MARION - As the prep volleyball season nears the midway point, Cedar Rapids Xavier identified a vital ingredient if the Saints are to retain their No. 1 ranking in Class 4A.
Now is the time to turn up the defense.
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In 2006, Mike Sconsa sat down and conducted a meeting with himself.
“We had probably the two best players we had ever had (Ashley Arlen and Lana Otting), and we hadn’t gotten out of the regional semifinals,” said Sconsa, the girls’ basketball coach at Cascade High School. “That was very hard for me as a coach. What were we doing wrong?”
Sconsa developed, in his mind, a clear vision for his program. A blue-collar, no-frills vision.
“The No. 1 (priority) was going to be defense and rebounding. That’s a total team effort thing.
“Offensively, the goal was to have a lot of kids that averaged 6 to 10 points per game. That’s not going to wow you, and it’s not going to get kids a lot of recognition, but the kids here don’t seem to care.”
Cascade became a consistent winner. In 13 years, Sconsa owns a 256-62 record with five state-tournament appearances, including a Class 2A semifinal appearance earlier this month.
Sconsa is the 2017 Gazette-area girls’ basketball coach of the year.
“Anything we do starts with two things,” he said. (Assistant coach) Ernie (Bolibaugh) and I do everything together, so he deserves as much of the credit as I do.
“And the girls, their effort and dedication here is tremendous.”
Ashley Joens of Iowa City High is the area player of the year. She is joined on the 10-player team by Rylee Menster and Mikayla Nachazel of two-time Class 1A state champion Springville, as well as Logan Cook of Iowa City West, Mary Crompton of Iowa City Regina, Brianna Mensen of Maquoketa Valley, Lexi Noonan of Cedar Rapids Xavier, Shelby Reicks of Turkey Valley, Chloe Rice of Marion and Allie Wooldridge of Center Point-Urbana.
A junior and a commitment of Iowa State University, Joens is a member of the all-area team for the third time. She registered 21.1 points and 10.3 rebounds per game as the Little Hawks (22-2) reached the state tournament. She has 1,380 career points, with a year yet to go.
She was in the gym the day after City High lost to Cedar Falls in the 5A state quarterfinals, and she was headed to the gym on the day she was contacted for this story.
“She’s just a gym rat,” City Coach Bill McTaggart said. “She did everything for us. She’s a great rebounder. She takes it to the basket as well as any player I’ve ever had.”
At 5-foot-11, Joens can slice through a defense or shoot over it.
“There were a lot of double-teams on me, and I think I got a lot better at finding the open player,” she said. “I just want us to get better next year. Hopefully we can get back and finish it off.”
The Springville duo are making their second appearance on the all-area team, as are Rice, Crompton and Reicks. Rice led Marion to the 4A state final, which it lost in overtime to North Scott. Reicks guided Turkey Valley to 1A runner-up finishes in 2016 and 2017.
Cascade didn’t have any players on the all-area team, or any of the 2A all-state teams after a glowing 23-3 campaign that nearly was extended to the 2A championship game. The Cougars were 14-11 in 2016.
“We had a productive summer, and that really helped us,” Sconsa said. “We have kids here who are athletic and competitive, and that’s a lethal combination.”
Sconsa, 39, grew up in New Hampshire and spent a year of college in his home state. Then he transferred to Loras College in Dubuque, where he majored in history.
He has stayed in Iowa since. He spent two years as a girls’ basketball assistant at Cascade under Jerry Roling, then was a women’s assistant for one year at Mount Mercy.
When the head girls’ position at Cascade job opened up, Sconsa applied and got it.
“People here, they’re salt of the earth. They care for one another,” Sconsa said. “Cascade, Iowa ... it’s Norman Rockwell-esque.”
Cascade, Iowa ... it's Norman Rockwell-esque
- Mike Sconsa
Cascade girls' basketball coach
The Cougars won the River Valley Conference North Division championship, their seventh league title under Sconsa. They advanced to state, knocked off Central Decatur in the quarterfinals, then lost a heartbreaker to Treynor in the semis. Freshman Nicole McDermott and junior Abbie Ruggeberg led the Cougars at 11 points per game apiece.
Just like Sconsa likes it.
A middle- and high-school social studies teacher, Sconsa said he suffered through “an upsetting childhood” in New England, but chose not to elaborate. Those days, after all, are behind him.
“I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my life,” he said. “The life I have now, I’m living the dream. It’s a tremendous life, and basketball is only about 10 percent of it.”
Logan Cook, 6-1, jr., Iowa City West — Averaged 15.0 points and 6.2 rebounds per game as the Women of Troy (21-4) won the MVC Mississippi Division title and advanced to the Class 5A state semifinals. Iowa Newspaper Association first-team 5A all-state selection.
Mary Crompton, 5-8, jr., Iowa City Regina — Averaged 18.0 points per game as the Regals (26-1) completed their second straight unbeaten regular season and returned to the Class 2A state semifinals. Shot 55.4 percent from the field, 47.2 percent from 3-point range and 88.2 percent from the free-throw line. INA first-team 2A all-state selection. 1,178 career points.
Ashley Joens, 5-11, jr., Iowa City High — Averaged 21.1 points and 10.3 rebounds per game as the Little Hawks (22-2) shared the MVC Valley Division title and reached the Class 5A state tournament. Shot 50.9 percent from the floor. INA first-team 5A all-state selection and an Iowa State University commitment. 1,380 career points.
Brianna Mensen, 5-11, sr., Maquoketa Valley — Averaged 19.3 points and 7.5 rebounds per game as the Wildcats (19-5) advanced to the Class 2A regional semifinals. Shot 52.6 percent from the field and 75.9 percent from the free-throw line. INA first-team 2A all-state selection. Finished her career with 1,172 points.
Rylee Menster, 5-6, jr., Springville — Averaged 17.7 points, 3.7 assists and 5.9 steals per game as the Orioles (26-1) captured their second consecutive Class 1A state championship. Shot 57.8 percent from the floor. INA first-team 1A all-state selection. 1,159 career points.
Mikayla Nachazel, 5-11, jr., Springville — Averaged 18.7 points and 6.7 rebounds per game as the Orioles shared the Tri-Rivers West Division title and repeated in 1A, earning all-tournament captainship. Shot 53.4 percent from the floor. INA first-team 1A all-state selection. 1,215 career points.
Lexi Noonan, 5-9, sr., Cedar Rapids Xavier — Averaged 14.4 points and 5.9 rebounds as the Saints (18-7) reached the Class 4A state semifinals. Shot 51.2 percent from the floor, 70.5 percent from the line. INA first-team 4A all-state selection. Finished her career with 693 points.
Shelby Reicks, 5-11, sr., Turkey Valley — Averaged 14.3 points, 5.6 assists and 5.7 steals per game as the Trojans (23-3) were Class 1A state runners-up for the second straight year. Shot 70.9 percent from the free-throw line. INA first-team 1A all-state selection. Finished her career with 1,266 points, 518 assists and 455 steals.
Chloe Rice, 5-10, jr., Marion — Averaged 14.7 points and 3.3 assists per game as the Indians (24-2) reached the Class 4A state final. Shot 50.8 percent from the field and 79.7 percent from the free-throw line. INA first-team 4A all-state selection and a Saint Louis University commitment. 1,008 career points.
Allie Wooldridge, 6-0, jr., Center Point-Urbana — Averaged 12.9 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game as the Stormin’ Pointers (22-4) advanced to the Class 3A state semifinals for the second straight year. INA second-team 3A all-state selection and a Wisconsin-Green Bay commit. 954 career points.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Ashley Joens, Iowa City High
COACH OF THE YEAR: Mike Sconsa, Cascade
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