Prep Basketball

At state basketball, Prairie's Sidney McCrea and Mallory McDermott are 'where we've always wanted to be'

Hawks take their act to Des Moines

Cedar Rapids Prairie's Mallory McDermott (10, left) and Sidney McCrea (2) walk off the court together after winning a ga
Cedar Rapids Prairie's Mallory McDermott (10, left) and Sidney McCrea (2) walk off the court together after winning a game at Cedar Rapids Kennedy on Jan. 31. McDermott and McCrea have led Prairie to a 20-3 record and its first state tournament berth in 14 years. The Hawks face Iowa City High in a Class 5A quarterfinal at 10 a.m. Monday at Wells Fargo Arena, Des Moines. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Sidney McCrea is conservative with her words.

“I wouldn’t say I’m quiet, but I only speak when I have something to say,” said the senior from Cedar Rapids Prairie.

When McCrea talks, it matters. And it’s impactful.

There’s this, from her first meeting with Mallory McDermott:

“I moved here after fourth grade,” McDermott said. “We were at open gym that summer, before fifth grade. Sid and I had the same sweatbands, the same headbands.

“Right away, she came up to me and said, ‘I’m Sid, and someday we’re going to be teammates.’”

And there’s this, when Prairie Coach Josh Bentley ran the idea by McCrea of playing varsity girls’ basketball as a freshman:

“I asked if she thought she was ready, and if she could handle it,” Bentley recalled. “Sid said, ‘I didn’t expect anything else, I was just wanting to ask you for a key to the gym.’”

For four years, McCrea and McDermott have elevated the Hawks’ program to its current level. Prairie (20-3) spent the entire season ranked in the Class 5A top 10, winning its first 15 games and climbing as high as No. 3.

After a late-season slide forced them to play their regional final on the road, the ninth-ranked Hawks stormed from behind with a late 23-0 run to defeat No. 8 Davenport North, 54-45.

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The result is Prairie’s first state-tournament trip since 2006; the Hawks face No. 2 Iowa City High (22-1) in a first-round game at 10 a.m. Monday at Wells Fargo Arena, Des Moines.

“Every regional-final heartbreak, every morning workout, it all felt worth it,” McDermott said. “In our heads, we knew we were going to be fine. We looked at the situation and said, ‘Let’s go.’ We needed to make something happen.”

The rally started in the third quarter, right after North had scored 15 straight points for a 12-point lead.

“We knew there was a lot of time left,” McCrea said. “Even though we were still down five going to the fourth quarter, Coach said we had eight minutes and four timeouts.

“Once we got rolling, I knew we had the momentum.”

The comeback meant at least one more game. For Bentley, who said earlier in the season that he “couldn’t forgive myself” if McCrea and McDermott didn’t experience a state tournament, he was able to let himself off the hook.

“If we hadn’t made it with this senior class (which also includes Jenna Leggat), I’d really have to reflect on if we were doing things right here,” he said.

A 5-foot-8 guard, McDermott was named the player of the year on the all-Metro and MVC Mississippi Division honor teams, tallying 22.2 points per game and shooting 48 percent from 3-point range. But she’s more than just a pure shooter now.

“Since last season, she worked on becoming a complete player,” Bentley said. “She realized that free throws were just as important as a big 3.”

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McDermott went to the free-throw line 113 times this season, hitting 84.1 percent of her attempts.

From the point position, the 5-foot-10 McCrea averaged 17.6 points, 6.2 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game. She’s somewhat of a chameleon, filling whatever role is needed based on what the opponent gives her.

“She’s so good at adjusting,” Bentley said. “One night, she’d score 30 points, then the next night it was 10 points, 12 rebounds and six assists.

“In mid-December, she took a step back and got everybody else going, and that really helped our team.”

Since their first open-gym encounter more than seven years ago, McDermott and McCrea have forged a deep friendship. Both are gym rats and have spent countless hours training together.

“We get along great,” McDermott said. “No issues; we’ve honestly never had a fight, even though we’re different personality-wise — Sid is a little more quiet. I’m a little more outgoing.”

Both wear headbands; McDermott’s brand is Nike; McCrea’s is UnderArmour. McCrea gets ready quickly for games; McDermott is a little more of a dawdler. So while McDermott takes her time, McCrea fills both of their water bottles.

McCrea scored 33 on her ACT and will major in biomedical engineering on a pre-med track at Northern Illinois University.

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A Western Illinois signee, McDermott comes from a coaching family. Her maternal grandfather is former Cedar Rapids Jefferson boys’ track coach Ron Tower; her paternal grandpa is Tom McDermott, longtime football coach at North Tama. Her father, Mark McDermott, coached girls’ basketball at Iowa City West.

Mallory wants to follow their path and coach at the collegiate level after her playing days end.

Prairie went to City High on Feb. 7 and absorbed an 85-53 beating.

“We didn’t play well, and they played really well. We were embarrassed,” McDermott said. “We want to be in position to be in the game late.

McCrea said, “We need to play better, both ends of the court. But I’m confident.

“This is where we’ve always wanted to be.”

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

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