By Ryan Murken
Your Prep Sports
IOWA CITY – As far as Connor McCaffery can see, Newton doesn’t look much like a number eight seed.
From what the West High senior point guard has watched the Cardinals aren’t playing like a team making the move up to Class 4A and don’t seem anything like a program seeking its first win at state in more than half a century.
Newton (19-5) brings all of those distinctions into Wednesday’s Class 4A state tournament opener against West High (20-3) at 1:05 p.m. at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.
McCaffery and top-ranked West High aren’t taking the bait.
“They have two really good players averaging about 20 a game and they have some good shooters and some good role players and they beat some good teams to make it so we definitely need to respect them,” McCaffery said. “Coming into Wednesday you can’t take anything lightly anymore.”
Newton is one of the better stories in this year’s 4A tournament.
The Cardinals just missed a trip to the 3A state tournament last season falling to Chariton in a substate final.
Many figured a move to Class 4A would leave Newton on the outside looking in at the state tournament again.
Instead, fueled by the high-scoring and 3-point firing backcourt duo of Connor Gholson and Garrett Sturt the Cardinals rattled off three consecutive single digit postseason wins over Urbandale, No. 10 Dowling and Johnston to return to state for the first time since 1992.
West High isn’t looking at Newton as a Cinderella. Ask the Trojans and they will tell you, these guys can play.
“They beat a couple of really good teams to get here,” West High senior Devontae Lane said. “They have two guys who average about 20 points. They are a good team so we need to get up into those guys defensively.”
A pair of 6-foot-3 guards, Sturtz and Gholson combined to account for better than 60 percent of Newton’s scoring output.
Gholson averages a team-high 20.4 points and has made 76 3-pointers while Sturtz averages 19.8 points and has shot 146 free throws.
Senior Trey Vanderlaan, a 6-foot-3 guard, averages 10.3 points and has made 65 3-pointers while shooting a team-best 43 percent from behind the arc.
“They have a bunch of 6-foot-2 and 6-foot-3 guys and they have two of the leading scorers in the tournament and those guys are good,” West High coach Steve Bergman said. “If you let them do what they are good at they are going to give you trouble.”
Top-seeded West High is making its seventh straight state tournament appearance and has reached the state semifinals each of the past six seasons.
The last opening round loss for West High came to Ames in 2009 and the Trojans are focused on making sure that doesn’t change on Wednesday.
“We can’t underestimate Newton just because they are the eight seed,” McCaffery said. “We need to respect them and they have some good shooters and good players and we just need to come out and take care of business.”