Your Prep Sports
WEST BRANCH – There is a long list of reasons why Taya Young is playing the best basketball of her life leading up to the state tournament.
With 85 career games under her belt Young is one of the most experienced players in the state.
The West Branch senior guard is stronger and more agile than she was earlier in her career and has showed off an improved jump shot in her final prep season.
Yet the biggest cause for Young’s career season this winter is simple – confidence.
“Confidence is a big key in basketball,” Young said. “With low confidence you don’t shoot the ball and you don’t the opportunities that you want to get. I have boosted my confidence up to where I am able to make those plays and I’m able to shoot those shots.”
A more confident Young has become a big problem for opponents this season.
Young has put together the best season of her prep career as a senior helping third-ranked West Branch (20-1) return to the Class 2A tournament for the second consecutive season where it will face eighth-ranked Grundy Center (19-3) on Wednesday at Noon at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.
“From my freshman year all the way up to now that is one of the big things I am really proud of is my confidence,” Young said. “I’m proud of how far I’ve come with being confident in myself.”
The newfound confidence for Young has come with finding the right role something she has certainly done as a senior.
A starter since the first game of her freshman season Young has embraced her role as an off the court leader and an on-court enforcer that does the dirty work for a West Branch team that has won 17 in a row.
“I can use all kinds of words but she is just tough, she is a warrior and she does the little things,” West Branch coach Jarod Tylee said. “She is the one putting herself in position to help on the back side and she is the one that is diving on the floor for the loose ball. She has embraced her role and has just been outstanding.”
Young has always been a good player.
She averaged 8.1 points per game as a freshman and 9.9 as a sophomore while starting the first 44 games of her career over those seasons.
Still, something was holding Young back from taking the next step on the court.
That something Young says was confidence and she has found it as a senior.
“From my freshman year I remember I really didn’t feel comfortable on the court, I didn’t know what I was doing,” Young said. “Now I can play inside, I can shoot and I think I kind of found myself this year and its really exciting.”
Young enters the state tournament on Wednesday averaging 10.1 points and 4.8 rebounds per game, both career highs.
A vital part of everything the Bears do on both ends of the court Young also averages 2.3 steals and 1.6 assists per game.
“Definitely it’s a big difference from starting as a freshman to your senior year because it hits a little different when you are a senior,” Young said. “When you are a senior you feel more involved in the game and it’s just special.”
Young isn’t just averaging a career-high in scoring she is doing it more efficiently than at any point in her career.
She is shooting a career-best 45 percent from the field including 32 percent from 3-point range, a more than seven percent increase from the previous two seasons.
Young credits her improved jump shooting to West Branch assistant coach Brad Koenig who she says stays after practice to help with her shot.
The improved perimeter shooting has helped open up driving lanes for Young and teammates.
“The thing I’ve noticed this year is she hasn’t settled for one thing on offense she has mixed it up and she has been really good from 15 feet, she is really good finishing around the basket and I think her 3-point percentage is really good,” Tylee said. “She has gotten comfortable with what her role is on offense.”
The 5-foot-7 Young regularly draws the assignment of guarding the opponents’ best player, regardless of position.
Her versatility and toughness on the defensive end has been perhaps even more important than her offensive production this season.
“She has become a really good defender and she has become a really good defender without fouling,” Tylee said. “That has been the biggest thing is she has kept herself out of foul trouble and kept herself on the floor and we will put her on the other team’s best player whether it’s a post or a guard and she’s been really good at it.”
Young isn’t the only West Branch player that returns to the state tournament confident.
After dropping its state opener last season the Bears return to Wells Fargo Arena with their sights set on the first state tournament win in program history.
This time West Branch isn’t hoping to win, they are expecting to win.
“It’s special and I’m glad we get to end it at state but this year has a different feel,” Young said. “We are going there to win, that’s been our goal for a long time so it’s special to have that chance to win a state title.”