Prep Basketball

New-look North Linn girls' basketball team enjoying same old success

Lynx among 4 Tri-Rivers West teams seeking to advance to 2A/1A regional finals

North Linn's Ellie Ware (30) puts pressure on Osage's Melanie Bye (20) during the Class 2A championship game at last yea
North Linn’s Ellie Ware (30) puts pressure on Osage’s Melanie Bye (20) during the Class 2A championship game at last year’s girls’ state basketball tournament. Ware is one of two returning players that saw a lot of time in the Lynx’s championship run. North Linn hosts Waterloo Columbus in a 2A regional semifinal at 7 p.m. Friday. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

It’s a different team, with a lot of new key figures.

Technically, North Linn is the defending Class 2A girls’ state basketball champion, but Coach Brian Wheatley doesn’t see it that way.

“It would be totally different if we returned everybody, but only two kids (Ellie Ware and Chloe Van Etten) played meaningful minutes in last year’s postseason,” Wheatley said. “So we haven’t talked about last year one time.

“On the other hand, with winning it last year comes a target. When opponents see ‘North Linn’ on the front of our uniforms, we know we’re going to get everybody’s best effort.”

The fifth-ranked Lynx (19-2) got it Tuesday, in a hard-earned win over Hudson. And they’ll get it again Friday, when they host Waterloo Columbus (11-11) in a 2A regional semifinal at home.

“They’re really good,” Wheatley said. “They come from a tough conference (the North Iowa Cedar League), so they aren’t going to be intimidated by us. We were a little tight early against Hudson, so hopefully we have that out of our systems.”

A victory Friday would send the Lynx to their 11th consecutive 20-win season. It’s certainly not primary in Wheatley’s mind, but 20 wins in a COVID-affected campaign would be quite an accomplishment.

“It’s a testament to our kids,” he said. “There have been a lot of challenges, but the biggest thing has been the growth and improvement we’ve seen from start to finish.”

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North Linn is one of four Tri-Rivers Conference West Division squads still humming. Maquoketa Valley (21-0), the top-rated club in 2A, hosts MFL MarMac (16-6), and 1A No. 8 Springville (19-4) welcomes Clinton Prince of Peace (16-4). No surprises there.

Then there’s East Buchanan (13-9), which plays at Turkey Valley (18-5) in a 1A encounter. The Buccaneers are 9-0 outside the division, including a 52-33 regional-quarterfinal win against Lansing Kee.

“They’re going to pressure the ball more than we’ve seen,” Bucs Coach Nathan Reck said. “We don’t see a lot of man defense, so we’re going to have to be smart with the basketball.”

Fortunately, Reck has a steady point guard in junior Lauren Donlea, who averages 4.1 assists and 5.5 steals per game in addition to her 13.8 points per contest, and sports an assist-to-turnover ratio of nearly 3-to-1.

“She has really stepped up her offensive game,” Reck said. “She’s one of the best point guards that nobody has heard about.”

Among other area ranked teams, 2A No. 3 West Branch (18-1) hosts Pella Christian (9-12), and 1A No. 6 Montezuma (20-1) welcomes SICL rival North Mahaska (15-3).

Friday’s Class 2A regional semifinals

(All games, 7 p.m.)

Region 1

MFL MarMac (16-6) at Maquoketa Valley (21-0)

Dyersville Beckman (12-10) vs. Sumner-Fredericksburg (17-6), at Independence

Region 3

Pella Christian (9-12) at West Branch (18-1)

Iowa City Regina (11-7) at Van Buren County (15-5)

Region 4

Waterloo Columbus (11-11) at North Linn (19-2)

Wilton (12-10) at Bellevue (19-1)

Friday’s Class 1A regional semifinals

(All games, 7 p.m.)

Region 3

Nashua-Plainfield (12-10) at Saint Ansgar (20-1)

East Buchanan (13-9) at Turkey Valley (18-5)

Region 5

Clinton Prince of Peace (16-4) at Springville (19-4)

Burlington Notre Dame (18-1) at Winfield-Mount Union (18-0)

Region 6

North Mahaska (15-3) at Montezuma (20-1)

Collins-Maxwell (22-1) at Baxter (20-2)

Region 8

Stanton (20-2) at Exira-EHK (21-0)

Sigourney (18-5) vs. Lenox (19-3), at Osceola

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

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