Your Prep Sports
The girls basketball season officially came to a close on Saturday with state championship games in Classes 1A, 2A and 4A marking the end of the 2022-2023 season.
It was a memorable season in the Your Prep Sports area with five area teams reaching regional finals and three teams qualifying for the state tournament.
Solon snapped a long state tournament drought while Clear Creek Amana reached the state tournament for the second time in program history and Regina qualified for a second consecutive season.
With the season in the books Your Prep Sports puts a bow on an impressive season for area teams by taking a moment to look back at some of the best performances, players, coaches and moments from the season.
Best individual performance: Emmy McComas against Dubuque Hempstead. With City High in drastic need of a win the Little Hawks got a huge performance from one of its leaders. McComas had 21 points, 17 rebounds, four steals and three assists in a 50-39 road win over the Mustangs.
Best individual performance part 2: Morgan Squiers against West Liberty. There were higher point totals and gaudier stat lines for area players this season but perhaps no one came up bigger for their team than Squiers against the Comets. Squiers scored a career-high 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting and had five rebounds and two steals in a 68-61 road win for Regina.
Best team performance: Clear Creek Amana against North Scott. With a state tournament trip on the line the Clippers came up with their best performance, shooting 54 percent from the field in a 61-46 win over tenth-ranked North Scott in a Class 4A regional final. Three players scored in double figures for Clear Creek Amana which led for the final 29 plus minutes.
Coach of the year: Jamie Smith at Solon. Solon had to replace four senior starters from a 15-win team last season and Smith directed the Spartans to a 23-3 record and the 3A state semifinals. It was the first 20-win season for Solon since 2007 and the program’s first state tournament appearance since 2006.
Biggest upset: West Branch over East Buchanan. West Branch entered the postseason with just five wins on the season but played its best game of the year in a 57-53 win over 15-7 East Buchanan in a regional quarterfinal. The Bears shot 43 percent from the field, made 10-of-12 free throws and outrebounded the Buccaneers 34-25 in the road win.
Best game: Solon against Dubuque Wahlert. The 54-46 Class 3A state quarterfinal win for Solon didn’t have a last second ending as the Spartans put the game away in the final 90 seconds but these two teams traded runs for the opening three quarters and big-time shots in the final eight minutes under the bright lights of the state tournament.
Best comeback: Regina against Mediapolis. Regina trailed by seven at the half and by 13 twice in the third quarter of their Regina final against the Bulldogs. The Regals were down 10 with under seven minutes to play before using a 14-2 run to force overtime where they scored the final four points of a 55-54 win.
Breakthrough performer: Regina sophomore Morgan Miller. After a strong debut season Miller blossomed into one of the best all-around players in 2A leading the Regals in points (17), rebounds (4.7) and steals (3) and ranking second on the team with 4 assists while shooting 52 percent from the field.
Emerging star: Solon junior Hailey Miller. Prior to the state tournament Miller had already enjoyed a breakthrough season averaging career-highs of 11.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.8 assists. It was on the state’s biggest stage where Miller showed her star potential averaging 19 points on 52 percent shooting in a pair of state tournament games including a 21-point effort in a quarterfinal win over Dubuque Wahlert.
Best clutch performance: Kobi Lietz against Mount Vernon. How do you snap a 16-year stretch without a state tournament appearance? Going 7-of-10 from 3-point range certainly helps. That is what Lietz did in a 58-44 regional final win over Mount Vernon as the Solon sophomore had a game-high 22 points as the Spartans qualified for state for the first time since 2016.
Most fitting performance: Grace Gaarde against Mediapolis. It was only fitting that Gaarde, a four-year starter that helped build Regina back into a 2A contender had her best game of the season when the Regals needed it most. Gaarde had 14 points, seven rebounds, three assists and two steals in a 55-54 regional final win over Mediapolis that sent Regina back to state for the second consecutive season.
Most improved player: Regina junior Alli Clark. As a sophomore Clark was solid, averaging 9.5 points and 3.7 rebounds per game. This season Clark simply took her game to another level averaging 14.6 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals per game while shooting 53 percent from the floor.
Most improved over the season: Clear Creek Amana junior Kaylee Stratton. Stratton wasn’t much of a factor as the season started, scoring two or fewer points in six of her first eight games. By the end of the season Stratton was a big reason the Clippers reached the state tournament. Stratton scored in double figures in the final three games before the state tournament including a career-high 15 in the regional final while averaging 7.2 points, 2.8 rebounds and 1.8 assists over the final 13 games.
Biggest shot: Callie Levin against Dubuque Wahlert. The Golden Eagles twice threatened to take control of the 3A state quarterfinal contest against Solon in the final five minutes. Both times Levin answered with a 3-pointer. Her triple with 3:37 remaining tied the score at 44 in what ended as a 54-46 win for the Spartans.
Best farewell performance: West High seniors Meena Tate and Anna Prouty. A pair of four-year varsity contributors Tate and Prouty saved their best performance for last. In their final game at West High Tate and Prouty each scored 22 points on combined 17-of-24 shooting and together had 12 rebounds, six assists and two steals in a 72-57 regional semifinal win over Des Moines Roosevelt.
Most versatile: Solon junior Callie Levin. The Iowa commit could probably be selected for just about any of the spots on this list but it is the versatility that sets Levin apart. On both ends of the court the 5-foot-9 Levin can do it all which she demonstrated this season while averaging 18.2 points, 5.7 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 4.2 assists and .5 blocked shots per game.
Unsung hero: Liberty High senior Kennedy Daugherty. Daugherty didn’t draw a lot of praise from outside the program this season but the senior forward did the dirty work that made her an important piece in the best season in program history. Attitude and effort were may have been the best contribution from Daugherty who was also productive averaging 5.7 rebounds, 1.5 steals and .6 blocks per game and shot 50 percent from the field.
Hardest worker: West High senior Anna Prouty. Prouty wasn’t the biggest or most athletic post player but was rarely outworked in the paint during a productive four-year varsity career that included three seasons as a starter. Prouty averaged 9.6 points and a team-high 8.9 rebounds as a senior while shooting 54 percent from the floor.
Best under the radar player: West Branch junior Kylie Pickett. Pickett didn’t garner a ton of attention this season but had a solid all-around season leading West Branch in scoring at 10.8 points per game and ranking sixth in the state with 75 3-pointers to go with 4 rebounds, 3 steals and 1 assist per game.
Defensive player of the year: Clear Creek Amana junior Bliss Beck. The stats are good, 6.7 rebounds, 1.7 blocked shots and 1 steal per game, but the true value for Beck defensively doesn’t show up on the state sheet. The 6-foot-2 Beck was among the best rim protectors in the state this season and altered shots and changed game-plans with her length.
Newcomer of the year: City High sophomore August Palmer. A year after bursting onto the scene as a freshman at West Branch Palmer impressed again in her first season at City High. Palmer ranked 11th in Class 5A in scoring at 18.5 points per game and averaged 4.1 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.9 steals per game.
Freshman of the year: Grace Fincham appears poised to be the next great West High player after an impressive debut season in which she averaged 8.8 points per game while shooting 50 percent from the field and 71 percent from the free throw line. Fincham also averaged 4.3 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game.
Freshman of the year part 2: Averie Lower flourished in her first varsity season ranking second on the team in scoring while helping Clear Creek Amana reach the state tournament for the second time in program history. Lower averaged 11.2 points, 3.1 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 1.1 steals per game.
Bench player of the year: Solon junior Anna Quillin. After missing time early with an injury Quillin played a critical role in a state tournament run for Solon as a sparkplug off the bench. Quillin averaged 5 points, a team-high 6.3 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game and had 21 rebounds in two state tournament games.
Most valuable player: Liberty High senior Jasmine Barney. Few players in the state were more integral in the success of their team than Barney who helped the Lightning set single season program records for wins in each of the past two seasons. Barney led the Lightning in points (15.7), steals (2.6) and assists (2.5) per game and ranked second on the team with 6.2 rebounds per game.
Most valuable player part 2: Clear Creek Amana junior Ava Locklear. One of the best post players in Class 4A, Locklear has evolved into one of the tougher matchups in the state. The 5-foot-11 Locklear averaged a double-double with 13.8 points and 10.1 rebounds per game and also lead the Clippers in assists (3.3), blocked shots (2) and steals (1.5).