Your Prep Sports
The state tournament field is almost set.
All that remains are the 16 final spots across two classes and by late Wednesday evening all 40 state qualifiers will be determined.
The final spots at the state tournament that runs from March 1-6 at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines are up for grabs in Class 1A and 2A with regional finals in those classes taking place across the state on Wednesday.
One of those spots will be filled by a Your Prep Sports area team as longtime rivals Regina and West Branch meet for a third time this season in the Class 2A, Region 3 title game.
As we close in on tipoff here is a quick look at the third meeting this season between the two River Valley Conference rivals.
Class 2A, Region 3
No. 3 West Branch (19-1) vs. Regina (12-7)
When: Wednesday, 7 p.m.
Where: Williamsburg High School
Top Players: West Branch – Sasha Koenig, 5-5, Sr., 21 points, 5.4 assists, 4.5 rebounds, 3.2 steals; Delaynie Luneckas, 6-2, Jr., 11.7 points, 9.6 rebounds, 2.7 blocks, 2.4 steals. Regina – Annie Gahan, 5-7, Sr., 15.5 points, 5 rebounds, 2.9 steals, 2.3 assists; Grace Gaarde, 5-3, Soph., 9.6 points, 3.7 assists, 3.0 steals, 2.7 rebounds.
About the Bears: This is the spot West Branch expected to be in all season. A state qualifier a year ago, the Bears opened the season ranked number one in Class 2A and haven’t budged from the top five in the rankings all winter.
West Branch has rattled off 16 consecutive wins following a December 11 loss at Cascade and survived a scare from Pella Christian in the Region 3 semifinals to return to the title game.
All that stands in the way of West Branch and a return trip to the state tournament is its longtime RVC nemesis from down the road.
West Branch has won four in a row in the series including 16 and 18-point victories during the regular season his year.
However, the Regals have won each of the past two postseason meetings between the two teams 54-50 in 2019 and 58-50 in 2018.
All five West Branch starters average six points per game or more and four Bears are scoring 9.9 points per game or better.
West Branch relies heavily on one of the best and most experience backcourts in Class 2A led by senior point Sasha Koenig.
A Bradley signee, Koenig averages 21 points and 5.4 assists per game while fellow senior guards Rylan Druecker and Taya Young average 10.6 and 9.9 points per game respectively.
Junior center Delaynie Luneckas provides a big-time post presence on both ends of the court averaging 11.7 points, 9.6 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game.
About the Regals: After a 6-0 start to the season Regina went 40 days between wins but has won six of eight games down the stretch to reach the regional final.
The Regals earned their trip to the Region 3 title game, posting back-to-back road wins over Mediapolis and second-seeded Van Buren.
The only two losses for Regina over the past month have been to top-10 opponents West Branch and West Liberty.
Don’t put too much stock in the final scores of the regular season meetings between the two teams. The first matchup, a 52-36 West Branch win in Iowa City was a six-point game with under six minutes to play and the rematch February 9 in West Branch was a five-point game with under 10 minutes to play.
If Regina is to pull the upset on Wednesday and return to the state tournament for the first time since 2018 the Regals will need to play a full 32 minutes.
Senior Annie Gahan is the catalyst for Regina averaging a team-high 15.5 points and 5 rebounds per game and has been at her best lately, averaging 17 points and 5.5 rebounds over her last four games.
Sophomore point guard Grace Gaarde is averaging 9.6 points and 3.7 assists while Hope Simpson (7.1), Abby Clark (6.3) and Lily Simpson (5.9) all average better than five points per game.
What to Watch: With four players averaging 9.9 points per game or more West Branch has the offensive balance to stress an opposing defense.
That balance for the Bears was crucial in a win over Regina earlier this month as all five starters had at least seven points and four players scored between 11 and 16.
If Regina is to pull the upset they will need to take a page for the West Branch playbook at get everyone going offensively.
Gahan had a game-high 23 points in the February 9 loss at West Branch and Gaarde had 12 but the rest of the Regals combined for 10 points on 4-of-21 shooting.
Regina has found that offensive balance in the postseason.
Gahan has led the Regals in scoring in both regional wins but has had plenty of help.
Four Regals scored eight or more and Lily Simpson and Gaarde joined Gahan in double figures in the win at Mediapolis.
In the Regional semifinal win over Van Buren four Regals scored in double figures with Hope Simpson scoring 11 and Lily Simpson and Gaarde each adding eight to go with 17 from Gahan.
That is the type of production it will likely take for Regina to keep pace with a West Branch team that averages 59.8 points per game.