A familiar cast returns for Cedar Falls and Waterloo West girls’ basketball teams looking to build on strong finishes from this past season. In total, five of the six metro squads bring back the core of their teams from a year ago.
Cedar Falls found the most success of the group.
Despite the graduation of all-state guard Emma Gerdes, Cedar Falls returns nine letterwinners from a 22-3 team that reached the Class 5A state semifinals. Guard Ally Conrad started on each of the Tigers’ past two state-qualifying squads and headlines a large senior class.
“Emma was a great leader for our team last year,” Cedar Falls head coach Gregg Groen said. “This year, we’re going to have seven seniors on the team. Hopefully, some of those kids will step into that role Emma had last year as a senior, and they can lead the same way she did to continue to help push this team forward.”
Juniors Kiana Barney, a UNI women’s basketball commit who played in the past two state tournaments, and Cynthia Wolf, a 6-foot-3 center who also was an impact player on the state finalist volleyball team, are also valuable weapons. Barney averaged 10.9 points a game last season and Wolf averaged 10.4 points and 7.2 rebounds. Both were also tough defenders.
“It’s a big step from that sophomore to junior year, not only playing ability but leadership ability,” Groen said. “I think those two are really going to step up and mature. I’m excited to see what they can add to the team this year from last year.”
Also back among the returning starters is senior guard Reilly Johnson, who missed the end of last season with a knee injury. Fellow senior guard Calli Johnson started in her place. Senior guards Hannah Bermel, Taylor Becker and Madison Schulte join junior post Hailey Paup as returning letterwinners.
Newcomers in transfer Aleah Cook, sophomore guard Olivia Remmert and freshman guard Emerson Green provided additional depth to a roster Groen feels will allow him to use a larger rotation.
“We are going to have a little more depth this year than we’ve had the last couple years, especially at guard,” Groen said. “Hopefully with that experience we can get off to a good start.”
Cedar Falls was the only team that defeated Waterloo West over the final month of last season. Tony Pappas enters his 37th season as head coach with all five starters and two other letterwinners back from that team poised on build on its 10-13 record.
“Our defense came together and offensively we continued to grow and improve,” Pappas said, addressing his team’s strong 2015-16 finish. “I think we’ve even stepped both of those up another level over the course of the summer.
“We have a lot of experience coming back and we’re excited about the season. They’ve worked hard in the offseason.”
Seniors Tahya Campbell and Aliyah Robinson are four-year contributors who earned all-conference recognition a year ago. Campbell led West with averages of 13.1 points, 6.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 3 steals and nearly a block a game. Robinson posted nearly identical assist, steal and block numbers while averaging 8.7 points a game.
“I think they’ll both do a good job for us and be positive leaders,” Pappas said. “The experience of going through what they’ve gone through the last three years will do nothing but help prepare them to be leaders.”
NaTracia Ceaser is back after averaging 11.7 points and serving as one of West’s leading rebounders and defenders during her freshman campaign. She’s coming back from knee surgery, but still figures to be an impact player.
“Hopefully, she’ll be fully recovered,” Pappas said. “She’s a key piece to our puzzle.”
Cory O’Brien is set to begin his first season at Waterloo Columbus after serving nine seasons on Denver’s coaching staff, including the previous four as head coach.
O’Brien has eight letterwinners back from last year’s 3-20 team, many of whom are strong multi-sport athletes who have been a part of the Sailors’ recent success in volleyball, softball, soccer and tennis.
Senior Grace Surma averaged a team-high 7.5 points a year ago, while Kiki Cabrera returns as the team’s leader in rebounds and assists.
O’Brien noted that he’s seen plenty of toughness and effort along with good leadership from his players. The coach feels gains still need to be made in several fundamental parts of the game, including shooting and limiting turnovers.
“We have a lot of good athletes,” O’Brien said. “We’re going to try and play to those strengths, play uptempo and create havoc on defense.”
Carmen Wipf takes over as head coach at Waterloo Christian, which lost four starters from last year’s team, but has five incoming freshmen set to contribute. Senior guard Sydney Nystrom is the leading holdover. Nystrom averaged 9.1 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.4 steals.
“This year will be a challenge for us as we face many talented teams in the Iowa Star,” Wipf noted. “However, we are excited about strong numbers in our freshman class for this year and several years to come.”
Despite going 1-21 a year ago, East returns a talented young core of players. That group is headlined by state track champion Kerris Roberts’ 13.7 points a game, and the 12 points a game Amanee Clark averaged. Both are entering their sophomore seasons.
Valley Lutheran didn’t have any seniors on last year’s 2-19 team. Junior Emma Armbrecht led the way a year ago with averages of 9.6 points, 6 rebounds, 2.9 steals and 1.2 blocks per game.