High school girls basketball is in full swing, with several interesting storylines developing as we move toward the New Year. Here are five of the things we’ve noticed so far:
1. Sioux Center looks to have picked up where it left off last season
The Warriors are 9-0 and ranked No. 1 in Iowa Class 3A after reaching the state championship game last season. Despite losing two starters to graduation, there was plenty of talent left, including all-stater Lexi Toering, who’s been the leader of this year’s squad.
Point guard Jordyn Van Maanen sustained a hand injury a couple of weeks ago and will be out for another two to three weeks, but Coach Doug Winterfeld’s depth has paid off in huge dividends. Several newcomers have fit in to Sioux Center’s trademark “chaos” defensive scheme, plus with Toering and veterans Shayla Post, Camryn Cleveringa and Victoria Rensink, the Warriors are in good hands.
Defending 2A state champion Hull Western Christian is ranked No. 3 behind North Linn and Treynor, two teams the Wolfpack beat in last year’s state tournament. Western is also trying to replace two starters, but has the luxury of one of the state’s top player in Nebraska recruit Ashtyn Veerbeek to build around.
Cherokee, despite losing all-state guard Payton Slaughter to a season-ending knee injury, has won its first eight games and hasn’t been remotely challenged in any of those. Four starters average double figures for the Braves, including Kassidy Pingel (19.0) and Paityn Hagberg (14.9), two key performers from last season’s state semifinalists. Cherokee plays at Western Christian on Jan. 5.
Another team performing well despite losing its top player is West Sioux, ranked No. 5 in Class 2A and off to a 9-0 start. Taylor Rodenburgh, the school’s all-time leading scorer, will miss the entire season after suffering a knee injury.
2. South Sioux City back to top spot in Class B
The South Sioux City Cardinals woke up the echoes, so to speak, last season by capturing the school’s 12th Nebraska Class B state championship, but first since 2008.
Led by junior McKenna Sims, the Cardinals are back at the No. 1 spot this season, winning six of its first seven games. SSC’s lone loss is to Sioux Falls Lincoln, a state-ranked South Dakota squad. Sims is averaging 20.3 points per game and is one of only two starters back from last year’s team.
The Cardinals, though, face a daunting upcoming schedule, beginning on Friday with a game against Norris in the Waverly tournament. That’s a rematch of last year’s Class B title game. Lincoln Christian, the defending Class C1 state champion, is also in the tournament.
South Sioux City plays Crofton, which has won eight state championships, including five of the last six in C2, at the CNOS Foundation Classic Jan. 5 and has a date at Class A top-ranked Millard South on Jan. 23.
3. Ashtyn Veerbeek is as dominating as ever
Western Christian’s three-time all-stater Ashtyn Veerbeek, a 6-foot-2 University of Nebraska recruit, has been virtually unstoppable thus far this season.
The captain of last year’s 2A state all-tournament team is averaging 27 points and 13.7 rebounds per game, which ranks second statewide in each category. Veerbeek has also registered 26 blocked shots and recorded a double-double in six of the Wolfpacks’ seven games.
In her last two games, Veerbeek tallied 33 points in a 77-45 win over Storm Lake and poured in a career-high 39 in a come-from-behind victory over Sergeant Bluff-Luton.
4. Dakota Valley knocks off top-ranked Warner
Dakota Valley is off to a 4-0 start but still still unranked in South Dakota Class A despite defeating Class B top-ranked Warner 59-54 in its last game on Dec. 16 at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls.
Senior Peyton Wingert is leading the way for the Panthers with an 18.3 scoring average and should reach 1,000 points for her career by the end of the season.
Dakota Valley’s next two games are at home against Lennox, ranked No. 3 in South Dakota Class A and at Sergeant Bluff-Luton, No. 14 in Iowa Class 4A.
5. MRAC title is up for grabs
Bishop Heelan has quietly won four of its last five games to move into a tie for first place with Sergeant Bluff-Luton in the Missouri River Conference.
The Crusaders, ranked No. 15 in Class 4A, have a 4-1 league mark, as does Sergeant Bluff-Luton, while West is 4-2 having played one more conference game.
Council Bluffs Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson are lurking with 2-2 MRAC marks. With several games still remaining between the contenders, the conference race is wide open.