Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article did not mention Morgan Neuendorf's first name.
WAVERLY — It’s already been a remarkable season for the Wartburg College women’s basketball team.
The best may be yet to come.
The Knights are 25-0, ranked No. 2 nationally and own the Iowa Conference regular-season championship. Tonight, they begin their quest to sweep the league titles when they host fourth-seeded Loras (17-9, 8-8) in the IIAC tournament semifinals.
It’s a team with some serious senior leadership (seven in all) and a heaping helping of Northeast Iowa talent.
Wartburg’s rotation also includes sophomore Emma Gerdes and junior Adrienne Boettger of Cedar Falls, sophomore Alecia Kimball of Dunkerton, sophomore Katie Lindeman of Grundy Center, freshman Ally Conrad of Cedar Falls and freshman Sarah Morkel of Independence.
“It’s been really, really great, honestly,” says Morgan Neuendorf of Shell Rock, who began her college journey on a basketball scholarship to Minnesota State-Mankato, but transferred to Wartburg so she could play both basketball and soccer while pursuing an outstanding education. She was last year’s conference MVP in soccer.
“Freshman year was a lot different than it is this year. I think my class and the classes right below us had a big part in just switching the culture to being more of a championship culture.
“That’s coming in every day and working hard, but it was more off the court. These girls are great teammates, but they’re also all my friends and not every team that I’ve been on can I say that. That in itself is more important to me than winning a game or anything like that. I genuinely care about everyone on this team.”
Knights head coach Bob Amsberry hasn’t had to go far to find players with both the skills and makeup to fit into his program.
“When I got hired at Wartburg 12 years ago, I felt like if we could get the best kids in our area that aren’t scholarship kids that we could be really, really good,” explains Amsberry. “We’ve tried to do that.
“This area has got great basketball, so we’ve gone after those kids hard. We don’t have to go very far from home to get our talent. Wartburg is a big draw. The reputation of Wartburg helps us a lot. That’s the first sell and that’s an easy one. The second sell is basketball.”
The results speak for themselves. While nearly everyone on Wartburg’s 24-player roster was a high school standout in their own right, they’ve come together for a common cause as Knights.
Six players average at least 8.2 points per game. Six different players have led the team in scoring. Ten different players have led the team in rebounding. Fourteen players average at least five minutes of playing time per game. Wartburg leads the Iowa Conference in nine team statistical categories, including scoring offense (77.6) and scoring defense (56.7).
Neuendorf isn’t surprised.
“My class is really talented, but the classes below us are just as talented,” she notes. “I’m really excited to see them grow. There have been some games where it’s like, this game is easier than our practices because a lot of times our scout team is doing better than the team we would play. Not a lot of teams can say that.”
Individually, Neuendorf averages 9.9 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game. Gerdes adds 8.2 points per game and is shooting 39.4 percent from 3-point range. Boettger ranks eighth in the league in offensive rebounds per game (1.8) and contributes 4.6 points and 3.3 rebounds in just 14.3 minutes per game while shooting 64.5 percent.
“It’s been fun because every game someone else kind of has a night,” notes Boettger, who wasn’t even sold on playing college basketball until she looked into what Wartburg had to offer. “We don’t have just one superstar where if they’re off we’re really going to struggle. Someone else comes in and picks up their role a little bit.”
“No one really cares who that person is on any given night,” says the Knights’ perimeter sharpshooter.
Now the Knights are on a ride nobody is eager to leave.
“Coach talks a lot about staying hungry, and I think we do a good job of not being content,” says Gerdes. “Yeah, we keep winning, but there’s more that we can do and more that we want to do.”
Boettger joined the program for the 2015-16 season when the Knights went 23-8 and made a spectacular run into the NCAA Final Four before falling in the national semifinals.
“When I walked in my freshman year to that Final Four run, I don’t think I knew how special that was or how much work that took because I just walked into it,” she explains. “Now going through the last couple of years and seeing how people have worked to get our team to this point so we could have this chemistry and do things that Wartburg has never done ... my freshman year I kind of took that for granted because I walked into a team that had that.
“Now working with this team I’ve gotten to know what it takes. It’s pretty special, and it’s something I’m grateful to be a part of.”