, also a sophomore, averaged 9.6 points per game to finish 11th a year ago. The league’s second leading rebounder, Hailey Diersen is back after snagging 6.7 boards per game while Nevada’s Sydney Mosinski was tied for third at 6.7. Current Greene County junior Brianna Habben was tied for fifth with 6.5 boards, and should provide a solid presence down low. Nevada’s Addisyn Vorm is the top returning passer, having dished out 3.4 assists per game, which ranked her third in the league. No other returning HOIC individual cracked the top 10 in passing a season ago.
Last winter’s leading shot-blocker takes to the high school court one final time - Saydel’s Emily Lowe recorded a fabulous 2.1 blocks per game as a junior. Habben was third last season at 1.3 blocks per game while South Hamilton’s Diersen was fourth at 1.2 blocks. Roland-Story’s Reagan Barkema is the top returning sharp shooter, having nailed 61 three-pointers (second in the HOIC) at a 39.4 percent clip. In fact, Roland-Story’s trio of Madeline Morton (47) and Reece Johnson (33) in addition to Barkema each placed inside the HOIC’s top seven in three-pointers made, combining for 141 made threes. All three are back this winter, each shooting 39 percent or better from three. As a team, Roland-Story ripped the nets from deep 223 times last winter, leading the HOIC and the entire Class of 3A.
Unfortunately, Greene County opens the 2020-21 at home against Roland-Story Dec. 4, a task which could prove quite challenging.