116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
If Sasha Koenig was a superhero, Jarod Tylee would have a name for her.
'It's hard to put into words how she elevated our program,' said Tylee, girls' basketball coach at West Branch High School. 'I keep coming back to the word 'transformed.''
Koenig helped lift the Bears to unprecedented heights. Back-to-back River Valley Conference South Division championships. Consecutive state-tournament appearances, including the school's first win in state-level competition, this season.
A four-year record of 74-18, and a total of 1,445 career points. First-team all-state honors.
'It was so much fun to be able to make history, to do things that no other team from West Branch has done,' Koenig said. 'This team deserves that label.'
This player deserves a label, too: The Gazette's 2020-21 area player of the year.
A 5-foot-5 senior guard, Koenig headlines this year's 12-player roster. Also honored are Sophia Barrett of Cedar Rapids Kennedy, Elise Boulton of Montezuma, Ryley Goebel of Center Point-Urbana, Ella Imler of Maquoketa Valley, Kelsey Joens of Iowa City High, Audrey Koch of Iowa City West, Callie Levin of Solon, Sydney Mitvalsky and Hannah Stuelke of Cedar Rapids Washington, Ella Van Weelden of Marion and Lauren Wilson of Springville.
Scot Moenck of Class 2A state runner-up Maquoketa Valley is the area coach of the year.
Next fall, Koenig will join older sister Tatum Koenig on the Bradley University campus, and on the Braves' roster. Not surprisingly, it was Tatum who was Sasha's first role model.
'I learned by Tatum's example, because nobody worked harder than her,' Sasha said. 'Whatever she did, I wanted to do. She left, and when she did, I had to make that hard work my lifestyle.'
She brought others along.
'Sasha got kids to gravitate toward their workouts,' Tylee said. 'Just her love of the game, it got others to buy in.
'She always played the game with energy, joy and enthusiasm. Her personality, it's infectious. It makes you want to be around her. She got other kids to follow her lead.'
West Branch won 21 games in each of Koenig's last two seasons, and the Bears finally got the upper hand on archrival Iowa City Regina.
It was Regina that the Bears defeated in the regional finals this season.
'The game to go to state, to beat Regina, that was one of the biggest statements West Branch could make,' Koenig said. 'They've ended our season a few too many times through the years.'
Tylee said, 'I saw some pictures after that game, and Sasha had such a big smile on her face, even in the middle of the game.'
Koenig averaged 20.2 points, 4.4 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 3.0 steals per game. Without a doubt, she has emerged from her sister's shadow, and her game is her own.
'There are some similarities, and some differences,' Tylee said. 'Tatum is kind of a bulldog. She's going to get to a spot on the court whether the other team likes it or not. Sasha is more of a creator. She finds a way to score, whether it's herself or a teammate.
'Both can shoot it very well. Sasha is more flashy, and Tatum is always stronger than everybody else.'
Despite the fact that Maquoketa Valley was unbeaten at midseason, Moenck didn't like the look of his team.
'When I saw us on film, as a fan, we weren't a fun team to watch,' he said. 'We weren't smooth offensively. We were all over the place defensively.
'We were winning, but I didn't like the way we were playing.'
So he scrubbed everything. The Wildcats changed from an up-and-down team to something more deliberate, one that won in the 40s.
How did the Wildcats react?
'They didn't have a choice,' Moenck said.
'I don't like it, but I accept it,' Moenck said. 'If that's the plan of The Man Upstairs, I have no regrets.'
Moenck, 45, has dealt with worse. He lost his sister, Kristy, in an auto accident when he was a sophomore in high school. He lost a future player when 13-year-old Anna Nefzger died in an ATV accident in 2016. He lost his mother, Marge Burgess, to a sudden illness last March.
'My mom missed only one of my activities when I was (at Anamosa High School),' he said. 'She was my biggest supporter. She filled my life with wisdom.'
Moenck shares a bond with this team's seniors — Imler, Emerson Whittenbaugh and Taya Tucker. He was there for them in the aftermath of Nefzger's death, and they were there for him when his mother passed.
He shared a letter his seniors wrote, and dropped off at his house shortly after the news of Burgess' death spread:
' ... this (basketball) family is unbreakable and nothing can come between the love we have for each other ... You have an army behind you, an army that cares (for) and loves you with everything they have because that is what you do for us.'
To repay his players, Moenck enlisted the help of someone to join them in a virtual team training conference later in the spring.
That someone was Megan Gustafson.
'I wanted to reward the kids, and what better way to do that than with an unbelievable role model,' said Moenck, who owns a 313-105 record in 18 seasons, including 274-77 in 15 years at Maquoketa Valley. 'The kids were star-struck. Just seeing the excitement on their faces, it meant the world to me.
'These kids have had to deal with so much. They were playing for so much beyond themselves. They played for those that were here, and for those that couldn't be.'
2020-21 Gazette all-area girls' basketball team
Sophia Barrett, 5-10, sr., Cedar Rapids Kennedy — Averaged 13.9 points, 3.9 rebounds, 2.8 steals and 2.8 assists per game as the Cougars (14-9) reached the Class 5A regional semifinals. Shot 44.9 percent from the field, 79.3 percent from the free-throw line. Finished with 616 career points. IPSWA 5A third-team all-state. Committed to Baker (Kan.) University.
Elise Boulton, 5-5, sr., Montezuma — Averaged 17.3 points, 5.6 assists and 2.8 steals per game as the Bravettes (23-2) reached the Class 1A state semifinals. Shot 46.8 percent from the field, including 44.0 percent from long distance. Tied for state lead with 73 3-pointers. Finished with 1,232 points and 277 treys (No. 8 in state history) in her career. IPSWA 1A first-team all-state. Committed to Simpson College.
Ryley Goebel, 5-11, jr., Center Point-Urbana — Two-time selection. Averaged 18.2 points, 8.6 rebounds and 3.2 steals per game as the Stormin' Pointers (15-7) advanced to the Class 3A regional semifinals. Shot 57.7 percent from the floor, including 37.2 percent from 3-point range. 1,029 points, 480 rebounds and 218 steals in her career, with one season to go. A member of CPU's state-title team of 2019. IPSWA 3A first-team all-state. Committed to the University of Northern Iowa.
Ella Imler, 5-6, sr., Maquoketa Valley — Averaged 14.0 points, 4.3 assists and 2.8 steals per game as the Wildcats (25-1) reached the Class 2A state final. Shot 34.8 percent from long distance, 73.6 percent from the free-throw line. Finished with 926 career points. IPSWA 2A first-team all-state. Committed to Coe College.
Kelsey Joens, 5-10, soph., Iowa City High — Averaged 18.7 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game as the Little Hawks (10-5) reached the Class 5A regional finals. Shot 76.0 percent from the free-throw line. 544 career points with two seasons to go. IPSWA 5A second-team all-state.
Audrey Koch, 5-10, sr., Iowa City West — Averaged 19.1 points and 5.9 rebounds per game as the Trojans (14-4) reached the Class 5A state semifinals. Shot 57.6 percent from the field, 82.8 percent from the free-throw line. Finished with 1,234 career points. A member of West's 5A state-championship team of 2018. IPSWA 5A first-team all-state. Providence College signee.
Sasha Koenig, 5-5, sr., West Branch — Averaged 20.2 points, 4.4 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 3.0 steals per game as the Bears (21-2) reached the Class 2A state semifinals. Shot 41.2 percent from the field, 83.7 percent from the free-throw line. Finished her career with 1,445 points, 431 assists and 268 steals. IPSWA 2A first-team all-state. Bradley University signee.
Callie Levin, 5-9, fr., Solon — Averaged 19.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 4.0 steals per game as the Spartans (17-6) reached the Class 3A regional finals. Shot 47.1 percent from the field, 71.7 percent from the free-throw line. 436 career points with three seasons remaining. IPSWA 3A second-team all-state.
Sydney Mitvalsky, 5-8, sr., Cedar Rapids Washington — Averaged 15.9 points and 4.4 rebounds per game as the Warriors (13-4) reached the Class 5A regional finals. Shot 89.3 percent from the free-throw line. Finished with 660 career points. IPSWA 5A second-team all-state. University of St. Thomas (Minn.) signee.
Hannah Stuelke, 6-2, jr., Cedar Rapids Washington — Three-time selection. Averaged 21.4 points, 12.2 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game as the Warriors (13-4) reached the Class 5A regional finals. Shot 57.8 percent from the field. 1,123 career points and 616 career rebounds with a year to go. IPSWA 5A first-team all-state. Committed to the University of Iowa.
Ella Van Weelden, 6-1, sr., Marion — Averaged 16.4 points and 8.6 rebounds per game as the Indians (14-9) reached the Class 4A regional finals. Shot 44.1 percent from the field, including 36.4 from 3-point range. Finished her career with 971 points and 590 rebounds. A member of Marion's 4A state-title team of 2018. IPSWA 4A first-team all-state. Valparaiso University signee.
Lauren Wilson, 6-0, jr., Springville — Averaged 17.5 points, 10.1 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 3.5 blocks per game as the Orioles (21-5) reached the Class 1A state quarterfinals. Shot 51.2 percent from the floor. 1,279 points, 725 rebounds and 271 blocks in her career with a season to go. IPSWA 1A first-team all-state.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Sasha Koenig, sr., West Branch
COACH OF THE YEAR
Scot Moenck, Maquoketa Valley
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