By Ryan Murken
Your Prep Sports
Basketball season has officially arrived.
The season officially began for girls team across the state with the first day of competition last Friday.
Area teams open the season on Tuesday with Solon hosting Clear Creek Amana in a meeting of WAMAC cross-division rivals while West Branch hosts Durant in a River Valley Conference South Division matchup.
Here are five things to keep an eye leading between now and the state tournament that runs from February 27 to March 4 at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.
Regina’s Next Step
Regina has taken a step forward each of the last two seasons.
A state qualifier in 2015 the Regals picked up their first state tournament win since 2003 last year before falling to eventual champion Unity Christian in the semifinals.
The next step is a big one and the Regals seem poised to take it.
With three starters returning, including its top two scorers from last year’s 25-1 team, Regina opens the season atop the 2A rankings and seeking the first state title in program history.
Jeff Wallace returns for his second stint leading the program after directing Regina to 120 wins in six seasons from 2000-2006 including the first state tournament win in program history in 2003.
All-state junior guard Mary Crompton is back after averaging a team-high 16.3 last year while senior Sarah Lehman returns after averaging 10.1 points and 5.4 rebounds per game.
The addition of 5-foot-10 sophomore Alex Wiese who averaged 15.4 points and 12.7 rebounds per game last season at Tipton provides more firepower for the Regals who are 46-5 over the past two seasons.
Drilling for the Well
City High and West High will both attempt to end mini state tournament droughts this season after near misses a year ago.
West High is just one year removed from its last tournament berth after falling to Waukee in overtime in a 5A regional final last year.
The Women of Troy opens the season No. 8 in 5A with all five starters and their top eight scorers led by junior Rachael Saunders returning from last year’s team that finished 15-8.
City High is seeking its first state tournament appearance since 2014 after back-to-back regional final losses the past two seasons.
All-state junior Ashley Joens is among three returning starters for City High which went 19-4 last year and opens the season ranked fourth in 5A.
Joens and Saunders both committed to Division I programs before the start of their junior seasons and headline a big group of big-time talent in the area.
Saunders led West High with 9.7 points per game last season and pledged to Creighton this fall. A two-time all-state pick that averaged 19.3 points per game last year, Joens gave a verbal commitment to Iowa State on Sunday.
Saunders and Joens are just the beginning of the talent in the area.
West High 6-foot-1 junior Logan Cook averaged 9.0 points per game last year and had 20 in the regional final loss to Waukee.
Crompton and Wiese give Regina a pair of prospects while West Branch junior Tatum Koenig continues to receive Division I attention.
Chasing the Champs
A pair of defending state champions open the season atop the rankings in their respective classes.
Defending Class 3A champion Pocahontas Area and last year’s 1A state champ Springville both open the season ranked number one.
Other defending champions included Ankeny Centennial in Class 5A, Mason City in 4A and Unity Christian in 2A.
Of those three teams only Ankeny Centennial opens the season ranked in the top 10. The Jaguars are seventh in the Class 5A rankings.
Regina begins the season top-ranked in Class 2A, while Pella starts the year No. 1 in 4A and Davenport North is the top-ranked team in Class 5A.
Expect several of last year’s runner-up squads to once again push for state titles.
Pella was the runner-up in 4A last season and Western Christian, last year’s 2A runner-up opens the season second to Regina in 2A.
Third Year Is the Charm
After going 13-9 in the first year under head coach P.J. Sweeney two seasons ago Clear Creek Amana dropped to 8-14 last year.
With six seniors and five players returning with starting experience the Clippers are hoping to flip their record back above .500 in Sweeney’s third season.
Five of the Clippers’ top six scorers from last year return led by senior Erin Navara who averaged 10.2 points per game last season.
A strong start will be key for Clear Creek Amana with five of the Clippers’ first six games coming against teams that posted winning records a year ago.