Role players provide Royals with additional firepower

COLO – Their stats may not jump off the page.

And their names likely sit much lower on the an opponent’s scouting report, if at all.

Their contributions however, aren’t any less important.

Role players, glue guys or blue-collar athletes, whatever you call them the Royals have a more than serviceable supporting cast that has held the team together in a return to the Class 1A Iowa Girls State Basketball Tournament.

Juniors Tabitha Halferty, Hannah Buseman, Melanie Van Loon and Leah Vincent, along with sophomore Makaelyn Neuendorf have all developed larger roles this season and it was never more evident than in the regional final victory over Martensdale-St. Marys on Monday.

As seniors Caitlyn Riese and Madison Farren picked up their third fouls early in the second quarter and were forced to spend the rest of the half on the bench, Colo-NESCO’s less heralded players filled in admirably -assisting junior guard Shayla Dean in a runaway victory.

“Their development is key. It was huge (Monday) when we had both seniors on the bench and we didn’t miss a beat,” Cafferty said. “We extended the lead and showed them that we didn’t panic. They just came out and kept playing hard and making plays.”

A 24-12 Royal lead stretched to 33-12 and Colo-NESCO was never threatened the rest of the way, adding another confidence boost for the squad’s latest set of contributors entering state. Neuendorf, averaging 6.0 points per game, led the charge with eight points and eight rebounds, while displaying a more aggressive approach toward the basket.

“We’ve just been trying to grow because we wanted to come back here,” Neuendorf said of returning to Wells Fargo Arena. “We kind of showed that we can step up if we need to and that our posts can rely on us if they get in trouble.”

The 5-foot-9 sophomore scored a personal-best 15 points against North Tama and is second on the team with 63 assists, while Van Loon (6.4 ppg) is another threat from beyond the arc and poured in a career-best 17 points against Tripoli.

Buseman and Halferty have made their mark at the defensive end while Vincent also has chipped in some timely shooting with a 36 percent clip from 3-point range.

“We knew (Makaelyn) was going to be a good player since she was young,” Cafferty said of the sophomore who started the team’s weight lifting program before seventh grade. “Melanie has always had a good shooting touch and Hannah is just a really good athlete and her confidence is coming now.”

Five players were lost from last year’s tourney squad including graduated senior starters Madison Eley and Haley Stoeffler, while current junior Sam Riese has been sidelined by knee and hip injuries.

This year’s quintet has filled the void and shown they’re capable of competing on the big stage.

“It builds confidence going into the state tournament,” Farren said of her teammates’ contributions in the substate final. “You can stop two players but you can’t stop eight. Them having confidence is huge in our play because we can look for them for the shots.”

It was no overnight success for the Royals’ supporting cast which put in the same long hours on court this summer to build chemistry heading into the season.

“We definitely did a lot of summer work and got to know each other,” Halferty said.

“We learned how to play with each other and it’s helped show that we have a whole team.”

With Riese and Farren entering their final week in a Royals uniform, new opportunities will open up for more players to contribute next year. Though that opportunity also is at hand for the Colo-NESCO squad on Monday.

“You’re going to have to replace players every year,” Cafferty said.

“You just have to keep trying to build for the future and those kids’ future is now.”