Your Prep Sports
SOLON – Kobi Lietz was a bit apprehensive at the beginning of the season.
The Solon sophomore was getting her first exposure to varsity-level girls’ basketball and that presents a learning curve for the best of players.
Three short months later, Lietz has proven to be closer to one of the “best” than a newcomer finding her footing.
“It’s amazing,” Lietz said after drilling six three-point baskets and scoring a career-high 22 points in second-ranked Solon’s 58-44 win over No. 11 Mount Vernon in a Class 3A regional final Saturday night at Solon High School. “This is what we have wanted. Just a great experience. It feels really good, especially since it is against our rivals.”
The victory delivers Solon (22-2) to the state tournament for the first time since 2006.
The Spartans are seeded second in the 3A bracket and will bring an eight-game win streak into their state quarterfinal game on Monday, Feb. 27 at 8:30 p.m. against seventh-seeded Dubuque Wahlert (18-6) at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.
“It just means so much,” Solon junior Callie Levin said. “We all wanted it so bad. We have wanted it since we were little kids. We have all played on the team for so long and just to be able to get to the state tournament with my best friends, there is no better feeling.”
Solon is undefeated against fellow 3A schools this season.
Its only two losses were against a pair of 4A top-10 teams in Clear Creek Amana and North Polk.
“I know what I need to do,” Lietz said. “We all know what we need to do. We keep doing it.”
With much of the Mount Vernon defensive effort centered around pressuring University of Iowa commit Levin, Lietz cast aside any pregame jitters with back-to-back three-point baskets to begin the contest, which gave her team a 6-0 lead it never relinquished.
“I get emotional telling it, she was nervous before the game,” Solon Coach Jamie Smith said. “This is a big game for her, right? We didn’t say much to her. We have got to let some of those nerves go through. She’s a gamer. Got a couple huge steals, hit some threes, big confidence builder. Then we got her the ball. Her teammates have a ton of confidence in her, so it was huge. Big-time game. We always talk about defense would calm your nerves, but tonight I think threes calmed her nerves.”
Much like Solon’s first two meetings this season with Mount Vernon – narrow Spartans’ victories by a combined seven points – Solon was on the wrong end of a height disadvantage against the Mustangs’ 6-foot-2 sophomore post player Chloe Meester, who is five inches taller than any player on the Solon roster.
Meester scored 16 of Mount Vernon’s first 29 points, but was held scoreless during a crucial 11-minute stretch in the second half that allowed Solon to put the contest out of reach for good with a 19-7 explosion.
“We knew that Meester is really good,” said Levin, who finished with 11 points and a team-high eight rebounds. “So she is going to get some buckets, obviously. You want to try to limit her, but we want to try to limit the three-pointers and we want to try and limit the driving in the lane.”
The plan worked to perfection. After surrendering five total three-point baskets in the two meetings with Mount Vernon earlier this season, Solon yielded none in the regional final.
“We knew that we have already already played them twice and we beat them, so we are capable of it,” Solon junior Hailey Miller said. “But we knew that they would want it even more. … We just knew that we had to come out and get on them right away.”
After an 8-1 surge got Mount Vernon within four points at 37-33 late in the third quarter, Miller and Lietz halted the Mustangs’ momentum with a flurry of baskets.
Back-to-back buckets from Miller, followed by a steal and layup from Lietz, gave Solon some much-needed breathing room 43-33 with just over a minute left in the third frame.
“It was really big,” said Miller, who scored 14 points. “Because if we let them get that close, then we’ll get down on ourselves and so we knew we had to increase that lead.”
Mount Vernon got no closer than eight points the rest of the way.
When it did, Lietz delivered two more back-to-back three-point baskets – the second with 5:19 to go – that quickly returned the Solon advantage to 14 points at 51-37.
“Kobi was insane tonight,” Levin said. “She was shooting out of her mind. Before the game, we told her, we were like, ‘You have got to be aggressive, Kobi.’ And she just came out, she did her thing and there we are. I am so proud of her.”
Despite it being Solon’s first trip to state in 17 years, this bunch insists it is not content with just getting there.
“We’re not done yet,” Levin said. “We want a state championship and that is what we are aiming for.”
Mount Vernon 11 8 16 9 – 44
Solon 20 9 16 13 – 58
Mount Vernon (44) – Kameron Brand 0 0-0 0, Courtney Franck 1 1-2 3, Lilly See 2 2-4 6, Chloe Meester 9 0-1 18, Peyton Simpson 5 3-4 13, Taylor Franck 0 0-0 0, Eryn Jackson 0 0-0 0, Brynley Rasmussen 2 0-0 4, Laura Swart 0 0-0 0, Totals 19 6-11 44.
Solon (58) – Kobi Lietz 7 2-2 22, Hailey Miller 5 3-5 14, Mia Stahle 1 0-0 2, Callie Levin 5 0-0 11, Hilary Wilson 1 2-2 5, Anna Quillin 1 2-3 4, Totals 20 9-12 58.
Three-point goals – MV 0, SOL9 (Lietz 6, Miller 1, Wilson 1, Levin 1). Rebounds – MV 14 (Meester 5), SOL19 (Levin 8); Total fouls – MV 13, SOL 12; Fouled out – None.