By Ryan Murken
Your Prep Sports
IOWA CITY – Like many of his peers Jeff Wallace spent years as an assistant coach just waiting for an opportunity to lead his own team to the state tournament.
Wallace got his first chance to sit in the big seat on the state’s biggest stage nearly 15 years ago, when he directed Regina to the 2003 state tournament.
The long-awaited state tournament debut for Jeff Wallace got off to an inauspicious start.
“As an assistant coach, I always went to Vets (Veterans Auditorium) and watched games and I always thought, I can’t wait to sit on that bench for the very first time and say I made it to the state tournament,” Wallace explained. “Coming out ready to start the game in 2003 and I go to sit down on the bench for the very first time and I missed the chair and fell.”
While the 2003 tournament began with a memory Wallace will never live down it ended with a feeling he will never forget.
A last second layup in the 2003 quarterfinal gave Regina a 44-43 victory over Tri-Center and the first state tournament win in program history.
In his second go-around at Regina, Wallace is aiming to lead the Regals to another state tournament first.
Top-ranked Regina (25-0) opens the Class 2A state tournament on Monday at 5 p.m. against No. 12 Logan-Magnolia (21-3) seeking the first state title in program history.
“For me I’m really thinking about the kids and my assistant coaches and staff. I’m making sure I’m doing everything to put them in a position to be successful and achieve our goals,” Wallace said. “It’s going to be a really difficult state tournament, it’s a good field, a very difficult field so I haven’t thought about what it means to me because it’s about the kids and our staff.”
In 2003 Wallace wasn’t the only person in uncharted territory at the state tournament.
The Regals were making just the second appearance in program history and first since 1996.
This year’s Regina teams come to Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines a team full of state tournament veterans making their third consecutive appearance at state.
Regina won 25 consecutive games to open last season before falling to eventual champion Unity Christian in the semifinals.
The Regals enter the state tournament unbeaten for the second straight season but have more on their minds than another semifinal trip.
“We definitely have higher goals than just an undefeated regular season,” Regina junior Mary Crompton said. “We’ve been to state before, we know what to expect now we want to take the next step.”
The next step for Regina is a big one.
Before the Regals can think about a possible semifinal matchup they must get past a Logan-Magnolia squad making its state tournament debut.
The two teams have never met at state but that doesn’t mean there won’t be some familiarity.
The Tri-Center team Wallace and Regina knocked off in the 2003 quarterfinals was coached by Derek Sonderland.
Sonderland is now in his sixth season at Logan-Magnolia where he has taken the Panthers from 1-21 three seasons ago to the first state tournament in program history.
Logan-Magnolia is the third different team that Sonderland has directed to state after leading Audubon to a pair of state tournament berths.
“Derek Sonderland and I coached against each other in 2003 when we went to state he was at Tri-Center Neola, that’s kind of a weird coincidence but a really nice one,” Wallace said. “We’ve watched them on film and been impressed. Their kids attack and they are confident. It’s going to take a really good effort by us and we’re going to have to execute really well to beat them.”
Logan-Magnolia has three players that score in double figures led by 5-foot-6 junior Kenzie Cunard who is averaging a team-high 18.9 points per game, second most in the 2A tournament.
5-foot-11 junior Delaney Ettleman (10.2 ppg, 5.9 rpg) is the lone post in a lineup full of guards.
Kylan Straight, a 5-foot-7 junior, is averaging 13.1 points per game while 5-foot-5 freshman Kylie Morrison adds 7.6 points per game.
Alexis Fender, a 5-foot-3 junior, has shot 107 3-pointers and adds 5.8 points per game.
“I really like their guard court, their guard court is really talented and they do some really good stuff and they run a lot of really good sets in their half-court offense,” Wallace said. “Then they have a powerful post player and they are well coached so it’s going to be a challenge.”