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PREP GIRLS BASKETBALL

Class 3A defending champion Unity Christian earns first win of the season

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West Lyon vs Unity Christian girls state basketball

Unity head coach Jay Schuiteman and his assistants cheer a play during West Lyon vs Unity Christian class 3A championship on March 6, at the Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines. 

ORANGE CITY, Iowa — Unity Christian chalked up the first of what it hopes is many high school girls basketball wins here Tuesday night.

After all, the Knights are the defending Iowa Class 3A state champions and return plenty of firepower from that squad.

Unity rolled to a 78-48 victory over War Eagle Conference foe Le Mars Gehlen Catholic.

The outcome of this contest was never in doubt as the Knights jumped to an early lead and never looked back.

Gehlen, which opened the season with an impressive 62-58 win over perennial Class 1A state tournament qualifier Kingsley-Pierson on Monday, narrowed the gap somewhat in the second quarter. However, Unity came out strong again after the break.

“We lost a little momentum in the first half, but we just needed to get that momentum back,” Unity Christian coach Jay Schuiteman said. “I thought we captured that right away and carried that into the fourth.”

Tyra Schuiteman, a 6-foot junior and the coach’s daughter, led the Knights with 22 points. Gracie Schoonhoven added 17 and Jenna Bouma 10.

All 10 players who saw action for Unity scored.

The Knights led 22-9 after one quarter, but Gehlen kept it from being a complete runaway early, outscoring Unity 11-1 in the last three minutes of the second quarter.

It was still a comfortable 42-24 advantage for the Knights at halftime, then they rang up 26 third-quarter points.

Gehlen managed only one basket and two points in the fourth quarter, perhaps feeling the effects of playing on back-to-bac nights.

Lauren Heying tossed in 19 points for the Jays, who had trouble matching Unity’s height and athleticism.

Chances are, many other teams will encounter the same problem.

“We’re just going to continue to build and see how the different players take on their roles,” Schuiteman said. “We lost a couple of good leaders and the all-time leading scorer and rebounder in school history. Some other kids have to step up.”

Bishop Heelan outscored Unity 77-70 in a season opener last Saturday, but Schuiteman said his team learned some valuable lessons.

“It’s a great experience playing a tough team that’s going to get after you like that,” Schuiteman said. “I think we’ll get better from it. It would have been nice (to play) a little bit later in the season, but I think we’ll learn from it. It was a good humbling experience and it’s always nice to look at things you need to work on.”

Three of Tuesday’s starters – Gracie Schoonhoven, Tyra Schuiteman and Bouma – were in the starting lineup when Unity beat West Lyon 48-31 in the 3A state championship game last March.

The Knights lost Janie Schoonhoven, the school’s all-time leading scorer and rebounder, to graduation along with Tyra Hulstein.

However, Gracie Schoonhoven and Tyra Schuiteman were each named to the 3A all-tournament team.

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