Your Prep Sports
It has already been a memorable season for Solon.
The Spartans have tripled their win total from a year ago flipping its record from 7-15 to 21-2 in one season.
The turnaround doesn’t stop there.
Solon has secured its first winning season in three years, matched its highest win total in more than a decade and had a winning streak (16 games) longer than any of its season win totals in any of the previous eight seasons.
All that is a heck of a season for any team.
Solon can make it even better on Monday.
Class 3A eighth-ranked Solon (21-2) will attempt to put the cherry on the top of a breakthrough season with its first trip to the state tournament on 2016 when it faces second-ranked Monticello (21-0) in the Class 3A, Substate 4 semifinal in Maquoketa.
Before the ball is tipped on Monday here is a quick look at what to watch in one of the most exciting of all the 3A substate finals.
Class 3A, Substate 4
No. 8 Solon (21-2) vs. No. 2 Monticello (21-0)
When: Monday, 7 p.m.
Where: Maquoketa High School
Top Players: Solon – David Bluder, 6-4, Sr., 14.8 points, 2.9 rebounds; Ben Cusick, 6-3, Sr., 10.4 points, 6.3 rebounds, 1.8 assists. Monticello – Justin Recker, 6-6, Sr., 14.8 points, 7.2 rebounds, 2.9 assists; Luke Lambert, 6-3, Sr., 9.6 points, 5 rebounds, 4.6 assists.
About the Spartans: Solon has already put together its best season in more than a decade under first-year head coach Jared Galpin but the Spartans can add a big bow to the top with a trip to the state tournament.
Solon reached the state tournament as a 10-15 team in 2016 and went 16-8 and reached a substate final in 2018 but hadn’t won 16 games the past two season combined and none of those wins came in the postseason.
Following a season-opening loss to Central DeWitt the Spartans rattled off 16 consecutive wins and have won five in a row since a 13-point loss at Mount Vernon on February 9.
Solon defeated Maquoketa for the third time this season 63-50 in the Substate 4 semifinal on Thursday.
A key for the Spartans has been its balance on offense.
Four Spartans are averaging at least nine points per game led by senior guard David Bluder at 14.8 per game.
Ben Cusick is averaging 10.4 points per game, senior guard Carson Shive 9.7 and Kinnick Pusteoska 9 per game.
About the Panthers: Monticello snapped a 60-year state tournament drought last season when it qualified for the state tournament for the first time since 1960.
The Panthers fell to Camanche in the 2A quarterfinals last season but haven’t lost a game since and are a win away from the second back-to-back tournament trip in program history.
Monticello made the just to Class 3A this season played just one 3A opponent during an unbeaten regular season run, defeating Decorah 47-46 on February 18.
The Panthers have proved they belong with back-to-back impressive postseason wins over Vinton-Shellsburg (56-26) and Central DeWitt (54-37).
Monticello trailed Central DeWitt 15-11 after one quarter in the substate semifinals on Thursday but allowed just 22 points the rest of the way while outscoring the Sabers by 21.
The lone remaining unbeaten team in 3A, Monticello has outscored opponents by an average of 28.7 points per game this season, the second-high point differential in 3A.
Monticello has five players averaging more than six points per game this season but it all starts for the Panthers with 6-foot-6 senior Justin Recker.
Recker is averaging a team-high 14.8 points and 7.2 rebounds per game to go with 2.9 assists and 1.7 blocks and is shooting 57 percent from the field.
Sophomore guard Tate Petersen averages 11 points and 3.9 assists and senior Luke Lambert averages 9.6 points and 4.6 assists per game.
Monticello has four players that average better than 2.8 assists per game and lead 3A with 20.1 assists per game as a team.
What to Watch: What’s the old saying? Defense wins championships?
Solon and Monticello both won conference championships this season and defense is a big reason the Spartans and Panthers are 16 teams still vying for the Class 3A state title.
Monticello is the stingiest defense team in 3A this season, allowing 34.3 points per game, eight fewer than any other team.
Points are hard to come by against the Panthers. Monticello has allowed more than 40 points just seven times this season, hasn’t given up more than 58 in a game and has allowed more than 46 just twice.
Improvement on the defensive end is the biggest reason Solon has tripled its win total from a year ago.
After allowing 59.6 points per game last season the Spartans ranking sixth in 3A allowing just 48.5 per game this year.
Don’t expect a lot of points in this game between two teams that are not just solid defensively but content to play a grind it out style.
In what should be a tight game down to the wire this could come down to the free throw line, a spot where Solon has made a living this season.
Solon ranks second in Class 3A in both free throws made (12.6) and attempted (19) this year and is shooting 66 percent from the line while Monticello shoots 63.5 percent from the stripe.