Back to work.
The holiday break was nice. Basketball teams around the state were able to catch a collective breath following the frenetic pre-Christmas schedule, then melt off some turkey and pie in holiday tournaments last week.
Now, its back to full-bore as teams begin the march toward post-season play in late February.
Although the break doesn’t exactly divide a season into equal parts, the resumption of post-holiday games always seems to mark the beginning of the campaign’s second half.
January is an important month Players are in full ‘basketball condition’ and coaches can use information gleaned about their teams in December to correct inefficiencies and fine-tune performance in preparation for February’s stretch run.
Around our area, there have been some very strong starts to the 2010-11 season, along with several squads still feeling their way in the search for success.
Several girls teams expected to be state tournament contenders have served notice those hopes certainly aren’t farfetched, and a couple of surprise squads also have their fans excited about postseason possibilities.
The Boone Central Lady Cardinals stumbled out of the blocks a bit, dropping two of their first three games to Hartington C.C. (7-2, C2 #5) and Crofton (8-0, C2 #1), but have bounced back to reel off six consecutive victories.
Although the Cards returned senior all-state candidate Bobbi Beckwith and two additional key starters (juniors Jaime Kennedy and Jenna Lehmann) from their 2010 state tourney team, they also had several varsity newcomers adapting to new roles during the early slate. Talented freshman Jade Gottier, in particular, became more comfortable with the level of competition each week and began to provide key contributions during the win streak.
While Boone Central owns solid wins over two 7-2 squads – Twin River and West Holt – January tests against Wayne (7-3), St. Cecelia (7-1), West Point C.C. (8-1, D1 #1) and Norfolk Catholic (6-2) will provide a true measure of this Cardinal team.
Defending D2 state champion Lindsay Holy Family also had an early blip, losing to area rival Newman Grove, but finished December in strong fashion and takes an 8-1 mark and #2 ranking in D2 into a January schedule that starts at Cedar Valley Friday.
The Lady Mavericks, ranked 5th in D1 in their first coop season, opened 7-1 in December, losing only to an undefeated Chambers/Wheeler Central squad (by two points). Friday’s clash with LHF will give fans a good look at true D1 and D2 contenders.
And how about those Newman Grove Lady Jays? That early 48-44 win over Holy Family was a huge shot in the arm and boosted the Jays to a 6-1 start of their own. Newman Grove, with just an overtime loss to Elkhorn Valley, is currently ranked 8th in D1 and played 6-3 St. Edward Tuesday, with conference titan Howells (7-1) looming Jan. 15.
Bumps In The Road
On the boys side of the court, an inexperienced Boone Central team is still groping for answers and an identity in 2010-11.
With just two seniors, one returning starter and a number of sophomores and freshmen with little-to-no varsity experience in the mix, it was evident going in that this season would be a learning experience. It didn’t help that those initial lessons came at the hands of 7-0 Norfolk Catholic, 8-1 Twin River and 6-1 Hartington C.C.
Early returns have been maddeningly inconsistent, as well, playing stout Mid-State rivals Pierce and Norfolk Catholic competitively, then scoring just 32 points and allowing 21 in the fourth period against 3-5 Gothenburg. That’s all part of growing pains.
January doesn’t get any easier, with a virtual ‘Murderer’s Row’ of O’Neill (5-2), Wayne (8-1, C1 #9), St. Cecelia (6-3, C1 #5), WPCC (8-1, D1 #2) and Ord (7-2) waiting. There’s talent and promise on the Boone Central squad, but results may not show in the left-hand W-L column immediately.
The Cards need to stay focused on working hard, being cohesive and improving each and every day.
One area boys squad with momentum and optimism is Holy Family. The Bulldogs improved to 7-2 with four straight wins to close out December and have an intriguing tilt against Cedar Valley Friday.
CV is just 3-4 to date, but have losses to the likes of unbeaten D2 #2 Giltner (by 5 points), 6-3 Chambers/Wheeler Central (by 2), 7-0 Burwell and 6-2 Clarkson. Cedar Rapids and Greeley/Wolbach athletes are still meshing to some degree and will need to find a comfort zone against a challenging January slate that includes not only LHF, but Heartland Lutheran (7-1), Burwell (7-0) and Humphrey (7-0).
Spalding/Spalding Academy found itself with the unique situation of a coaching change several weeks into the season. The Knights, with former Boone Central standout Joe Imus taking charge, had a four-game win streak snapped by unbeaten Humphrey in the North Central Nebraska Shootout and sport a 4-3 overall record to begin the second half.
There’s a long season yet to play out. Early success can be an indicator of strength, but no guarantee of smooth sailing to the finish line. Struggles to date may be frustrating, though there is plenty of time to right a ship and chart a happy ending.
Some of it is talent. Much of it is dedication and hard work. Often, there’s even a little luck – good and bad – thrown in.
It certainly promises to be an interesting and exciting January on area courts as teams seek to find out just who they are and how far they can go.
No waiting for those February tournaments, the future begins now.