At this point, everything should be prefaced with the phrase "weather permitting," but we’ve reached the meat of the Mississippi Valley Conference girls’ basketball schedule.
Four teams in the Mississippi Division are separated by 1 1/2 games. Among them are Cedar Rapids Washington (12-1 overall, 8-0 MVC) and Cedar Rapids Prairie (11-2, 7-1), which collide Friday at Prairie.
Weather permitting, of course.
“It’s a big one,” Prairie Coach Josh Bentley said. “(Washington) is having a really nice year, and we’re having an OK year.”
Bentley is underestimating his own crew, which has won 10 consecutive games and has climbed to No. 4 in the Class 5A rankings. That includes a 70-56 win at Washington in a game Dec. 21 that did not count in the MVC standings.
That’s more than just “OK.”
The Washington-Prairie matchup is one of six remaining that involve the five teams that have separated themselves from the rest of the MVC pack.
Class 5A top-ranked Iowa City High (13-0, 9-0) and No. 6 Cedar Falls (13-1, 7-1) join Washington and Prairie in the Mississippi Division jumble, and No. 12 Iowa City West (10-3, 7-2) is the class of the Valley Division.
“If we can compete and win a championship, that’s saying a lot — especially in our division,” Washington Coach Chris James said. “Two of our biggest checkmarks are to win a divisional title and to get homecourt advantage for regionals. All of these matchups will say a lot about who plays where.”
Despite its record and ranking, City High has the toughest road ahead. The Little Hawks still play all four of the other powers, starting with a Jan. 31 date at West.
Both Bentley and James believe the first Prairie-Washington game was closer than the final score indicates.
“They terrify me,” Bentley said of the Warriors. “Their top five are as good as anybody in the state.”
Freshman Hannah Stuelke and senior Sammy Mia lead the Warriors at 13.8 points per game. Senior Caitlin Riley adds 13.4 points per contest.
“Balance has been really good for us,” James said. “Where we get in trouble sometimes is when we fall in love with the outside shot too much.”
Prairie counters with the guard tandem of juniors Sidney McCrea (15.8 ppg) and Mallory McDermott (12.2), as well as senior Sarah Schmitt (11.4). McCrea is shooting a state-best 58 percent from 3-point range.
Saturday showdown at Center Point
Neither of the divisional races in the Wamac Conference will garner much drama in the stretch run. The best team in the entire conference? That debate will be answered Saturday, when 4A No. 1 Marion (13-0, 12-0) puts its 39-game winning streak on the line at 3A No. 3 Center Point-Urbana (13-1, 12-0).
Tipoff is scheduled for 3 p.m.
Both of these teams are the cream of their respective divisions. Marion leads DeWitt Central by 1 1/2 games in the East, and handled the Sabers by 24 points in their first meeting. CPU has a 4 1/2-game lead in the West and should clinch the title next week.
Weather permitting, of course.
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