Royals ready for redemption

COLO – Familiarity has spread as a recent theme for the Royals entering March.

The Colo-NESCO girls’ basketball team returns to the Iowa Girls State Basketball Tournament at Wells Fargo Arena for the second straight season with a better sense of what to expect in more ways than one.

Rebounding from the one-and-done outing last year, the fourth-ranked Royals (23-1) return rejuvenated and ready to take on a familiar opponent in Lynnville-Sully – a team they defeated last February in a regional quarterfinal, 46-35, in Colo.

The two squads kick off the Class 1A Tournament Monday at 10 a.m. as Colo-NESCO enters Des Moines a more confident and composed club than 2013, better aware of its opponent as well as its own strengths and weaknesses.

“We’ve played them two of the last three years so we’re familiar with them,” Royals coach Wayne Cafferty said of the sixth-ranked Hawks (21-3). “They’re going to play man-to-man most likely and they’re going to be physical and aggressive.”

Lynnville-Sully has finished its season at Wells Fargo four of the last five years and boasts five seniors back from its 2011 and 2012 state tourney teams.

Cassie Cullen, a 5-foot-10 senior forward, leads the unit averaging 14.1 points and 7.3 rebounds per game along with 57 steals and 22 blocks. She is joined in the frontcourt by junior Lysandra James (10.7 ppg, 7.5 rpg), while the starting backcourt is comprised of seniors Lyndsay Terpstra (7.5 ppg), Jade Van Rees and Becca Vos.

Madison Rasmusson, a 5-foot-8 guard, has provided a scoring punch off the bench with 6.4 points per outing – fourth-best on the team. The junior adds a little more history between the squads as she was a former Colo-NESCO student and even participated in one of Cafferty’s youth basketball camps growing up.

The Royals are making their eighth trip in school history and are fueled by last year’s early exit. Back from that contingent are three starters in seniors Caitlyn Riese and Madison Farren along with junior point guard Shayla Dean, a third team-all state honoree last year.

Riese, a 6-foot-1 center, leads the team with 15.3 points per game, while Dean is the state’s leader in steals (168) and second on the squad in scoring (13.8 ppg). Farren adds 8.9 points a game along with a team-best 7.1 rebounds.

“We got the experience from last year so we know what we’re up for,” Dean said of heading back to state.

“All our nervousness is out now that we know how to do it. It feels really good to come back and we knew we could do it from the beginning. We knew that if we worked hard and pushed through everything that we would get back here.”

The Royals ride a 12-game win streak into the tournament though the one loss on their resume – a 56-22 setback to second-ranked Janesville at home – may have been the most beneficial game for the team moving forward.

“It definitely motivated us and lit a fire under us,” said Riese of the team’s lone defeat on Jan. 14.

“Now we’re not scared. We don’t have the perfect record anymore so we’re not afraid to go for it all.”

Cafferty has seen better offensive execution from his team since the loss, while they’ve also developed more toughness and cut down on turnovers.

“We’ve done a much better job taking care of the ball,” Cafferty said. “Fifteen (turnovers) is kind of our Mendoza line. You’re going to have some happen so if we’re at 15 or below we’re OK.”

While the midseason stumble increased the intensity and passion of the Royals, they also have established a better sense of calm that was on display in a regional semifinal comeback over 13th-ranked Coon Rapids-Bayard and a regional final rout of Martensdale-St. Marys.

“We’re excited just like last year but we’re confident, we’re more relaxed,” Farren said of heading back to Des Moines.

“We’ve done this before and we’re just ready to prove that we can go farther than the first round.”

The winner advances to a semifinal contest Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. where they’ll meet either top-ranked Newell-Fonda (22-2) or Bedford (17-7). The other side of the bracket features No. 2 Janesville (23-1) against No. 11 Rockford and third-ranked Notre Dame, Burlington (21-3) the Royals’ quarterfinal opponent last year takes on eight-ranked Adair-Casey (23-3). The Class 1A championship game is set for Friday at 6 p.m.

Aiding in the Royals’ postseason run are juniors Melanie Van Loon, Tabitha Halferty and Hannah Buseman, as well as sophomore Makaelyn Neuendorf, who round out the Royals’ top rotation.

Getting back to the tourney was an expectation for the Royals since practice started and now that it’s finally here, they’re ready to dig in for a longer stay.

“Right away we told them we could get back here when we started the year and they expected to be here,” Cafferty said.

“They’ve brought confidence from last year and they feel like they belong.”

Notebook

Two of Lynnville-Sully’s losses came against Class 2A Iowa Valley, with the other happening against BGMThe Hawks won three straight Class 1A state titles from 1997-99 and are making their 10th appearance in Des Moines overall. Lynnville-Sully has been eliminated in the quarterfinal round in its last three trips to state.