SIOUX CITY – The Missouri River Conference girls basketball season has reached the halfway point and this season is shaping up to be one of the closest league races in history.
Currently the three teams that have won the previous three league titles are in the top three positions in the standings, but you also can’t count out the two Council Bluffs MRAC squads, Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson.
Bishop Heelan holds a slim one-game lead over Sergeant Bluff-Luton and West while Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln are just two games back.
“It’s a battle every night, I think I said at the beginning of the year our conference champion could be a two or three loss team, it could go anyway,” said Heelan coach Darron Koolstra, the longest tenured coach among the MRAC’s seven girls basketball teams. “We’ve got a lot of good teams, you’ve got to go down to Council Bluffs and both of those teams are capable of beating anybody.” [Tweet this]
The Crusaders finished out the first time through the conference at 5-1, picking up a big road win over Abraham Lincoln on Friday.
“We felt it was a big one, it’s not easy to play down there and it’s not easy to come away with a win,” said Koolstra. “We got off to a good start and were pretty much in control most of the game. It was a huge win for us.
Heelan’s lone MRAC setback is to Sergeant Bluff-Luton, last year’s champs, who were the first in the 17-year history of the league to win the title with two or more losses. Sergeant Bluff-Luton has dropped a pair of games to West, while the Wolverines have losses to Heelan and Thomas Jefferson.
“This year in the MRAC it’s really anybody’s game,” said Sergeant Bluff-Luton coach Miranda Riediger. “You have to show up to every game well prepared mentally and physically and don’t overlook anybody because on any given night any team can win.” [Tweet this]
The Warriors are coming off a 12-point win over the much-improved Yellowjackets, who snapped a six-plus year MRAC win drought this season.
“Thomas Jefferson as obviously a lot better,” said Riediger. “They’re composed, very deliberate in everything they do. I look at that as a good win for us.”
Thomas Jefferson snapped a 77-game MRAC losing streak earlier this season while they are in the hunt to finish over .500 in MRAC league play for the first time in school history.
“They have improved dramatically,” said West coach Betsy Boetger. “Those coaches have done a great job with those girls and that program, which is great to see. The better our conference gets we all get.
“They have turned that program around most definitely which is good to see.”
Heelan’s second time through the league will see them play home games against West, North and Abraham Lincoln while facing road tests at East (Thursday), Sergeant Bluff-Luton and Thomas Jefferson.
“They’re (TJ) capable of beating anybody in our conference,” said Koolstra. “They have had some really competitive games. To go down there in that environment to go down there toward the end of the season it’s kind of what you want to get yourself ready for tournament play.”
While Heelan and Sergeant Bluff-Luton have stayed healthy and injury-free this season the same can’t be said for West, East or North.
The Wolverines are the lone team in the league currently in double figures in victories overall with 10 and they haven’t played a single game at 100 percent full strength.
West junior Bricelyn Comstock has missed three games with a broken collarbone while East senor scoring leader Taylor Copple has missed five straight games since suffering a knee injury shortly before Christmas. Several other players in the league have missed time for sickness and other health-related issues.
“This team has a lot of potential once we can get everybody on the floor,” said Boetger, who became just the fourth coach in City history to reach 100 career wins with that Saturday triumph.
This season’s league race will undoubtedly go down to the final week of the season, something the MRAC hasn’t seen in recent history.
“Any given night, anybody can win,” said Boetger. “Every game that we go into we go in prepared knowing that if we don’t play the best that we can play there can be an upset, regardless of what the other teams record is. Our girls know they have to play to the best of their ability and play the way that they have to play.”