By Ryan Murken
Your Prep Sports
IOWA CITY – Only three years have passed since City High last played at the state tournament. To the Little Hawks it seemed like a lot more than that.
City High made sure on Tuesday the state tournament drought didn’t extend any longer.
Four players scored at least nine points as Class 5A fourth-ranked City High returned to the state tournament for the first time since 2014 with a 48-32 win over No. 9 Ankeny Centennial in the Region 5 title game at City High.
“It seems like a lot longer than three years ago,” City High senior Kenya Earl said. “It felt like forever since we’ve been there so we are excited to get back.”
City High used its full-court pressure defense to force Ankeny Centennial into 21 turnovers and dropped back into a 1-3-1 half-court trap that frustrated the Jaguars into 26 percent shooting.
The defensive combination helped City High hold the Jaguars to a season-low 32 points while snapping the Little Hawks’ two-game regional final losing skid to CIML teams.
“It’s hard having other teams celebrate on your home floor like what’s happened last year with Southeast Polk,” City High coach Bill McTaggart said. “I was very proud of our girls tonight, that was a very good team that we played and they were on a roll and I think we took them out of their offensive sets.”
The loss snapped a seven-game winning streak for defending 5A champion Ankeny Centennial (17-6) while City High improved to 22-1 with its eighth straight win.
City High will face fifth-ranked Cedar Falls (21-2) on Wednesday in the Class 5A state quarterfinals at 3:15 p.m. at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.
“This means a lot because we’ve been working for this the whole season,” City High freshman Aubrey Joens said. “Now that we got there it feels great.”
Junior standout Ashley Joens had a double-double with a game-high 13 points and 12 rebounds but got plenty of help as she drew her normal crowd every time she touched the ball.
Freshman Rose Nkumu had 12 points and spearheaded the Little Hawks defensive pressure and Earl added 10 points and five rebounds.
Aubrey Joens chipped in with nine points and six rebounds as City High shot 38 percent from the field.
“We all play our roles and when she is out of her element and she isn’t hitting as many shots as she usually does that’s our role to step up and help her,” Nkumu said. “We stepped up around her tonight.”
Ankeny Centennial scored on two of its first three possessions and led 4-0 less than 90 seconds into the game.
That’s when City High amped up its pressure.
City High forced seven turnovers over the final 6:30 of the opening quarter end the quarter on a 12-2 run.
Nkumu and Aubrey Joens started the spurt with back-to-back 3-pointers and Christina Hora capped it with a steal and breakaway layup that just beat the first quarter buzzer.
“We thought we could get them uncomfortable if we sped them up so we pressed them right from the start,” Nkumu said. “I think that really helped us get some momentum and energy.”
City High led 19-13 at the half and pushed the lead to 35-21 with an 8-2 run to close the third quarter.
Earl and Nkumu each had five points as City High outscored Centennial 16-8 in the third quarter.
Nkumu found Earl for a transition layup following a steal that started a 5-0 City High spurt over the final 1:18 of the third quarter that gave City High it’s biggest lead.
“We knew they played slow and we couldn’t play in their game,” Earl said. “We wanted to step it up on our press and keep it at our tempo.”
Ankeny Centennial got as close as 37-29 with under four minutes to play but an Ashley Joens 3-point play in transition stopped the run and started an 11-2 City High spurt that put the game away.
Joens had seven of her game-high 13 points in the fourth quarter as City High secured the win.
“We just wanted to play our game and not fall into their game plan,” Joens said. “They want to slow the game down and we wanted to keep it at our pace.”
Kenna Sauer led Centennial with 11 points and eight rebounds but was the only Jaguar with ore than six points.
City High 12 7 16 13 – 48
Ankeny Centennial 6 7 8 11 – 32
City High (48) – Christina Hora 1-2 0-0 2, Rose Nkumu 3-6 5-8 12, Sydney Schroder 1-2 0-0 2, Ashley Joens 4-12 5-10 13, Aubrey Joens 3-9 1-2 9, Kenya Earl 4-11 1-2 10, Team 16-42 12-22 48.
Ankeny Centennial (32) – Kylee Macke 2-4 1-2 6, Abby Heston 0-1 1-2 1, Sydney Wycoff 1-6 2-2 5, Chloe Olson 2-9 2-2 6, Kenna Sauer 3-8 5-7 11, Keanna Williams 1-6 0-0 3, Team 9-34 11-15 32.
3-point field goals – ICH 4-14 (Hora 0-1, Nkumu 1-1, Schroder 0-1, Ash. Joens 0-1, Aub. Joens 2-5, Earl 1-5), AC 3-8 (Macke 1-1, Heston 0-1, Wycoff 1-5, Williams 1-1). Rebounds – ICH 29 (Ashley Joens 12), AC 27 (Sauer 8). Turnovers – ICH 14, AC 21. Total fouls – ICH 10, AC 20. Fouled out – Ankeny Centennial (Williams). Technical fouls – None.