Prep Basketball

After long, long waits, Springville and Monticello are back at boys' state basketball tournament

Orioles return after 45-yard drought, Panthers after 60-year drought

The Springville bench and fans celebrate a basket against Pekin during the first half of a Class 1A substate basketball
The Springville bench and fans celebrate a basket against Pekin during the first half of a Class 1A substate basketball game at West High School in Iowa City on Saturday, February 29, 2020. (Cliff Jette/Freelance for The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Back in the summer, Springville and Monticello founds themselves at the same boys’ basketball team camp in Mason City.

Springville won the small school division of the camp, which was held by North Iowa Area Community College. Monticello won the bigger school division.

Funny how it works that a few months later those same two schools are at the same basketball event again this week.

Though the stakes are a bit higher.

Springville is in the Class 1A portion of the state tournament at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Monticello is in the 2A part. Man, it’d be something if they won their respective divisions again.

2020 Iowa boys' state basketball tournament predictions

“It has gone from being exciting, to turning your attention to winning some more basketball games,” said Springville Coach Nick Merritt. “That’s probably been the biggest thing, trying to turn the attention from that because there obviously are a lot of people excited about this.”

Springville (20-6) plays a 1A quarterfinal Monday afternoon at 1 against Algona Garrigan (22-2). It’s a 7 versus 2 game, seed wise.

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Monticello (21-2) gets matched up for a third time this season in its 2A quarterfinal Tuesday morning at 9:30 against River Valley Conference rival Camanche (21-3). The teams, seeded fourth and fifth, split a pair of games in the regular season.

“It’s been busy, but, yes, I’ve had a chance to enjoy this,” said Monticello Coach Tim Lambert. “Saturday night after our substate final win (over Dyersville Beckman), then Sunday was pretty calm, too. A lot of people have reached out, a lot of former players. Pretty neat.”

Springville’s only previous trip to state came way back in 1975. Not even former Orioles star and NBA player Al Eberhard can say he played at the state tournament, but these kids can.

Monticello has made it twice prior, in 1959 and 1960. Bob Matthiessen was one of the top players on those Panthers teams, and he appeared at practice the other day to give a pep talk and show current players and coaches old newspaper clippings about his team, which finished fourth in a four-team. all-class tournament at the University of Iowa.

Waterloo East, Marshalltown and Sioux Center were the other schools there.

“It has been 60 years since someone has done this. What an accomplishment,” Matthiessen told this Monti team. “Our team averaged 78 points a game and broke 100 four times. Back then there wasn’t a 3-pointer ... Everybody on our team averaged double figures, and I know you have a nice balanced team, and that’s big. We beat Camanche the last time. You’ve got to be positive. You’ve got a lot going on the next three or four days, and you’ve got to get focused on the job. You’re gonna have butterflies and nerves, but once that game starts, that all goes away.”

Monticello essentially tied with Camanche for first place in the River Valley North Division. A late cancellation meant the Panthers ended up playing one fewer conference game than Camanche, though they ended with just the loss to each other and decided to share the title.

Springville hopes to become this year’s Alburnett. The Pirates were an unheralded 7-seed last year that was overshadowed in the Tri-Rivers Conference by undefeated 2A North Linn but made it all the way to the 1A championship game.

These Orioles have excelled despite no player taller than 6-foot-2 and with a defense that wasn’t used the first game of the season. Springville trailed Easton Valley and started to press late to get back in the game.

It worked so well, the press has become a staple.

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“It was definitely different,” said senior guard Kyle Koppes. “The three of the four years I’ve played, we never pressed. It was just different. We had to get conditioned more than previous years. I think this group, it fits us perfectly, it’s what we’re good at: running up and down the court.”

“It kind of speeds up other teams and gets them out of their rhythm,” said sophomore guard Luke Menster.

Monticello is much more of a half-court team offensively, led by post guy Justin Recker. He and fellow juniors Luke Lambert (the coach’s son) and Connor Lambert (the coach’s nephew) all started last year as sophomores.

Recker has started since he was a freshman.

“Thrill of a lifetime to accomplish. We’ve played together so much, this is a reward to get,” Recker said. “Second grade we played a lot of tournaments together. Todd Lambert, who is actually our (assistant) coach now, coached us back then, too. That has helped a lot. We know how to play with each other, know what everyone on the court is doing. It’s been real beneficial.”

“We’ve progressed over the years, obviously have gotten better,” Luke Lambert said. “Now we’re here.”

And they want to stay there all week. A quarterfinal victory assures they’ll get two more games.

Considering all of the underclassmen around, you’d be surprised if it takes Springville and Monticello another 45 and 60 years, respectively, to get back to Des Moines.

“Normally we’re known as a girls’ (basketball) school that goes to state,” Koppes said. “That’s something that really feels good for us. We’ve sat in so many student sections at girls’ state and stuff, we just wanted a shot. Now it’s our turn.

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“Our athleticism, our quickness, just the way we play together. We all hang out outside of basketball, outside of school. We play well with each other, move the ball well. We know we can do it. We’ve just got to show up when we get there.”

Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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