Questions to Be Answered, Games to Circle and Stories to Watch Over the Rest of the Girls Basketball Season
Your Prep Sports
The time has arrived where the time remaining in the year is counted in hours rather than weeks or days.
Often during this time of year the tendency is to look back at what has transpired over the past 12 months.
There will be some of that on Your Prep Sports in the coming days but this is an opportunity to look forward at girls basketball in the new year.
It would be fun, albeit time consuming, to offer a list of 365 things to watch for the remainder of the 2021-2022 girls basketball season in the Your Prep Sports area.
Instead here are three lists of seven (and one bonus) for 22 things to watch in 2022.
Questions to Be Answered
Is Solon Ready to Surge?
It looks like it.
The Spartans are 5-5 and unranked but closed 2021 with back-to-back wins while averaging 69.5 points.
Of its final 11 regular season games only five are against teams currently over .500 and there are just two remaining games against ranked teams.
A veteran Solon team with four senior starters is more than capable of rattling off a long stretch of wins, returning to the rankings and gaining momentum for a postseason run.
Is City High a Title Contender?
After missing the state tournament for the first time since 2016 last season City High wasted no time proving it was a threat to win it all in 5A this season.
Thanks to a 7-0 start that features a pair of wins over top-five opponents Waterloo West and West High the second-ranked Little Hawks may have the best early-season resume of any team in 5A.
With Kelsey Joens (21.1 ppg) and Eviyon Richardson (13.6 ppg, 7.7 rpg) leading the way, the development of senior Andie Westlake (12.4 ppg) as a third scorer and the addition of senior post Bella Cooley (8.5 ppg, 9 rpg) City High is set up for a deep postseason run.
Can West High Return to Des Moines?
The road to Des Moines got a little bit more difficult with the loss of senior guard Emma Ingersoll-Weng to injury but perhaps no team in the state does a better job of getting players to step up than West High.
West High lost leading scorer Audrey Koch from last year’s state semifinal squad but has a new go-to player in junior Meena Tate and a strong cast of supporters.
The Trojans already have a win over Cedar Rapids Washington and 1A second-ranked Algona Garrigan and have a chance to bolster their resume with six of their first nine games in 2022 against ranked teams.
Is Regina for Real?
It certainly looks that way.
The Regals are off to a 7-2 start with two losses by a combined seven points to Class 3A Mount Vernon and Class 4A Solon.
Regina has excellent guard play with Gaarde and freshman Morgan Miller (11.3), a steady post presence with senior Lily Simpson (10.3 ppg, 8.3 rpg) and balance with six players averaging more than 4.1 points per game.
The Regals are going to be in the thick of the RVC South Division race (more on that later) and can contend for a trip to the state tournament again.
Who Wins the RVC South?
Without question the toughest of these questions to answer and probably what will turn into one of the best conference races in Eastern Iowa.
Regina, West Branch and West Liberty are all ranked in their respectively classes and are the likely challengers for the top spot although Wilton could hang around.
Cases could be made for all three as the favorite.
2A No. 14 Regina sits 7-0 in RVC play and has an early one-game lead, 2A No. 9 West Branch has the best win to date with a victory over No. 10 Cascade while West Liberty has already faced the top three teams in the North Division.
None of the top three teams have met yet meaning all three have two meetings with each in the next six weeks.
The title very well could come down to the regular season finale between West Branch and Regina.
Who Leads the Your Prep Sports area in Scoring?
It is probably a two-person race between Solon sophomore Callie Levin and City High junior Kelsey Joens.
Both are off to stellar starts with Iowa commit Levin averaging a Your Prep Sports area-leading 21.9 points per game and Joens, an Iowa State recruit, right on her heels at 21.1.
It’s a tough call, both are explosive scorers and capable of putting up big numbers every night.
Liberty High junior Jasmine Barney is one to watch, she is averaging 18.4 per game through the new year.
What’s the Ceiling for West Branch?
Few would have predicted it a month ago but it is certainly feesible to talk about the Bears as state tournament contenders.
West Branch lost four starters that accounted for roughly 85 percent of its scoring from last year’s 2A semifinal team but are off to a 7-1 start and have climbed to ninth in the 2A rankings.
There are plenty of big games left (two with Regina, two with West Liberty trips to Monticello and Solon) but if the Bears can hang in the top 10 they put themselves in position to secure a third consecutive state tournament appearance.
Is Liberty High a Flash in the Pan?
Nope. Not even a little bit.
Jamie Brandt has what is easily the best team in program history and the young Lightning are only going to get better as the season goes.
Liberty High (6-2) needs five wins to set the school record for single season victories set in the debut program against a largely non-5A schedule.
Over the past three seasons Liberty High won eight games against Mississippi Valley Conference teams.
The Lightning already have five wins over MVC teams this season and pushed fifth-ranked West High to the limit in a three-point loss.
With four juniors and a freshman in the starting line and three sophomores in the rotation Liberty High isn’t going anywhere.
Games to Circle
- January 4 Benton Community at Clear Creek Amana – If the Clippers are going to climb back into the WAMAC West Division title race the ascent needs to start in the first game back after break.
- January 21 City High at West High – The rematch of cross-town rivals comes after City high won the first game 65-52 in December.
- January 24 West Branch at Solon – The Bears have won five straight over their former conference rival with the last three wins all coming by double digits.
- February 4 City High at Waterloo West – City High overcame a 12-point first-quarter deficit to win a 48-46 thriller over the WaHawks in the first game between the top-three ranked teams.
- February 4 Liberty High at City High – Liberty High gets another shot a signature win and a victory over a cross-town rival.
- February 8 West Branch at Regina – The RVC South Division title could very well be up for grabs when these two long-time rivals meet in the regular season finale.
- February 11 Cedar Rapids Washington at Liberty High – The schedule is loaded with games against ranked teams but the regular season finale against the Warriors presents a final chance to gain momentum before the post season.
Players to Watch
- West Branch senior Delaynie Luneckas – The 6-foot-2 senior forward has been as good, maybe even better than advertised thus far averaging a double-double with 13.9 points and 11.4 rebounds per game with a team-high 5.7 blocks and 3.7 assists.
- City High junior Kelsey Joens – Securing her spot as one of the state’s best the Iowa State commit ranks second in Class 5A in scoring with 21.1 points per game and adds 5 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.9 steals per outing.
- Regina junior Claire Gaarde – In her third season in the Regina lineup Gaarde has been sensational leading Regina in points (12.7) and assists (5.8) to go with 3.2 steals and 2.6 rebounds per game.
- Clear Creek Amana sophomore Ava Locklear – The sophomore center has stepped up big in the first extended action of her career lead the Clippers with 12.1 points and 6.3 rebounds per game while shooting nearly 50 percent from the floor.
- Liberty High junior Jasmine Barney – There may not be a player in the state that had a better pre-holiday start to the season than Barney who ranks eighth in 5A in scoring (18.4), fourth in assists (5.4) and 13th in rebounding (7.9).
- West High junior Meena Tate – Tate was already having a breakthrough season averaging 15.9 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game but will be asked to do even more with the loss of senior backcourt mate Emma Ingersoll-Weng to injury.
- Solon sophomore Callie Levin – An Iowa commit, Levin has picked up where she left off a season ago ranking fourth in 4A in both scoring (21.9) and steals (4.6) and is seventh in assists (3.8).