Oh what might have been …
If not for their coldest shooting fourth quarter of their season, Perry would almost certainly have topped Harlan in their Regional Final and qualified for the Class 4A State Tournament.
As it was, the Jayettes were bounced from the postseason with a 16-7 record, a mark that included a 10-6 run in a very tough Raccoon River Conference. Two starters from that squad have graduated, and while the Jayettes will face a size deficit in most of their games this year, the return of two all-state players leaves Perry a serious contender to make their first return to the state tourney since winning it all in 2002.
"If we can shoot the ball just a little bit better and stay out of foul trouble while playing the kind of defense I think we are capable of we can be pretty darn good," veteran head coach Mike Long said. "That is not just shooting from outside, either … it also means we can’t miss the number of short inside shots we missed last year."
The Iowa Newspaper Association sportswriters conferred First Team All-State honors to junior Claire Marburger and Third Team All-State honors to junior Maggie Lowe for their play during their sophomore seasons. Both will be expected to match, and in some areas, improve upon those efforts.
"Claire is going to have to 10 have rebounds a game instead of six or seven and we will need her to be more consistent on her 3-point shooting," Long said of his high-scoring forward, who sank 16-of-60, or 26.7 percent, of her shots behind the arc last year. "If she can shoot just a little better at the line she could easily average 20 or more points (per game)."
Marburger was the lead scorer among freshmen in 4A two years ago and last winter finished fourth in total points (421) and third in average (18.3 ppg) in 4A among sophomores. She hit 50.0 percent of her shots from the floor and 65.4 percent of her free throws while grabbing 121 rebounds and making 55 steals. Marburger had 47 assists and had 48 blocks, an impressive total for a non-post player.
Lowe dominated 4A in total assists, with her 158 "dimes" 51 better than the next-best total. She scored 243 points, an average of 10.6 per outing to go with her 6.9 assists per contest and had 56 steals and 11 blocks and averaged 3.7 rebounds per game.
"We cannot have our point guard shooting 42 percent at the line (Lowe hit just 26-of-62 free throws)," Long said. "If she shoots 60 percent the difference will have a big impact for us.
"Maggie needs to hit more of her layups but also needs not to be too cautious, because it really helps us and makes the whole team better when she is aggressive with the ball," he added. "What we need is for her and Claire to both be ‘on’ at the same time. When that happens we can cause problems for the other team."
Long said one of the keys he would be looking for is improvement in getting the ball to Marburger.
"Sometimes we had trouble getting the ball to Claire and that slows us down too much," he explained. "We know the other team is going to focus on trying to deny her the ball and we have to beat the defense and get her the ball in the right spots."
One of the biggest factors could be the play of junior Amy Marckres, who had 47 points, 64 rebounds and 43 assists last season.
"Amy played good defense for us last year and we will need that even more this year," Long said. "She also has to be more of a threat with the ball. We cannot let the defense be able to slide off her."
Guard Julie Diw will step into a starting role after averaging 6.3 points and 2.8 rebounds per game last year. She was second on the team in 3-pointers made with 21 and will play an important role both offensively and especially on defense.
The final starting spot remains up for grabs, Long said. Victoria Hegstrom and Erica Tenold both saw limited action at the varsity level last year, with Miah York and freshman Grace Marburger also candidates for playing time.
"We are right on the edge," Long said. "If we do just a few things a little bit better we can have a really good year. If we don’t, we could just as easily slide backwards. It is up to the girls and how much they want it."