Great guard play can take a high school basketball team a long way.
With that in mind, several teams around Northeast Iowa have their bags packed for an extended season.
From Wapsie Valley, Aplington-Parkersburg and Dike-New Hartford to Charles City, Dunkerton, Don Bosco and Janesville, outstanding backcourt players are dishing out high expectations as they return to lead their teams this season.
At Dunkerton, coach Todd Kuntz lost eight seniors from a 22-3 team but welcomes back his two leading scorers in guards Zach Johnson (15.6 points, 3.3 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.8 steals per game) and Brady Happel (14.9 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 5.7 apg), along with Brady Stone (5.7 ppg), Riley Tisue, Brody Rygel and Jared Salisbury.
“Happel was first-team all-state and Johnson was first-team all-conference the last two years,” said Kuntz. “That doesn’t happen very often at a school our size. I believe they are certainly one of the best backcourts in 1A.
“They’ve been playing together since they were little kids, so they have a great connection. A lot of times we as coaches just let them do their thing and get out of their way.”
The same can be said for Don Bosco, which returns Jack Kelley (14.5 ppg, 4.1 apg) and Zach Huff (8.3 ppg, 5.0 apg) from a 24-4 state tournament squad. And a few miles up the road in Janesville, the Wildcats return Spencer Hoff (13.2 ppg) and Josh Hahn (8.6 ppg, 4.5 apg), as well as 6-foot-5 Codey Hicks (18 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 45 blocks) and 6-4 Caden Conrad (6.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg).
“We’re excited because of the experience and talent we have back,” noted Janesville coach Joe McKenna, who has stepped into the head coaching position after four years on the staff as an assistant.
Dunkerton, Don Bosco and Janesville have one more thing in common — they all play in the Iowa Star Conference North Division.
“I think all three of our teams could be top 10 teams and state tournament teams,” said Kuntz. “Any of us three could beat each other on any given night.”
“Dunkerton and Don Bosco swept us last year,” added Janesville’s McKenna. “We need to prove we can beat those guys, and we think we can.
“I think of our seven losses, five were within three points or so. I think we can win the conference, and I think we can be knocking on that tournament door.”
Competition will be fierce in the North Iowa Cedar League, too.
Wapsie Valley, A-P and Dike-New Hartford command plenty of respect, but it’s a deep league with talented players everywhere.
Aplington-Parkersburg head coach Aaron Thomas actually needs to sort out his backcourt after the graduation of Alec Oberhauser from a 25-2 team that placed third in the Class 2A state tournament.
On the other hand, Thomas returns one of NE Iowa’s top players in 6-5 Carter Cuvelier (19.1 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 2.9 apg, 63 steals), already a 1,000-point career scorer.
“We need him in those tight ball games to just be a natural leader,” said Thomas. “He doesn’t have to score every time we have the ball, but be that calm factor on the floor who can direct the traffic.”
Aaron Price (6.0 ppg) is another returning starter for the Falcons and Junior Bodden gave A-P 7.8 points and 4.5 rebounds each night coming off the bench.
“We have some key pieces with a lot of game experience,” said Thomas. “We need to fill in the cracks and figure out who else can step in there an help us. It’s a group that’s extremely motivated, based on their success last year. They know how hard they have to work. It’s a group that really likes basketball, and that’s a huge plus.”
At Wapsie Valley, veteran head coach Marty McKowen has one of the area’s top guards in senior Paul Rundquist (21.1 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 2.7 steals per game, 31.2 percent from 3-point range).
“He’s a special player because he can score in a lot of different ways,” said McKowen. “In the offseason, he’s done a great job of building upper body strength. He looks like a totally different player. He’s just tough to guard.”
McKowen also has Kobe Risse (7.1 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 3.0 apg) and 6-6 Kiks Rosengarten returning, as well as four more veterans from last year and the return of athletic, 6-4 Tanner Sauerbrei.
Dike-New Hartford returns everyone from a 15-8 team and is adding a few promising newcomers to the varsity mix.
Colton Harberts (16.5 ppg, 8.9 rpg) and guard Cade Fuller (15.7 ppg, 3.3 apg, 45.3 percent from 3-point range) are a productive inside-outside tandem while Tim Koop (8.9 ppg, 5.5 apg, 44.4 percent from 3), Isaac Jorgensen (7.0 ppg), Ryan Moore (5.6 ppg, 3.0 apg), Dane FUller (4.5 ppg) and Owen Goos (3.9 ppg) were also key contributors a year ago.
“We have some younger kids coming up who will challenge some of the older kids,” noted head coach Greg Moore. “Coming together as a team and accepting roles will be important for these kids.”
Defense will also be a key for the Wolverines.
“Our defensive average was up a little bit last year,” said Moore. “I think we need to take 10 off that average, probably. We can score the ball, but we’ve got to be able to stop the ball.”
Like the Iowa Star North, the NICL East will be all about survival of the fittest.
“One of the things about this league is you don’t get a night off,” said Wapsie Valley’s McKowen. “You walk into every single game and if you’re not prepared and ready to go, you’re probably not going to win that game. That nightly competition really pays off at tournament time.”
A pair of standout guards return at Charles City in the Northeast Iowa Conference, as well. Jackson Molstead averaged 19 points, 4.4 rebounds and 7.3 assists and Marcus Cranshaw contributed 12.3 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game for an 18-5 Comets team last season.