Pick your poison
REINBECK – Finding a way to slow down Gladbrook-Reinbeck junior Zach Pierce hasn’t always been easy.
If the opposition elects to play him straight up, his massive frame will likely take over around the basket.
Playing behind him will allow his talented guards on the outside to lob it to him just in front of the bucket.
And double teams will force the 6-foot-4, 250-pound center to show off his passing skills.
It really is pick your poison with Pierce, who is the 2013-14 Times-Republican All-Area Boys Basketball Player of the Year.
“It’s a huge honor. There are a ton of great players in the area,” said Pierce. “(Duncan) Ferch, our other guys and some Ackley guys.
“I wouldn’t be as successful as I have been without my teammates though. Every one of those guys makes me better.”
Three Rebels averaged in double-figures for the NICL West Division champions this past season. Camden Kickbush and Joe Smoldt definitely had an impact in what G-R did night in and night out, but without Pierce, the Rebels likely are not as successful as they have been the last two seasons when they finished a combined 39-10.
Allowing Pierce to go for 25 points with likely result in defeat. To have any chance at beating the Rebels, opposing defenses must find a way to slow down Pierce. And that’s easier said than done.
“Zach draws a lot of attention, and he’s pretty athletic,” said Gladbrook-Reinbeck coach Scott Kiburis. “He can understand that other teams are real focused on him. He is a good passer out of the post and he can man up against the other team’s best post player. He is a good leader, and he recognizes that he could score 25 points on any night but also is willing to let his guards go off if it helps the team win. But he plays the same way every game.”
Pierce plays with toughness. He plays with passion. And he plays with intensity. Those are just a few of the reasons he has been a constant force in the middle of the lane for the Rebels and in the NICL West.
He was voted the conference’s player of the year this season and has been voted to the NICL West’s first team each of the last two seasons.
This is Pierce’s second All-Area selection and his most recent honor came last month when the Iowa Newspaper Association placed him on its Class 1A third team all-state squad.
Pierce’s numbers didn’t change much from his sophomore to junior season. He averaged 15.5 points and just less than eight rebounds per game as a sophomore and scored just less than 15 points and a little more than seven boards per contest as a junior.
Kickbush’s emergence this year definitely helped the Rebels reach a substate final and with so many players returning next year, the state tournament is the one and only goal for Pierce and his teammates.
“It was a success. We accomplished about 80 percent of our goals,” said Pierce of finishing 22-3 but missing out on the state tournament by one game. “That substate game could have been different. We were both equally matched. We just need to fine tune things. We’ll have the experience next year.”
As long as Pierce is in the painted area of the court, the Rebels will have a chance to play at Wells Fargo Arena. But he knows if Gladbrook-Reinbeck takes that next step forward, his game also will have to improve.
“Shooting – to be able to step out and consistently hit a mid-range jumper,” said Pierce when asked what is one thing he wanted to improve before next season. “That would help my game, and the flow of the offense. I didn’t really use my baby hook this year. If I can go both ways, that would help, too. I need to make some gradual tweaks.”
With a league so deep in talent, Pierce stood out from other NICL first-teamers such as West Marshall’s Duncan Ferch, Kickbush, South Hardin’s Eric Mulder, BCLUW’s Conner Ubben or AGWSR’s Austin Heitland.
Pierce will enter next season with the fourth most career points in school history. And if he scores around the same number as a senior that he did during his sophomore and junior years, he’ll finish in second on the school’s all-time scoring list – trailing only current G-R assistant coach Brett Bengen.
He also sits third in career rebounds but after he yanks his 21st rebound next year, he’ll move into second, once again trailing only Bengen.
There are still some things to work on. Pierce would like to make more free throws in 2014-15, even though he shot 81 percent from the foul line over his final 13 games of the season. He was only 63 percent from the line over the course of the entire season.
Pierce also was 19-of-21 in the Rebels’ first three playoff games, including a 7-for-7 percent against rival AGWSR. G-R needed all seven of those freebies to fall as the Rebels advanced with a one-point win.
Kiburis would like to see his big man get down the floor a little better. He doesn’t slow down the high-octane Rebels, but getting down the floor faster could put him in position for more easy buckets near the rim.
“I’d like to see him get up and down the floor a little faster and be more of a threat in transition,” said Kiburis. “We don’t ask him to do much shooting from outside, but if he develops that and can take guys off the dribble, that certainly would help our team, too.”
“But he is so good at manning the post and he draws so much attention that it really helps the rest of the guys at the offensive end.”
That attention won’t go away next year. Pierce, who also earned all-state honors in football, won’t get any smaller. He’ll likely be an even bigger force in the paint next year. That will keep opposing coaches up all night trying to gameplan accordingly.
Throw in a pair of talented guards in Kickbush and Smoldt as well as a defensive stalwart like Colton Dinsdale and the up-and-coming Cameron Clark, and the Rebels will be the heavy favorite to repeat as NICL West champions.
The Rebels only lost to one Class 1A team in 2013-14. That was in the substate final against Belmond-Klemme. Led by Pierce, the squad hopes to get over that hurdle next year and advance to Wells Fargo Arena.
“A lot of us will be seniors, so there is only one more chance to do it,” said Pierce, who also had a team-high 24 blocks and 64 offensive rebounds and shot 53 percent from the floor. “We need to do it. There is no other option.”