CEDAR RAPIDS — Brandon Clubb’s first clubb (club) at Clear Creek Amana three years ago wasn’t successful.
The Clippers won twice. They lost 20 times.
“The thing is we were in a lot of ballgames,” Clubb said. “We honestly could have won a handful, maybe six games that year. We were in games but kind of just faltered down the stretch. It was an attempt at a culture change and kind of going against history. Guys that, you know, just kind of didn’t get it.”
Those guys gradually started to “get it.” Clear Creek Amana went 9-13 the following season and 11-9 last season.
This season was something. CCA finished 21-6, won a Wamac Conference championship for the first time (tying for the West Division crown) and made it to the state tournament for the first time since 1993.
The Clippers 2019-20 Gazette girls’ basketball coach of the year upset second-ranked Mount Vernon in the quarterfinals, lost to Sergeant Bluff-Luton in the semifinals and got a Tyler Schrepfer 3-pointer in the closing seconds of overtime to beat Ballard in the Class 3A consolation game.
From 2-20 to third place in the state in a matter of just four years. That’s special.
For leading that transformation, Clubb has been named the 2019-20 Gazette area boys’ basketball coach of the year.
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“Internally, as a staff, we kind of knew what our ceiling was,” Clubb said, when asked if he saw this season coming. “We had a lot of those same conversations. We knew what it took to win in the postseason ... But I think the biggest thing we were going up against at Clear Creek was we were going up against history. Nobody had been around any successful basketball season for a long time. So we kind of knew (our capabilities), but we didn’t know how far we’d get this year.”
Clubb said he didn’t know if this thought should be off the record or not, but said just getting to a substate final against Davenport Assumption might have been considered a “win” for his program. Clear Creek Amana did better than that, beating Assumption, 79-66, to reach the state tournament.
“We had goals,” he said. “We were trying to take baby steps. We weren’t trying to get it all at once this year. Take a couple of baby steps this year, take a couple of baby steps next year. Obviously, things worked out for us.”
Now to the players who steered this clipper to unprecedented waters.
Schrepfer played as a freshman in 2016-17 and had a good senior season, averaging 11.7 points per game. Nick O’Connor was the other senior who played, and he averaged 11.4, hitting eight 3-pointers in the consi win over Ballard.
Junior Christian Withrow earned all-state honors after averaging 15.9 points as an interior and slashing-type player. Junior Mike Potter also started, with juniors Brock Reade and Ryan Navara the primary guys off the bench.
T.J. Bollers, one of the top college football recruits in the country, was the beef guy inside as a junior post. It was overall a versatile group offensively that improved on defense as the season progressed.
“We don’t necessarily have positions,” Clubb said. “We use positions as a frame of reference on who you are guarding. But offensively, we don’t talk a lot about it. We work on (complete) skill sets of a lot of different guys. You’re right, we had guys who could do a lot of different things. How you guard a kid doesn’t necessarily take everything away from what we’re trying to do. We’ve got guys who can do different things.
“Who you guard, or who you want to try and take away, doesn’t necessarily concern us. Because others guys were stepping up. We were very capable of doing that.”
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Clear Creek Amana lost its first two games of the season and stood just 4-3 going into the holiday break. But the Clippers were really, really good from there, going 17-3, again, with one of those losses coming at the state tournament.
This was the second time Clubb has led a team to state, as he coached North Tama to the 2013 event. The Williamsburg native and former Simpson College player taught and coached at North Tama for 12 seasons before moving back closer to home.
“I hope we can use this as a springboard,” he said. “I think there were a lot of eyes on us that saw that it can be done. There’s a ton of talent in the school coming up. It’s just a matter of keeping people excited. Just start off (here) with our winning ways, and, hopefully, the rest takes care of itself.”
Coach of the year was not an easy choice, because so many guys were worthy.
Tim Lambert led Monticello to the state tournament for the first time since 1960, Nick Merritt took Springville to state for the first time since 1975. Mike and Bob Hilmer coached a thought-to-be-rebuilding North Linn team with four sophomore starters to state and a runner-up finish in Class 2A.
This was probably one of the better jobs hall of fame coach Steve Bergman did at Iowa City West, as the Trojans made it to the state tourney for the 10th consecutive year. Ed Timm led Mount Vernon to the overall Wamac and East Division championships and to the state tournament.
Derrick Dengler coached Montezuma back to state for a second consecutive year. There were many others.
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