Cedar Falls (21-3, 16-3): Only one starter returns for the Tigers, but we still have them ranked atop the 4A rankings to open the year. And they’re there for two reasons. First, the top 21 scorers in Class 4A from last year either graduated, are injured for the year (Ames’ Tamin Lipsey) or have transferred out-of-state (Kennedy’s Jack Wetzel). So returning production doesn’t mean nearly as much as it does most years. And second, Cedar Falls has emerged as the best basketball program in the state. The two-time defending champions may only have one starter coming back in guard Josh Ollendieck (10.3, 45.5 3P%), but that doesn’t mean this group is going to be short on talent. In fact, they’re going to be loaded once again. Ollendieck, a 6-3 guard with immense length and the ability to shoot from anywhere, is a good place to start. 6-9 junior big man Chase Courbat (5.9, 36 blocks) is one of the best young big men in the Midwest, a versatile big man who moves extremely well and has a great understanding of
Cedar Falls (21-3, 16-3): Only one starter returns for the Tigers, but we still have them ranked atop the 4A rankings to open the year. And they’re there for two reasons. First, the top 21 scorers in Class 4A from last year either graduated, are injured for the year (Ames’ Tamin Lipsey) or have transferred out-of-state (Kennedy’s Jack Wetzel). So returning production doesn’t mean nearly as much as it does most years. And second, Cedar Falls has emerged as the best basketball program in the state. The two-time defending champions may only have one starter coming back in guard Josh Ollendieck (10.3, 45.5 3P%), but that doesn’t mean this group is going to be short on talent. In fact, they’re going to be loaded once again. Ollendieck, a 6-3 guard with immense length and the ability to shoot from anywhere, is a good place to start. 6-9 junior big man Chase Courbat (5.9, 36 blocks) is one of the best young big men in the Midwest, a versatile big man who moves extremely well and has a great understanding of how to defend and does what he needs to do on the offensive end. Look for him to have a huge junior year on both ends of the floor this season, displaying his continued development. He will anchor a group that will be among the best on the defensive end again this year. Also back are guards Jaxon Heth (3.6) and Ben Sernett (3.0), valuable pieces off the bench last year who saw plenty of time for the state champs. Both are capable perimeter shooters and secondary ball handlers. The key for this team, however, will be a quartet of players who weren’t even on the varsity roster last year because of how loaded they were. Cedar Falls’ sophomore team last season was better than a lot of varsity teams I saw, and the quartet of Carter Janssen, Landon Wolf, Joe Knutson and Trey Campbell are why. Wolf and Campbell are both long, athletic and versatile wings who should fit in alongside Ollendieck in the backcourt, while Janssen is a 6-5/6-6 wing with size and shooting ability. The big piece, literally, is Knutson, a 6-8 big man who was great for the Iowa Barnstormers this summer and showcased much improved athleticism and bounce. He’s skilled and big, and should fit in well alongside Courbat in the paint for the Tigers. Cedar Falls is always loaded with long, athletic kids who seem to cover an unfathomable amount of space on the floor, and this year will be no different. Ryan Schultz has this thing rolling in Cedar Falls, and despite losing a ton of talent and production from last year’s group, the Tigers are still going to be the team to beat in 4A. This system is loaded, and there is no end in sight.
Cedar Rapids Prairie (17-4, 15-2): The Hawks are coming off one of the most successful seasons in recent program history, and it's going to be really tough to keep that momentum going following the graduation of the Murray twins, who are taking a post grad year at DME Academy in Florida, before heading to Iowa to play. Kris and Keegan combined to average 38.7 points a game, and they take 59% of the team's scoring and 43.5% of the rebounding with them. Also gone is third leading scorer Harrison Cook. This year's team may not be strong in the backcourt, but they'll have some size. Gabe Burkle (5.8) is the leading returning scorer, coming off a strong freshman season. Garrett Pientok (4.1) and Max Lampe (2.8) are the other key returnees. Lampe has really improved over his career, and should become a double-figure scorer for the Hawks this year. He keeps growing and getting in better shape, and his ability to stretch the defense and pass the ball at 6-7 can make a major impact. Like Lampe, Burkle is also 6-7, while Pientok is 6-5, giving this group some real size. The backcourt is led by Jonathan Mullins (1.2), a quick lead guard who will handle the ball a lot this year. Prairie has done a nice job establishing their youth programs, and they should have some players ready to fill in to key roles this year on the varsity, but expect to see them take a real step back this year.
Cedar Rapids Washington (9-14, 5-13): The Warriors have some big shoes to fill following the graduation of Mick McCurry, the team's sole double figure scorer last year, who averaged 18.6 a night. Campbell Mitvalsky (9.6) is the team's leading returning scorer, a 6-2 senior wing who thrives on attacking. Jamar Thurmon (8.0) is the other key returnee, while no other player who returns scored more than 36 points last year. Ball handling was a real issue for Wash last year, and likely will be again this season. Only one player (Ross Snitker) posted a positive assist-to-turnover ratio last year, and he graduated. Look for incoming freshman wing Traijan Sain to make an impact. He's a long, athletic wing who can shoot it and score from all three levels, and at 6-5, he has the length to make an impact on the defensive end as well. After winning nine games last year, it's hard to see the Warriors putting together that many again this year.
Cedar Rapids Xavier (9-12, 5-11): The Saints will have a new face roaming the sidelines this winter, as Mike Freeman takes over at Xavier following Ryan Luehrsmann’s departure to spend more time with his family. Luehrsmann led Xavier to a pair of state titles in 2016 and 2017, with third place finishes in 2015 and 2018. Freeman, a Xavier alum and former assistant at Coe, has plenty of pieces to play with to help ease him into the job, as the top three scorers from last year’s team return in Jake Beckmann (12.7), Davis Wagner (10.8) and Jaylon Moses (7.5). They’ll have a big piece to replace in the form of Quinn Schulte, who was a winner no matter what sport he was playing, but there is plenty of talent in the system for the Saints. Moses is considered one of the top players in the 2021 class around the state. He’s battled injuries his first two years of high school ball, but if he’s fully healthy, he’s a major match-up problem with his 6-8 frame and the ability to score from anywhere on the floor. Beckmann made 52 3-pointers last year at a 39.7% clip, and is capable of getting red hot and dropping 30 on a given night. Wagner is an athletic, slashing wing who does most of his damage by playing downhill and getting to the rim. Tre’ McCrary (4.4) started some games last season and gives the Saints some more quickness and penetrating ability in the backcourt, while Nick Hansel (3.3) provides some size and toughness in the paint. Playing in the MVC means that the Saints will almost always float around that .500 mark, but they’re always going to be deadly come postseason time. With plenty of talent and experience back, this has the looks of a team that could make a return trip to Des Moines, and if Moses is healthy and playing to his ability, this is a dark horse state title team in 3A, and a team that should push for that #2 spot in the division.
Dubuque Senior (19-4, 16-3): The Rams put together perhaps the school's best season ever last year, falling in the championship game to Cedar Falls. Unfortunately for them, only 16.8% of the scoring from that team returns this year, meaning a lot of new faces are going to need to play some major minutes this year. The good news is that they have a strong lead guard to build around in Cooper Medinger (6.8), who dished out 117 assists against just 36 turnovers last season, and shot 61.5% from the floor. After primarily playing a distributor role last year, they'll need him to be much more assertive on the offensive end this year. State tournament hero Daquon Lewis (2.5) is also back, giving them an athletic wing who can cause some chaos on the defensive end. Lewis' offensive skill set is somewhat limited, but he'll defend and get plenty of easy buckets off of those defensive skills. The only other returnee who saw many minutes last year is Jim Bonifas (0.9), a 6-6 junior big man who will need to play major minutes in the paint. Senior has built up a really strong program, with lots of talent at the younger levels, and they should be able to find some pieces to plug in. Rumor has it that this team is going to be Senior's most athletic team ever, and they'll be looking to play fast and press, which is much different than they've played in previous years. They'll take a step down, because they lost an awful lot of talent and production, but Senior has established themselves as a really solid program, and they should win plenty of games again this year.
Iowa City High (5-17, 2-17): The Little Hawks have a new coach roaming the sidelines this year in Brennan Swayzer, and he'll have his hands full with a roster that figures to be very young. They'll be led by senior wing Keshawn Christian (9.9), a talented wing who has been a bit inconsistent during his high school career, but is capable of having big games on both ends of the floor. He's a big, strong, athletic wing who can fill it up. Byron Benton (7.5) was a nice surprise last year, contributing in a big way as a sophomore, finishing second on the team in assists with 41. Also back is sophomore guard Darren Richardson (6.4), a bowling ball of a guard who gets to the rim and finishes. Look for sophomore wing Jamari Newson to make an impact on this group as well. City is going to be young, but athletic, and if Swayzer can get them to buy in on the defensive end, they could create some chaos. But this is a program that still has a long ways to go before they're competing on a nightly basis in the MVC again.
Waterloo East (12-9, 9-9): Two of the top four leading scorers from last year's group return for the Trojans, but they'll have a big hole to fill in the form of Tyrese Nickelson, who averaged 24.1 points a game last year. Trevion Labeaux (9.8) is coming off an incredibly productive freshman season in which he tied for second on the team in scoring, blocked a team-high 31 shots, and shot 67.6% from the floor. The 6-3 wing is incredibly athletic and should have a really strong year as the team's go-to scorer. Ramir Scott (9.3) is also back, and he should be the team's primary scoring option on the perimeter after making 23 3-pointers last year and finishing second on the team in assists. The bad news is that nobody else who scored more than 7 points last year returns, so a lot is going to be asked of Labeaux and Scott. Expect a significant drop in the standings for East this year.
Western Dubuque (4-16, 3-14): The first year in the MVC was expectedly tough last year for the Bobcats, but they were close to actually putting together a pretty solid campaign, with seven losses coming by 10 points or less. Four of the top five scorers, and seven of the top nine, return, so they should turn a fair amount of those losses into wins this year. Calvin Harris (12.4) is the leading returning scorer, but the most important player is probably Dylan Johnson (10.8), a 6-6 stretch forward who led the team with 32 made 3s last year, and also led the team in rebounding and blocks. Payton Quagliano (7.3) is another solid scoring wing, and Garrett Baumhover (6.4) is a really good shooter who should have the ball in his hands more this year following the graduation of Sam Goodman. Kale Cartee (4.7), Bryce Plessl (2.1) and Michael Kraft (1.2) provide some depth and experience. This team should be fairly deep, and they should be balanced. With the returning experience, and a year of MVC play under their belts, look for a record much closer to .500 this year for the 'Cats.
Projected Order of Finish
1. Cedar Falls
5. Western Dubuque
7. Waterloo East
8. City High
Analysis: Cedar Falls enters the year ranked #1 in our 4A rankings, and as such, is an overwhelming favorite in this division. This division was ravaged by graduation to key players, but look for Western Dubuque, who returns a lot, to make a real jump up. They could even push for a second place finish against Xavier, Senior and Prairie.
Preseason Player of the Year
2020 Josh Ollendieck, Cedar Falls: 10.3 points, 2.5 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.1 steals, 45.5 3P%
The recent Truman State commit is the only returning starter for the two-time defending champions. A long, versatile player on both ends of the floor, he uses that length to defend multiple positions, and he's a knockdown shooter. With Logan Wolf graduated, he should have the ball in his hands even more this year.
2020 Max Lampe, Prairie: The 6-7 big man is a really gifted passer and a solid perimeter shooter who can stretch the floor. He's put in a ton of work during his high school career, and with lots of open shot opportunities this year, he should finally see the rewards of all that work.
Players to Watch
2020 Josh Ollendieck, Cedar Falls
2021 Chase Courbat, Cedar Falls
2021 Joe Knutson, Cedar Falls
2022 Trey Campbell, Cedar Falls
2020 Jaxon Heth, Cedar Falls
2021 Carter Janssen, Cedar Falls
2020 Jake Beckmann, Xavier
2020 Davis Wagner, Xavier
2021 Jaylon Moses, Xavier
2020 Tre McCrary, Xavier
2020 Cooper Medinger, Senior
2020 Calvin Harris, Western Dubuque
2021 Dylan Johnson, Western Dubuque
2020 Payton Quagliano, Western Dubuque
2021 Garrett Baumhover, Western Dubuque
2022 Trevion Labeaux, Waterloo East
2021 Ramir Scott, Waterloo East
2020 Keshawn Christian, City High
2021 Byron Benton, City High
2022 Darren Richardson, City High
2022 Jamari Newson, City High
2020 Campbell Mitvalsky, Washington
2020 Jamar Thurmon, Washington
2022 Gabe Burkle, Prairie
2020 Max Lampe, Prairie