Posted On: 08/14/18 7:30 AM
With July’s evaluation period now behind us, and plenty of time to kill between now and late November, it’s time to take a look at who we believe will be some of the teams to keep an eye on in each classification this winter. And, since everyone likes rankings, why not roll out a de facto preseason top 10 for each class, with our “Way Too Early” top 10 lists.
How well do these rankings predict what may happen over the course of the coming season? Well, the top ranked teams in each class in these “Way Too Early” rankings qualified for the state tournament last year, and with the exception of Van Meter (who played eventual champion Cascade in the first round of 2A), each team at least made the semifinals. With the exception of Treynor in Class 2A, the eight teams who played for state championships were all ranked in the top five of their respective classes, and 27 of 32 state qualifying teams were either ranked (21) or in the “others to watch” (six) portion of the rankings. Last year’s champions were ranked first (Grand View Christian), second (Cascade), third (Glenwood) and fourth (Cedar Falls), respectively. Will that mean anything this year? Perhaps not, but it’s probably better to find yourselves near the top of these lists than not.
Below you’ll find our top 10 for Class 2A, along with some other teams that could make some noise, as well as a brief summary of why each team is in their respective spot. Enjoy.
1.) Western Christian (21-3 last year, 61.9% of scoring returning)
Perhaps the most storied program in the state resides in the tiny town of Hull, tucked up in the northwest corner of the state. The Wolfpack have won nine state titles, tied for the most in state history with old Davenport High, and after getting upset by a hot shooting Kuemper Catholic (10-15 3P) team in the substate final last year, the Pack is eager to make another trek to Des Moines to break that tie and take home a 10th state title. New head coach Derek Keizer has some talented pieces to work with. Keizer, a former player at Western Christian, takes over the program after spending nine years as an assistant at Dordt College. He has one of the state’s most dominant players returning in 6-7 big man Jacob Vis (18.5), a long, athletic big man who can dominate games on both ends of the floor. He shot 71% from the floor, blocked 52 shots and averaged 8.8 rebounds. Look for him to average a strong double-double this year. Carter Broek (9.2) also returns for the ‘Pack after finishing fourth on the team in scoring, second in rebounding and assists. He’s a 6-5 forward who handles it fairly well, can stretch out to the arc and facilitate. With his size and skill set, he’ll be a major matchup issue for teams. Other returnees who saw time last year are Clay VanTol (4.1), Dawson Feenstra (2.2), Harry Steele (1.9), Justin Bleeker (1.6) and Parker Vis (1.3). They will all need to adjust to bigger roles, but if there’s one thing that the boys in Hull know how to do, it’s play basketball. They shouldn’t have any issues stepping in alongside Vis and Broek. Behind the dominant Vis, look for this 2A powerhouse to make a return trip to Des Moines, where they’ll be looking to add another state title to their highly impressive resume.
2.) North Linn (Class 1A runner-up, 28-1 last year, 56.5% of scoring returning)
The Lynx put together a historic season last year, averaging 90 points a game, the first team to average 90 points in state history. They allowed just 36.2 points a game, and had a 28-0 record before they ran into Issa Samake’s seven-foot wingspan in the 1A championship game. They lose leading scorer Ryan Miller, who averaged 24.3 points a game last year, but bring back arguably the most valuable player in the state, regardless of class, in point guard Jake Hilmer (23.1), who has already shattered the state record for career assists. He’ll also finish his career with the steals record, and will likely finish in the top-10 all-time in scoring. Needless to say, he’s had a sterling career, and the only thing that will make it better is a state title. David Seber (11.9), a 3-point gunner, returns alongside Hilmer in the backcourt, and forward Trevor Boge (8.7), gives them a bit of size and he can stretch out to the arc as well. Carter Johnson (2.8), Austin Miller (2.1) and Josh Smith (2.0) saw plenty of playing time last year in the nightly blowouts the Lynx had, but adjusting to major minutes could be a bit of a learning curve. The biggest name to monitor here will be Austin Hilmer, Jake’s younger brother, and a supremely talented freshman guard. Putting a pair of Hilmers on the floor together at the same time is just going to make this group even more dangerous. They should cruise through their regular season schedule again this year, with Hilmer putting up massive numbers. The Lynx are moving up a class to 2A this year for postseason play, which could actually be a benefit for them. They couldn’t matchup with Grand View Christian’s size in 1A, and while Western Christian has a super talented big man in Jacob Vis, he’s not the crazy athlete that North Linn had to contend with last year. Jake Hilmer is the best player in Class 2A, and he will give this team a chance to win a state title.
3.) South Hamilton (State qualifier, 24-1 last year, 73.2% of scoring returning)
The Hawks rolled through the regular season last year with a 21-0 mark, and entered the state tournament with a 24-0 record before dropping their quarterfinal game, by three, to Aplington-Parkersburg. Many people probably anticipate a dropoff following the graduation of Marco Balderas, one of the best players in school history, but as Lee Corso would say, not so fast, my friend. Three double figure scorers return for the Hawks, headlined by recent Morningside commit Conner Hill (13.1), a talented lead guard who is among the best two-way players in the state. He’ll have the ball in his hands a ton this winter, and good things should come from that. Also returning are Logan Peters (12.0) and Cole Berg (11.0). Peters led the team in rebounding last year, and can score from all three levels. Look for him to comfortably step into a larger scoring role. Berg gives the team some toughness on the interior, as he does a majority of his damage around the rim, but he can also step out and knock down an occasional 3. Cade Balvanz (5.8) gives them size at 6-5, and he’s an efficient scoring option (53.7 FG%) who will be the beneficiary of the Hawks’ sterling guard play. South Hamilton has put together an outstanding run over the past 3-4 years, and despite the loss of Balderas, don’t expect that to change. This group is going to be tough, disciplined, efficient and balanced, and they’ll have a chance to do some damage in Des Moines.
The Wolverines were one of 2A’s most efficient offenses last year, shooting 50.3% from the floor as a team and 37.5% from 3. They bring everyone back from that team, so they should be looking to make a major step forward this winter. Three of their losses came to Aplington-Parkersburg last season, and three others came by four points or less. With all the players they have coming back, they should fare better in those close games this time around. Colton Harberts (16.5) leads the way, a big, 6-5 forward who dominates in the paint with his size and strength. He’s the beneficiary of some strong guard play, as the Wolverines have a number of players who can break down a defense and get into the paint. Cade Fuller (15.7) is the top scoring guard on the team, a 45% shooter from the arc. Tim Koop (8.9) led the team in assists and steals, while also shooting 44.4% from deep, making him a quality facilitator and capable scorer. Isaac Jorgensen (7.0), Ryan Moore (5.6), Dane Fuller (4.5) and Owen Goos (3.9) give D-NH a quality rotation that goes seven deep, and they could go even deeper this year. Look for Dane Fuller to take a major step forward this year as a sophomore. D-NH is always strong, and this should be their best team since the 2015-16 team started the year 25-0. They’ll have a real chance to make it back to Des Moines and be a threat to do some damage when they get there.
The Rockets lost four games last season, with each of those losses coming to state tournament qualifying teams (Grand View Christian, Oskaloosa, Lynnville-Sully and Van Meter). With three double figure scorers coming back, they’ll be looking to join that group of teams in Des Moines this year. They’re led by a trio of talented seniors in Trey Moore (14.8), Gabe Larkin (13.2) and Wyatt Klyn (13.0). Moore and Klyn are solid guards capable of scoring from anywhere on the floor, and Larkin, at 6-5, provides some size and versatility on both ends of the floor. They’ll be counting on players like Jaden Herr (2.8), Ryan Adams (2.5) and DJ Stout (2.4) to step into larger roles this year. They won’t need to score, they’ll just need to play defense and knock down occasional shots, something Herr (41.3 3P%) and Stout (40.7%) showed themselves capable of doing last year. Few teams in 2A return as much production as E-B-F does, and as a result, they’ll be one of the top contenders this winter.
6.) Camanche (16-7 last year, 73.2% of scoring returning)
The Indians have a huge hole to fill this year in the form of point guard Dev Patel, who was the team’s second leading scorer and led them in rebounding and assists last year (by over 100 helpers). That said, a majority of their rotation returns, headlined by junior guard Cameron Soenksen (16.5), one of the most athletic players in 2A. A high-flying guard with an extremely green light on the offensive end, he’ll have some nights this winter where he could go for 35 points, but he’s a streaky shooter. Five other players who averaged between 4.7 and 9.3 points a game also return, with junior wing Caleb Delzell (9.3) and sophomore guard Jordan Lawrence (7.1) being the primary standouts. At 6-5 and with the ability to shoot from the arc, Delzell looks primed for a big year as he steps into a secondary scoring role. Look for Lawrence to be the team’s primary ball handler following Patel’s graduation. Carson Seeser (6.7, 41.3 3P%) is the team’s most accurate shooter from the arc, and alongside the standout trio, he’s a high quality option. Calvin Ottens (4.9) is a big body in the paint who has steadily improved, and though he doesn’t really fit into their up-tempo system, he can protect the rim and score in the paint. This is a team that loves to get up-and-down, and with plenty of rotation pieces returning, they’ll be open to going deep and wearing teams down. Soenksen will be among the leaders in scoring in the class, and if they play any semblance of defense, they’ll be really tough to beat on a nightly basis with their offensive firepower.
7.) Cascade (State champions, 26-1 last year, 34.0% of scoring returning)
The defending state champions in 2A, the Cougars have an awful lot of production to replace, as they’ll have to fill in four slots in the starting lineup from a group that put together one of the best state tournaments weeks in recent memory. That said, the Cougs are similar to Western Christian in 2A, Waverly-Shell Rock in 3A or Iowa City West and West Des Moines Valley in 4A, in that they’re going to be ranked and a team to be taken seriously regardless of what they have returning until we’re proven otherwise. The kids in Cascade grow up playing in Cascade’s 2-3 zone and have a fantastic willingness to share the basketball. Haris Hoffman (12.3), last year’s leading scorer, is the only returnee from last year’s starting lineup, but he’s a really nice player to build around. He led the team in rebounding, was second in assists and shot 54.3% from the floor (48.9% from 3). He’s a smart, versatile player who will likely become much more of a scorer than he was last year with a really balanced team. The only other returnee with signifiant experience is Reid Rausch (4.6), a capable shooter from deep who posted a better than 2-1 assist-to-turnover ratio last year. Cascade is always going to be sound on the defensive end, and that’s going to keep them in (and allow them to win) plenty of games. Just how successful this team turns out to be will depend on how the players coming up from last year’s JV team fare. But we’re never going to count a group from Cascade out.
Another 2A program that is strong every year, the Lions won 20 games again last year, and return six of their top eight players from that group. They lose leading scorer Isaac Prewitt, who averaged 21.5 points a game, but Seth Juhl (11.3) and Brady Hewitt (7.7) are back to provide the scoring punch. Four others are back after averaging between 2.9 and 5.0 points a game in Jackson Waring, Justin Groen, Curran Ingram and Matt Horstman. Ingram in particular has had a solid summer and should become a major contributor this year. With six players with plenty of experience returning, the Lions should again compete for a tournament berth, but they’ll only become a real threat if Juhl or Hewitt become a go-to threat. Anticipate DMC winning 18-20 games again during the regular season.
Nine of the top ten players from last year’s Falcons group return, headlined by Hunter Dekkers (19.0), a gifted guard who led the team in scoring, assists and blocks, and shot 50.7% from behind the arc. He paced a team that ranked 10th in 2A in scoring at 66.7 points a game, and with all but No. 2 scorer Jake Lynott back, look for this team to put up a lot of points again this winter. They lost four games by single digits last year, and experience helps in closing those games out, so anticipate more wins to come to Hawarden. Kade Lynott (9.0) and Baxter Walsh (7.7) are also capable shooters to put alongside Dekkers, with Chase Koopmans (8.4) and Chase Ranschau (4.7) do more of their damage inside, but can stretch out to the arc as well. This is a team loaded with shooters. The real question will be what happens come postseason play. The schedule they played last year ranked 76th (out of 97 2A teams) according to BC Moore’s power rankings system, and that could hurt them come postseason time when they have to face a team from the Siouxland that has gone through a gauntlet. But this team has a lot of athletic weapons and will be able to score against anyone.
10.) Treynor (State runner-up, 26-1 last year, 48.0% of scoring returning)
Similar to Cascade (and the programs I mentioned in their writeup), the Cardinals are going to be a top 10 team until they’re not. The Class 2A runner-ups lost their top two scorers from last year’s superb team, but bring back their next five players, including a trio of players who had strong moments throughout the state tournament in Jon Schwarte (8.9), Jack Stogdill (8.8) and Jerry Jorgenson (6.1). At 6-8, Schwarte is a big-time rim protector who blocked 80 shots last season and shot 71.4% from the floor. Expect to see him become more involved in the offense this year. The other two key returnees, Stogdill and Jorgenson, combined to shoot 41.2% from behind the arc last year and will become the primary scoring options for the Cards this winter. Look for players like Jack Tiarks (4.5) and Blake Sadr (3.1) to step into larger roles, but it’ll be the returning big three who carry this team, potentially back to the state tournament for the fourth time in six years.
Ten more teams to watch
Aplington-Parkersburg (State semifinalist, 25-2 last year, 47.2% of scoring returning)
Last year’s highest scoring team in Class 2A has a major piece to replace following the graduation of point guard Alec Oberhauser, our 2A Player of the Year last season after leading the Falcons in assists, steals and blocks, while finishing second in scoring and rebounding. The good news for A-P is that leading scorer and rebounder Carter Cuvelier (19.1, 60.0 FG%) is back. A physically gifted 6-5 forward, Cuvelier has the blend of size, athleticism and skill that makes him a big-time mismatch at the 2A level. He led the class in free throw attempts last year, and with Oberhauser and Grant Truax gone, he’ll be asked to carry an even heavier scoring load. Junior Bodden (7.8), Aaron Price (6.0) and Sam Bachman (1.6) are the other returnees with significant playing experience. Coach Aaron Thomas has turned the Falcons into a perennial top-10 team, and despite some major holes to fill, expect to see A-P competitive in the NICL again this year, and a threat to make another postseason run.
Boyden-Hull (8-15 last year, 88.6% of scoring returning)
Like North Linn, the Comets are making the jump up to 2A this year come postseason time. They bring back eight rotation players from last year’s group, headlined by senior forward Beau De Jongh (15.3), a player who does most of his damage around the rim. He’s joined in the paint by returnees like Beau Solberg (5.6) and Sam Te Slaa (3.0), giving B-H a solid big man rotation. The backcourt will be headlined by Spencer Te Slaa (10.1), Brett Van Der Wilt 6.2), Carter Francis (5.3), Josh Heitritter (2.7) and Andrew Frick (2.6). Te Slaa and Van Der Wilt in particular are solid perimeter shooting threats who play well off of De Jongh. This is a group that went just 8-15 last year, but it was a really young group who got a ton of experience playing against a Siouxland Conference that was as good as we can remember it being last year. With the league expected to be down a bit this winter, look for the Comets to make a significant jump with their record and have a chance to make a state tournament run.
Forest City (20-3 last year, 37.8% of scoring returning)
Defense is a mindset, and few programs in the state have done a better job on the defensive end than the Indians have the last few years, allowing just 40.8 and 40.2 points a game the last two seasons, respectively. They lose a lot of offensive firepower, but bring back two of their top three scorers in Micah Lambert (8.3) and Avery Busta (8.0), in addition to Noah Miller (4.8), a sophomore guard combing off a strong freshman year. He and Busta are a strong guard duo to build around, while Lambert will protect the paint. This team needs to fill some spaces, sure, but anytime a team plays defense like they’ve been playing in Forest City of late, they’re going to be competitive.
Northeast, Goose Lake (19-6 last year, 57.6% of scoring returning)
The Rebels lose leading scorer Luke Empen, who is walking on to the Iowa football program, but bring back four of their top six scorers from a team that only lost one game by more than single digits and was the only team to beat 2A champion Cascade last year. They’ll build around a strong guard-forward combo with 6-0 senior Dawson Stoll (12.7) and 6-5 Braeden Hoyer (11.4). Stoll was far and away the most deadly 3-point shooter for Northeast last season, making 51 of them at a 35.4% clip. He’ll be asked to step into the primary ball handling role following the graduation of Collin Swanton, who led the team in assists last year. For this group to really be successful, Stoll will need to clean up his decision making, as he had 77 assists last year but turned it over 72 times. Hoyer, at 6-5, is one of the best high jumpers in the state and a fantastic athlete. His size and athletic ability is tough to slow down at the 2A level. Expect to see him dominate games on both ends of the floor. Trey McAleer (4.9), Dakota Stevenson (4.0), Dawson Rickords (1.7) and Grant Rickertsen (1.3) will be stepping into larger roles. This is a group that routinely ranks among the best in scoring defense, and with Stoll and Hoyer anchoring them on that end again, expect that to remain the same. If they can find a third consistent scoring option, this group could make a run to Des Moines.
PCM, Monroe (16-6 last year, 57.3% of scoring returning)
The Mustangs return their top two scorers from a team that lost three of their games to state qualifying teams (twice to South Hamilton, once to Grand View Christian). They’re led by Andrew Van Ryswyk (12.4), a 6-3 forward who can score inside and out. He also led the team in scoring by a massive margin, pulling down 9.5 boards a night. He looks primed for a big senior season. 5-9 senior guard Reed Worth (10.9) headlines the backcourt after leading the ‘Stangs in 3-pointers made last year and posting a nearly 2-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. They’ll need to lean on players like Derek Brown (5.5) and Jason Stafford (4.3) to step into bigger roles, but with Van Ryswyk and Worth returning, they’re in pretty solid shape heading into the winter. PCM routinely has a strong program, and this year will be no exception.
Pella Christian (8-15 last year, 79.1% of scoring returning)
A 2A team playing in the loaded 3A-filled Little Hawkeye Conference, Pella Christian is never going to post a sterling record, but they’re always going to be a threat come postseason time. With seven players returning who averaged between 3.9 and 8.4 points a game, look for the Eagles to get above the .500 mark and be a real threat to not only get through district and substate play, but to do damage in Des Moines. Eight of their losses last year came by single digits last season, and with all the experience they have returning, they should be able to turn quite a few of those losses into wins this year. This is going to be another balanced group, led by Jake Pringle (8.4), Jayden Huisman (8.1) and Dan Jungling (8.0). Look for Jack Vermeer (5.4), a big bodied wing, to have a big junior year after a really solid spring and summer with All-Iowa Attack. With the balance they have, they’ll be a nightmare to try to defend on a nightly basis, and if 6-9 junior Josh Van Gorp (4.0) has made improvements to his game, watch out.
Pocahontas Area (14-8 last year, 70.4% of scoring returning)
One of the most explosive offensive teams in Class 2A last year, the Indians ranked seventh in scoring at 68.3 points a game. The issue, especially in their losses, was on the defensive end of the floor, where they ranked 82nd in the class, allowing 63.6 a night. That number exploded up to 73.4 points a game in their eight losses. They’ll need to clean up that end of the floor if they want to improve this year. Plenty of scoring power returns with senior guard Jace Davidson (21.3), a 6-1 senior who can score from anywhere. Nathan Aljets (11.4), a 6-2 senior forward, can score inside and out, and Nathan Hanson (5.9) does almost all of his damage at the rim. They’ll be bolstered this year by the improvement of sophomore guards Christian Davidson (3.6) and Trey Oehlertz (3.5), each coming off solid freshman years of contributing. There is no doubt that Poky is going to put up points, they always do. But they’ll need to show effort on the defensive end if they’re going to be a real threat this year.
Rock Valley (16-7 last year, 62.1% of scoring returning)
The Rockets lose their top two scorers from last year’s team, but the good news for them is that that group was supremely balanced, and three players who averaged between 9.1 and 11.7 points a game return. They’ll be led by a talented guard trio of seniors in Braxton Van Kekerix (11.7), JT Van’t Hul (9.9) and Elliot Van Kekerix (9.1). Each of them made at least 29 3s last year and following the graduation of 6-11 big man Jason Taylor, this is going to be a much more guard-oriented team. Going through the always tough Siouxland Conference is going to prepare this group for postseason play, and if they can avoid being placed with Western Christian, they’ll have a chance at making it to Des Moines.
West Marshall (15-8 last year, 64.5% of scoring returning)
Headlined by super scoring guard Peyton Pope (21.0), the Trojans made the third most 3s in the state last year, regardless of class, and the most in 2A. Pope was the biggest reason for those numbers, knocking down 89 3s at a remarkable 48.6% clip last season. Now a junior, and with a steadily improving all-around skill set, Pope is in line for a massive final two years. Joseph Halverson (10.5) led the team in rebounding by over a hundred boards and is another dangerous 3-point shooter, knocking down 40 of them at a 41.2% clip. Cam Bannister (7.1) is a third returning starters, and Josh Larson (2.8) is the only other returnee with significant experience. With Pope and Halverson leading the charge, anticipate seeing plenty more 3s being hoisted in State Center, and plenty of wins should follow.
Woodward-Granger (15-10 last year, 89.7% of scoring returning)
The top five scorers return from last year’s Hawks group, a team that lost five games by single digits. With that type of experience returning, look for them to really improve that mark in close games this winter. They’re led by 6-2 Keith Braunschweig (13.5), an efficient scorer who does a majority of his damage in the paint. Bryce Achenbach (11.6), a 5-10 guard, led the team in rebounding, assists, steals and blocks last year, finishing second only to Braunschweig in scoring. He’s a great athlete who competes on every possession and contributes across the board despite being under 6-feet tall. Achenbach is joined in the backcourt by Nick Hoyt (9.5), Reese Jamison (7.7) and Kaya Bowlsby (5.5), each of whom are quality 3-point threats. In addition to their top five returning, three other rotation pieces return in Pacey Moats (3.2), Alex Bice (3.7) and Sam Peterson (2.8). Eight players with loads of experience returning should spell a lot of wins in Woodward this winter. And the scary part is that Hoyt and Peterson are the only seniors expected to see much time this year, so the 2019-2020 season could be even more special for the Hawks.