MARION — This could have backfired.
As they were, the Marion Indians were already a girls’ basketball team loaded with talent and depth. All five starters from last year’s Class 4A state runner-up team were coming back.
Then came the addition of three more players: Riley Wright is a freshman. Leah Van Weelden is a transfer from Benton Community. Ella Van Weelden is both.
“This could have been miserable, but the kids have made it a joy,” Coach Corby Laube said. “They have all been so unselfish. Maybe they don’t have as high a scoring average as they could, but they’ve bought into the team accomplishments.”
The Indians are undefeated through 23 games. They’re ranked No. 1. They’re obscenely deep, with nine players averaging at least 4 points per game.
And, boy, are they motivated.
“That loss (in overtime, to North Scott in last year’s champinship game) has stuck with us every day, every practice,” said Chloe Rice, a senior guard. “We’re definitely going to give it our all to win it all.”
A state qualifier for the third straight year, Marion faces No. 14 Fairfield (19-4) in a 4A quarterfinal at 6:45 Monday night.
“Ever since we were little, this is what we’ve been talking about,” senior Mia Laube said. “Three years, we have come up short of our goal. We have taken one more step further each year, and we’re hoping this year we take the last one.”
The Indians certainly have the pieces to do it.
Statistics indicate there’s not a superstar on this team, but statistics don’t tell the whole story. Sophomore Kayba Laube (13.4 points per game) and Rice (10.9) are the only players averaging in double figures. Both have secured Division-I collegiate careers — Rice next season at Saint Louis University, Laube two years after that at UNI.
They are joined in the starting lineup by seniors Mia Laube and Caitlyn Smith and junior Randi Wright.
The Van Weelden sisters (Leah is a junior, Ella a freshman) are key reserves, as are the younger Wright, and juniors Sophie Willett and Maddie Knapp.
“The competitive level is so high,” Leah Van Weelden said. “Everybody pushes each other so hard. They have high goals, and they want to be pushed to get to a certain point.”
That, along with the fact that there are four sets of sisters on the roster, leads to highly charged practices.
“It does get a little chippy,” Rice said. “But I’d rather have that than girls that aren’t competitive. We have so many personalities, but we all come together, and that’s what makes this team special.”
And that’s obvious when game time arrives. The Indians have averaged 68.3 points per game this season, surrendering 28.4.
“Because we have so many good players, we can go hard for short bursts and then come out when we have to,” Rice said. “Coach tells us, he’d rather have us coming out because we’re gassed from playing so hard.”
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The Indians were devastated after last year’s championship game. This year, Coach Laube has made it a point to “savor all the little moments.
“We haven’t been afraid to celebrate the little things after every game. Like I tell the girls, what we’ve done isn’t the norm. It’s a pretty cool thing.”
With a blend of veterans and youngsters, this program is on solid ground for years to come. For the seniors, though, this is the last chance.
“We might have the No. 1 ranking, but that doesn’t guarantee anything,” Mia Laube said. “We could lose Monday and be back at school Tuesday. We need focus, we need humility ... and we need each other.”
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