The upper tier of the Mississippi Valley Conference is an undisputed — and unbalanced — Group of Six.
Undisputed, because this group is far superior to the other 10 teams. Unbalanced, because five of the six are in the same division.
The Mississippi Division houses five teams ranked in the top 10: Cedar Falls, Cedar Rapids Prairie, Cedar Rapids Washington, Cedar Rapids Xavier and Iowa City High. It will be a rat race in determining a champion between now and Feb. 8.
Meanwhile, defending Class 5A state champion Iowa City West entered the season as a heavy favorite in the Valley Division from the moment the new divisions were sliced. Nothing has changed, and the Women of Troy should have clear sailing toward a divisional title.
At 8-0, City High is one of four area unbeatens as the season resumes Thursday. The others are Marion (9-0), North Linn (10-0) and MFL MarMac (11-0). The defending 4A state champion, Marion has won 35 consecutive games. City High and North Linn own regular-season winning streaks of 35 and 31, respectively.
Here’s a primer on each of the league races as the season resets after a two-week hibernation:
MVC Mississippi Division
Overview — It’s not just lip service saying there are five legitimate title contenders here, and the sorting out begins Friday, when Cedar Rapids Xavier (8-2, 4-0) travels to Cedar Falls (9-0, 4-0). The Tigers won a non-conference encounter, 67-57, Dec. 14. Iowa City High (8-0, 4-0) should win its next five games handily, then faces a gauntlet from Jan. 22 through the end of the regular season. Cedar Rapids Prairie (6-2, 2-1) has an advantage in that it faces all of the remaining contenders other than Xavier at home. Cedar Rapids Washington (7-1, 4-0) possesses one of the state’s best freshmen in Hannah Stuelke, and can score with anybody when it’s clicking. Don’t be surprised if the champion(s) has/have at least two conference losses.
Midseason MVP — Aubrey Joens, jr., Iowa City High
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Preseason top 3 — 1. Iowa City High, 2. Cedar Rapids Prairie, 3. Cedar Falls
Midseason top 3 — 1. Iowa City High, 2. Cedar Falls, 3. Cedar Rapids Prairie
MVC Valley Division
Overview — On paper, it looks like a tight race with three teams within one game of each other at the top. But Iowa City West (6-2, 3-1) is superior by a fairly wide margin. Despite an 0-6 start against a brutal early schedule, Dubuque Hempstead (3-7, 1-3) still should factor into the best-of-the-rest race, along with Waterloo West (5-3, 2-1) and perhaps Linn-Mar (4-6, 2-2), which already has surpassed its win total from a year ago.
Midseason MVP — Lauren Zacharias, sr., Iowa City West
Preseason top 3 — 1. Iowa City West, 2. Dubuque Hempstead, 3. Waterloo West
Midseason top 3 — 1. Iowa City West, 2. Dubuque Hempstead, 3. Linn-Mar
Wamac East Division
Overview — The story thus far as been the improvement of DeWitt Central (9-1, 8-1), which — after going 7-14 last season — has ridden the emergence of freshmen Taylor Veach and Allison Meadows to a big turnaround. But the best team is Marion (9-0, 8-0), which welcomes the Sabers to town Friday. The defending 4A champion, Marion isn’t very deep, but its top six players are as good just about anybody in any class. Central will be chased in the race for second by Dyersville Beckman (6-5, 6-3), Maquoketa (6-3, 5-3) and Mount Vernon (5-5, 5-4), which has recovered nicely after an 0-4 start.
Midseason MVP — Kayba Laube, jr., Marion
Preseason top 3 — 1. Marion, 2. Mount Vernon, 3. Dyersville Beckman
Midseason top 3 — 1. Marion, 2. DeWitt Central, 3. Mount Vernon
Wamac West Division
Overview — This might be the first area race to be decided. Center Point-Urbana (8-1, 8-0) already has a three-game lead on second-place Clear Creek Amana (5-4, 5-3), and beat the Clippers by 20 points in their first meeting. South Tama (5-5, 5-4) was somewhat of a disappointment early, but won its last three games before the break, and hosts CCA on Friday in the first of two games that should determine the divisional runner-up.
Midseason MVP — Jessica Musgrave, sr., South Tama
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Preseason top 3 — 1. Center Point-Urbana, 2. South Tama, 3. Clear Creek Amana
Midseason top 3 — 1. Center Point-Urbana, 2. Clear Creek Amana, 3. South Tama
River Valley North Division
Overview — Bellevue (11-0, 9-0) claimed the front-runner role by virtue of a 50-42 road win against Cascade (9-1, 8-1), though the Cougars get a chance to get even when the teams collide Jan. 22 at Bellevue. Monticello (7-3, 6-3) was in the hunt until a puzzling double-overtime loss at Durant just before Christmas. If Cascade can win at Bellevue, the champion will be the team that doesn’t get tripped up by one of the top South Division teams.
Midseason MVP — Nicole McDermott, jr., Cascade
Preseason top 3 — 1. Cascade, 2. Monticello, 3. Bellevue
Midseason top 3 — 1. Bellevue, 2. Cascade, 3. Monticello
River Valley South Division
Overview — A 10-year title run appears to be coming to an end for Iowa City Regina; a third ACL tear in the knees of Alex Wiese was a killer blow. That leaves Wilton (10-1, 8-1) and West Branch (9-2, 7-2) as the prime contenders. The Bears notched a 40-38 win over the Beavers on Dec. 11, and the rematch is Jan. 25 at Wilton. That’s part of a rough nine-day stretch in which Wilton also faces Bellevue and Cascade. Mid-Prairie (7-3, 6-3) lost three straight after a 6-0 start, but can inch back into the race if it wins at West Branch on Friday.
Midseason MVP — Emily Lange, sr., Wilton
Preseason top 3 — 1. Iowa City Regina, 2. Wilton, 3. West Branch
Midseason top 3 — 1. Wilton, 2. West Branch, 3. Mid-Prairie
Tri-Rivers East Division
Overview — After picking Midland in the preseason, we’ll take a mulligan here. Bellevue Marquette (10-2, 4-0) has been the class of the division. The Mohawks opened the season with a win over 4A Dubuque Wahlert, and also have a triumph over Maquoketa Valley under their belts. Midland (5-6, 3-1) figures to be part of a three-team fray for second place, along with Easton Valley (6-5, 2-2) and vastly improved Clinton Prince of Peace (4-5, 3-1).
Midseason MVP — Sadie Zaruba, sr., Easton Valley
Preseason top 3 — 1. Midland, 2. Bellevue Marquette, 3. Lisbon
Midseason top 3 — 1. Bellevue Marquette, 2. Easton Valley, 3. Midland
Tri-Rivers West Division
Overview — As has been the case every year since the Tri-Rivers split into divisions, the West side is superior. North Linn (10-0, 5-0) has proven to be the best of the bunch so far, and appears destined for its sixth divisional title in the last seven years, and — even more impressively — its ninth consecutive 20-win season. Maquoketa Valley (9-2, 4-1) is the next rung on the ladder, followed by East Buchanan (7-3, 3-2), Alburnett (7-3, 3-2) and three-time defending 1A state champion Springville (8-3, 3-2), probably in that order.
Midseason MVP — Grace Flanagan, jr., North Linn
Preseason top 3 — 1. North Linn, 2. Maquoketa Valley, 3. East Buchanan
Midseason top 3 — 1. North Linn, 2. Maquoketa Valley, 3. East Buchanan
Overview — Waverly-Shell Rock’s seven-year NEIC title run came to an end last year, but the Go-Hawks (9-1, 5-0) are back in championship form this year. WSR has won nine straight games after losing its season-opener to Mason City, and that run includes an emphatic 47-33 win at Waukon (7-1, 4-1) on Dec. 14. The Go-Hawks return from the break with a challenge at Crestwood (6-4, 3-1) Friday. Waukon faces a non-conference challenge next Tuesday, when it travels to unbeaten MFL MarMac.
Midseason MVP — Sharon Goodman, jr., Crestwood
Preseason top 3 — 1. Waukon, 2. Crestwood, 3. Waverly-Shell Rock
Midseason top 3 — 1. Waverly-Shell Rock, 2. Waukon, 3. Crestwood
South Iowa Cedar East Division
Overview — Sigourney (6-2, 5-2) and Belle Plaine (7-2, 5-2) have separated themselves from the pack, with the Savages holding the head-to-head card, based on a 33-27 road win Dec. 4. The rematch is Jan. 22 at Sigourney. The Savages also have interdivisional matchups with West Division heavyweights Montezuma and Lynnville-Sully out of the way, while Belle Plaine still has to face both.
Midseason MVP — Megan Stuhr, jr., Sigourney
Preseason top 3 — 1. Belle Plaine, 2. English Valleys, 3. Sigourney
Midseason top 3 — 1. Sigourney, 2. Belle Plaine, 3. English Valley.
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South Iowa Cedar West Division
Overview — The class of the division — and the entire SICL — has been Montezuma (10-1, 8-0) thus far. The Bravettes have been pushed once in league play so far, rallying to beat Sigourney, 26-24, Dec. 14. They return to action Friday at home against Belle Plaine, then have two road challenges remaining against fellow 1A top-10 foes, at Lynnville-Sully (9-2, 6-1) and North Mahaska (7-2, 5-2) on Jan. 15 and Jan. 25, respectively.
Midseason MVP — Shateah Wetering, jr., Montezuma
Preseason top 3 — 1. North Mahaska, 2. Montezuma, 3. Lynnville-Sully
Midseason top 3 — 1. Montezuma, 2. Lynnville-Sully, 3. North Mahaska
Overview — After winning a nail-biter in its season opener against East Buchanan, MFL MarMac (11-0, 7-0) has rolled through UIC play, winning its first seven league games by an average of 38.7 points, all by 17 or more. The Bulldogs’ key game through the rest of the regular season is a non-conference affair at home against Waukon next Tuesday. Their toughest league challenge is Feb. 1, at Lansing Kee (8-2, 6-1).
Midseason MVP — Bailey Winter, jr., MFL MarMac
Preseason top 3 — 1. MFL MarMac, 2. Lansing Kee, 3. Elkader Central
Midseason top 3 — 1. MFL MarMac, 2. Lansing Kee, 3. Turkey Valley
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