In a performance for the ages, the Class 5A second ranked Waukee girls basketball team punched their ticket to the state with a 69-63 regional final victory over fifth ranked Iowa City West Tuesday night. From the Kat Moody national anthem to the hype of the crowd, it was an atmosphere that spelled victory for Waukee.
It was quite the ebb and flow type of contest with multiple multi-point swings but through it all, the Warriors never faced a deficit all game long. The first bout of scoring runs started with Waukee who put on a ten point run in the first quarter to capture an early 14-5 lead. Then the Trojans put up their first scoring run and trimmed the lead to three points 19-16. Sophomore Lindsey Kelderman was the first quarter hero, scoring nine of her twelve points in the first frame alone. Her efforts helped the Warriors to hold onto a slim 21-20 lead following the first quarter. Those efforts were discussed by Warrior head coach Christopher Guess following the contest.
“Lindsey was a huge catalyst for us early on and was really on top of her game tonight,” began Guess. “Her first quarter performance really helped to put us in position to maintain the lead going into the second quarter.”
The only time the Warriors didn’t claim a lead was in the second quarter with seven minutes left before the halftime break with both teams tied at 23-23. That was practically negated after the Warriors outscored the Trojans 16-7 to enter the halftime break with a 37-27 lead.
Another big catalyst for the Warriors was senior star Jori Nieman who came into the contest averaging eight points per game but Tuesday night, she was the first half hero pouring in 12 first half points alone. Out of the nine first half field goals made by the Warriors, Nieman contributed five to the first half cause, something that was noted by coach Guess following the win.
“Jori was a grinder tonight as she’s been all season long,”said Guess. “We’ve asked Jori to take on many roles throughout the season and tonight, we asked her to grind it out near the rim and she did that and more. She has a great idea of where the rim is at all times and her athleticism allows her to score in the tightest windows and toughest situations.”
The Warriors faced some more challenges in the second half including Paityn Rau picking up her fourth individual foul limiting her playing time late in the third quarter. During her on and off time, Iowa City West brought the game to within four points late in the third quarter. The saving grace within that was the play of the sophomore pair Megan Earney and Taryn Reitsma who poured in valuable minutes and gave coach Guess valuable options off of the bench.
“Megan and Taryn really compliment this team well and they were very important pieces to our success tonight,” said Guess. “Both are really athletic and come into any situation game ready. They were really helpful in setting strong screen’s, keeping the possession on our side with rebounding, and great hustle.”
The Trojans kept Waukee’s second leading scorer in Anna Brown without a single score through two and a half quarters with her first bucket coming with 1:03 left in the third quarter. Even though Brown scored just seven points on the night, the senior’s versatility poured through and was highlighted by coach Guess after the game.
“Anna may not have scored a lot of points but a testament to a great player is how they produce in other ways,” said Guess. “Anna made a difference in this game with rebounding, setting screens, and executing plays well which is a big reason for the win tonight.”
Overall, Jori Nieman led the team in points with 18 on the night followed by Paityn Rau with 15 despite foul trouble. Both senior stars have been through a state tournament season before but as Nieman noted after the game, making it to state any year is nothing short of amazing.
“It’s an awesome feeling especially with all the hard work this team has but in, it means so much to all of us.” said Nieman. It was certainly a game in which all points were well earned and Nieman talked about what worked well for the Warriors in their regional final victory.
We really attacked the rim well which was something we knew we’d have to do well in order to come out on top tonight,” began Nieman. “The big thing for me was making sure to attack their hips and go strong to the basket so that even if I didn’t make the shot, I still drew a foul and gave us opportunities at easy points which coach has talked about a lot this season. They are an aggressive team and tonight we used that aggressiveness against them just enough to win.”
The free throw game was a significant piece for the Warriors as 39 percent of their scoring came from the free throw line. Waukee connected on 22-of-27 from the charity stripe, one of their top three best free throw performances of the season. Along with Nieman’s 18 points to lead the team, the senior also produced six rebounds, a team leading five steals, and six assists which help boost her total to a conference leading 115 total assists on the season.
The great efforts helped the Warriors punch their sixth straight state tournament ticket and a 18-4 overall record. Next up will be the coveted state tournament where the Warriors will enter as the tournament’s second seed and will face the tournament seventh seeded Dowling Catholic in quarterfinal action. The game will take place from Wells Fargo Arena on Monday, Feb. 25 with tip off set for 1:30 p.m.