Prep Basketball

Girls' basketball 2019-20: Iowa City High's singular ambition is to win it all

City High seniors Aubrey Joens, Rose Nkumu and Paige Rocca say nothing less than a state championship will do

Iowa City High will rely on seniors Aubrey Joens, Rose Nkumu and Paige Rocca in their pursuit of a Class 5A girls' basketball state championship this season. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Iowa City High will rely on seniors Aubrey Joens, Rose Nkumu and Paige Rocca in their pursuit of a Class 5A girls' basketball state championship this season. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — No sense in burying the lead.

There’s one goal. And, really, one goal only.

“We know what our mission is, and everybody’s on the same page,” senior Rose Nkumu said. “Win a state championship. That’s it.”

The trio of Nkumu, Aubrey Joens and Paige Rocca have accomplished almost everything in their three seasons of girls’ basketball at Iowa City High. They have compiled a 66-6 record, won three Mississippi Valley Conference divisional titles and advanced to state three times.

“(A championship) is the only thing left for them,” City High Coach Bill McTaggart said. “They’re all willing to give something up to get there and make it happen.”

City High is No. 1 in The Gazette’s preseason Class 5A rankings. The official ratings, from the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union, are expected Friday.

The Little Hawks aren’t interested in November numerals. Their singular focus is March.

“We’ve got to get it done this year,” Joens said. “We’re looking at one thing, a state championship. We want to go out and leave a mark.”

Rocca said, “It’s our senior season, and everybody wants to win it their senior season.

“We’ve been there multiple times and had our hearts broken.”

In 2017, Cedar Falls’ Kiana Barney converted a three-point play with seven seconds left, and the Tigers edged City High, 48-46, in the quarterfinals.

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The 2018 heartbreak was the worst. It happened in the championship game, and it happened against archrival Iowa City West. Joens, Nkumu and Rocca combined to make 3 of 16 shots in a 56-45 loss.

“That was rough,” Joens said. “We wanted to win it for our seniors, and losing to West made it even harder.”

The Little Hawks returned last year and dropped a first-round overtime decision to West Des Moines Valley, the eventual champion.

National Signing Day was last week, and all of the three key seniors confirmed their Division-I commitments — Joens will rejoin older sister Ashley Joens next season at Iowa State, Nkumu will attend Marquette, Rocca chose Missouri State.

Nkumu’s identity is as a defensive pest.

“I’ve been told to key in on the ball and be a nuisance,” she said. “It allows our defense to turn into offense.”

Rocca’s offseason focus was to add “versatility” to he offensive game: “I’m looking to be more than a spot-up shooter,” she said.

Aubrey Joens is the third of five hoops-minded sisters (Courtney is a senior at Illinois, Ashley a sophomore at ISU). The fourth is Kelsey, a freshman who broke Ashley’s middle-school scoring record with a 47-point gem. She’ll contribute for the Little Hawks immediately.

“Kelsey is a little like the rest of (the sisters),” Aubrey said. “She can shoot. She can drive.”

Junior Ella Cook and sophomores Eviyon Richardson and Andie Westlake are other key players.

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City High’s opener isn’t until Dec. 6, at home against Cedar Rapids Kennedy. Key regular-season dates are Jan. 21 (at Cedar Falls), Jan. 31 (home, against West Des Moines Dowling) and Feb. 14 (at Waukee).

That’s plenty to keep the Little Hawks occupied before March. And why wish the journey away, anyway, right?

“We have to take it one day at a time,” Rocca said. “Soon it will all be over.”

Comments: (319) 368-8857; jeff.linder@thegazette.com

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