WAVERLY — Four years ago, Bob Amsberry watched as Aryn Jones, Katie Sommer and Kristie Sommer received their senior sendoff at Linn-Mar High School.
Saturday at Wartburg, the 11th-year women’s basketball coach helped that same trio celebrate another senior night, this time as the cornerstones of one of the most-prolific runs in Knights’ history.
“None of the three had committed at that point, but we were hopeful,” Amsberry said. “To reflect back on their high school seasons and the recruiting process and what all of that meant and to see how much all three of them have grown both on and off the basketball court has been really rewarding.”
Wartburg (23-0, 14-0 Iowa Conference) suffered no graduation losses from last season and the Knights have parlayed that experience into a No. 2 ranking from d3hoops.com and its second regular-season conference title in a row.
“This group is really, really talented,” Amsberry said. “I knew going into the season that we could be very successful. … Just to have that kind of experience back has really been key to our success this year.”
Senior guard Katie Sommer has started every game this season and leads the team with 15.3 points per game, 54 steals and 142 assists. She is the reigning league Most Valuable Player and d3hoops.com named her a second team All-American last season.
“Our culture is getting us to where we are,” said Sommer, who surpassed the 1,000-point mark earlier this season and is the school leader in career assists (492). “The sky is the limit for us this year. We have a strong group, we have an experienced group, a veteran group. We are just very mature this year and know what we want and know what it takes to get there, so we’re going to do whatever it takes to be successful.”
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Two years ago, Wartburg made a surprising surge through the Division III NCAA Tournament bracket and reached the national semifinals. Last season, the Knights entered with just two losses but were unceremoniously bounced in the first round.
“This year going into it, having both of those experiences on polar opposite ends of the spectrum and being undefeated so far and hopefully continuing that until tournament time, I think our approach will be different yet again,” Jones said. “We are fully aware of our abilities and what we need to do to be successful.”
Amsberry considers Jones — who also plays volleyball for the Knights — the best defender in the IIAC, a trait she has been known for since her prep days with the Lions. Aside from her 107 rebounds and team-high 33 blocked shots, Jones has developed an effective offensive game that nearly averages double figures in points scored.
“She is a go-to kind of post player and when we need buckets we are pretty comfortable getting her the ball to her inside and letting her go to work,” Amsberry said. “Her improvement from her freshman year to now is just remarkable.”
Forward Kristie Sommer — Katie’s twin sister — and guards Miranda Murphy and Morgan Neuendorf complete the senior-laden starting lineup that all averages at least nine points per contest.
“I’m not the player I am without them,” said Katie Sommer, who was one of nine Division III players to represent Team USA on a women’s basketball tour of Brazil last summer. “Growing as a team has made us individually successful and putting that all together makes us just dominant.”
Wartburg is two wins away from completing an unbeaten regular season and will play for a second-straight conference tournament title when the IIAC postseason begins Feb. 20.
“I think it is safe to say that we see everybody’s best game,” Jones said. “Whether that be in conference or non-conference. I think that motivates us a little more, too. We have a title to uphold now to remain undefeated but we also are aware that anybody is good enough to beat anybody on a single night in our conference.”
The NCAA Division III women’s basketball tournament begins March 2.
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