116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
FAYETTE — Thanks in large part to the various roles of four Gazette-area student-athletes, the No. 4-seed Upper Iowa men’s basketball team (25-5) will face No. 5-seed Central Oklahoma (24-6) in the first round of the NCAA Division II Central Region Championships on Saturday in Sioux Falls, S.D., with tipoff scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
“(Upper Iowa) was the first school to offer me and that meant a lot to me and my family,” said North Linn graduate Jake Hilmer. “I have a little sister, Jori, so to stay close to the area was big, and from a basketball standpoint, it was a good fit.”
Third on the team in points with 16.4 a game over 31.8 minutes, Hilmer, the co-Mr. Iowa Basketball in 2019, came to college hoping to restart a career already full of acclaim.
“I try to leave those accomplishments behind and start something new here,” Hilmer said. “We’ve had a chip on our shoulder getting close the last two years.”
With the same core group for the last three years, the Peacocks added another sharpshooter with local ties when Central City grad Nick Reid transferred from Emporia State (Kan.) before the season to be closer to home.
“I saw we have enough scoring output, so to get on the court I needed to guard and rebound,” Reid said. “The little stuff that helps the team go.”
Blending new bodies into the Upper Iowa lineup also meant the teammates that helped build the program during their career would need to step aside and reconsider their roles.
One of the best at it has been fourth-year senior Jackson Joens, who helped Cedar Rapids Xavier win back-to-back state titles while accumulating over 1,000 points during his prep career.
“To see the team succeed and be 25-5 going into the tournament is really something special,” Joens said. “No matter what my role has been, or will be, I’m just happy to see us winning.”
With a 3-2 record against nationally-ranked teams, No. 17 Upper Iowa can claim two of those victories against top-five competition.
“After we beat No. 2 Truman State by 26 at home, I was impressed,” Reid said. “I knew if we played like that, nobody in the country could beat us.”
The final local piece of the Peacock puzzle has been Joens’ roommate, Cedar Rapids Kennedy grad Jackson Foley.
“The first year, when we won seven games, there was no reason for people to show up,” Foley said. “We would get blown out, but people in the community and the students still showed up. Seeing that is really positive and boosts us to know we have that kind of support.”
While both seniors average less than three minutes per game in the current rotation, they have been instrumental in guiding the program during their tenure.
“In the limited moments I get on the floor, I make sure I’m pushing my teammates and being supportive,” Foley said. “Just being there for everyone is what I want to do.”