By Ryan Murken
Your Prep Sports
IOWA CITY – As the clock wound down late in Tuesday’s Class 5A Region 5 title game Ashley Joens casually dribbled out the final seconds.
As the final horn sounded Joens calmly flipped the ball toward an official like it was any other win.
In reality, the 48-32 victory over defending 5A state champ Ankeny Centennial was far from just another win. Not for City High and certainly not for its all-state junior leader.
“It means a lot,” said the always reserved Joens after the game. “I’m happy for our team and the school, the last two years were hard to not be there.”
Tuesday’s win over No. 8 Ankeny Centennial was a breakthrough for a City High program that won 34 games the past two seasons but didn’t have a state tournament berth to show for it after back-to-back regional final home losses to lower seeded CIML teams.
The regional final heartbreak included a 59-56 loss to Southeast Polk last season that stuck with Joens and the Little Hawks.
On Tuesday, some of the pain that came with missing the state tournament two years in a row washed away.
“Every year we thought we would make it and we came up short so it means even more this year after the last two years,” Joens said. “Ever since that loss last year it’s been a motivation thing to get there again.”
The state tournament berth is the first for City High since it reached the 5A semifinals in 2014.
For Joens, the trip to state fills one of the few holes on an already impressive basketball resume.
In the first three years of her prep career Joens has rolled up nearly 1,400 points and 600 rebounds.
The 5-foot-11 forward is already a two-time all-state pick, three-time Mississippi Valley Conference divisional player of the year and verbally committed to Iowa State last fall.
All that was missing for Joens seemed to be an appearance on the state’s biggest stage.
She will get that on Wednesday when No. 4 City High (22-1) faces fifth-ranked Cedar Falls (21-2) at 3:15 p.m. at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.
“Since we were kids we always dreamed of going to state together,” City High freshman and Ashley’s younger sister Aubrey Joens said. “In those dreams, we obviously won it and we aren’t done yet.”
Ashley doesn’t do a lot of talking. She’s quiet, polite, yet reserved.
On the basketball court, she is the exact opposite.
She’s aggressive, take charge, dominant.
In her first two seasons Joens established herself as one of the best players in the state but has taken her game to an even higher level as a junior.
Joens ranks second in Class 5A in both scoring (21.1) and rebounding (10.3) while shooting career-best percentages from the floor and the free throw line.
“The season can stretch on for a while and when you don’t make it to state it’s hard,” Ashley Joens said. “This season has gone by fast, it’s been so much fun already and I’m just excited that we could make it and keep it going.”
With all the success of the past two seasons something was still missing for Joens.
Even Aubrey, who works out with Ashley on a daily basis says her sister didn’t discuss making it to state.
Ashley didn’t have to say it for Aubrey to know how much missing out on state the last two years stung.
“You could tell it meant a lot to her to make it, we come into the gym all the time and she puts in the work to get there,” Aubrey Joens said. “She worked for it and her work is paying off.”
Known for a work ethic that has her in the gym for hours outside of practice, Joens has become a leader for City High as the Little Hawks pushed toward the state tournament.
Given her quiet demeanor and desire to improve, Joens is a natural leader by example.
“We had a motivation speaker come in and the parents brought them piazza and when everybody left a lot of the girls had a little practice on their own shooting,” City High coach Bill McTaggart said. “They were here like three and a half hours and that’s why they are so successful is because on their own they are shooting a long time after practice is over.”
Ashley has been a model of consistency during her prep career.
A trip to the emergency room for stiches following a first-half fall helped limit Joens to six points in a win over Muscatine in December, snapping a string of 41 straight games in double figures.
Joens has scored in double figures in 20 straight games since and in 67 of her 69 career games.
She has 14 games with 20 or more points this season, including a career-high 33 in a regional semifinal win over Burlington, and has gone over 20 points 23 times in 46 games the past two seasons.
Joens has 12 double-doubles this season and 20 the past two years.
Even with all the individual success there was no questioning the top goal for Joens this season.
“This was the first goal, getting to state, that was the number one goal,” Ashley Joens said. “Now we just have to keep taking it one game at a time and get to our final goal which is to win it.”