No one hesitated when asked.
Players and coaches of Cedar Falls’ girls basketball team believe there is an element with the 2021-22 group unlike any other.
“We have a lot of fast people,” senior Sydney Remmert said.
“It is one of the fastest teams,” head coach Gregg Groen said. “Can we utilize that in a smart way?”
What the Tigers lack in size, they believe can be made up for with that speed amongst their guards and forwards.
They’re counting on it to get back to Wells Fargo Arena.
Gone is one of the most decorated and dominant players to grace Cedar Falls in Anaya Barney, yet what returns is a collection of players ready to step into the spotlight and bring the program to a place it treats like a second home.
The Tigers have missed the Class 5A state tournament just three times since the classification was introduced in 2013. They are coming off back-to-back quarterfinal setbacks by a total of nine points.
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“We’ve got some great kids, some talented kids,” Groen said. ‘We need to push them and get the most out of them. We have seven or eight girls that can go out and score at any time.”
Albaugh, Sydney Remmert and Grace Knutson are the three starters who return. Albaugh, the Tigers’ starting point guard, has the most points per game returning in 9.5.
She has fought off a torn anterior cruciate ligament her sophomore year to home in on the lead role in their offense.
“We have a lot of great shooters, so I have a lot of trust in my teammates to get them the ball,” Albaugh said.
Knutson was second on the team in rebounds per night with 5.3 and fourth in scoring. She expects both numbers to skyrocket behind an improved confidence in herself and from her teammates.
“I think I’m ready for it,” Knutson said.
There’s hope that Knutson could blossom into an all-state type of player. Groen said she already is getting looks from mid-majors in the Missouri Valley Conference and the Summit League.
“This year, she’s stepping into a more productive role for us,” Groen added. “She’s gotten a lot stronger, much more physical.”
Alivia Bronner, the libero on Cedar Falls’ state runner-up volleyball team, is back out for basketball after electing not to play her sophomore and junior years.
Groen likes the depth of this team and he expects to go deeper into his bench than years previous.
That will lead to some full-court pressure defensively, something he anticipates doing a lot of this season.
“We can get a little more aggressive on the defensive end,” Groen said.
Could that be the difference in getting to a state semifinal for the first time since 2017?
“Yes,” Albaugh stated.
Shooting was a big strength for Cedar Falls a season ago. It led the Mississippi division in all three shooting percentages. It tied with Cedar Rapids Washington, the potential challenger for the conference title, in 3-point percentage.
Even with the loss of the Barney sisters – Jasmine is now at Iowa City Liberty – there doesn’t seem to be any anticipation of a drop off.
“We’re stepping up in more ways than one,” Knutson said. “We’re capable of doing that.”
To Groen, there are two premier favorites in 5A: Johnston and the school 15 minutes away in Waterloo West. He sees the rest of the field wide open.
And having the Wahawks as that constant motivation doesn’t hurt, either.
“There’s a lot of balance in 5A basketball,” Groen said. “There’s been a lot of tradition with Waterloo West and even with Cedar Falls. With that tradition, there is expectations.”
There might be skeptics on how the Tigers are viewed this season. Losing a 20-point per game scorer and one of the better defenders can lead to those question marks.
They’re fine with those questions being asked.
“We want to set the bar high,” Remmert said. “I think a lot of people will doubt us. I don’t think it will set us back any further.”