Though a fourth-straight trip to state wasn’t in the cards, the Nevada girls’ basketball team still made plenty of noise in 2017-18 as the Cubs earned a piece of yet another Heart of Iowa Conference title and reached the Class 3A regional finals.
Nevada went 18-6 overall and finished in a three-way tie for first atop the HOIC with a 12-2 record with Roland-Story and 3A state semifinalist North Polk.
“I thought we did a lot of nice things this year,” Nevada head girls’ basketball coach Tony Neubauer said. “I think our success this year was a combination of a couple things. One, I think our captains were great leaders. They set the tone in practice and games when it came to working hard and playing together as a team. Our defense also carried us again this year. We were top five in 3A in defensive scoring average again. And lastly, our young guards consistently got better.”
Four-time all-state center Lexy Koudelka and jack-of-all-trades forward Hattie Rhodes were the two senior leaders for Nevada. They made it a lot easier for an inexperienced backcourt, juniors Amanda Fortmann, Kelby Rewerts and Riley Mailey and freshman Addi Vorm, to transition into competing at a high level in varsity competition.
Sophomore Kacie Rewerts also stepped up to be a big weapon on the wing for Nevada, and senior Grace Francis was valuable inside and outside off the bench.
Mental toughness was also a key element to Nevada’s success. Kelby Rewerts was lost for the season in the Cubs’ fourth game after suffering an ACL injury, Fortmann missed four game due to sickness and a concussion and Koudelka had to miss four games with a minor knee injury.
“We definitely got thrown a few curve balls with injuries this year,” Neubauer said. “I was really proud of how our kids handled things. They never made excuses. The next girl always stepped up and played hard.”
The season began eerily similar to last season. Nevada fell to eventual 4A state qualifier Boone on a last-second shot by Caitlynne Shadle for the second year in a row — 51-49.
But that game showed that even with a new supporting cast replacing a talented veteran crew off last year’s team in Abby Stephenson, Claire Ausman, Izzy Kapustka and Holly Coogler, Nevada was still going to be a forced to be reckoned with.
The Cubs whipped up on Grand View Christian, 71-35, then picked up an impressive 42-29 road win over North Polk. Those two victores sparked a 13-game winning streak that had the Cubs back on top in the HOIC and ranked sixth in 3A.
Nevada defeated South Hamilton (56-25), Gilbert (43-25) and Prairie City-Monroe (58-25), then earned a big quality home win Dec. 15 over Roland-Story by a 42-27 margin. The Cubs edged 4A rival Ballard, 34-31, and trounced Greene County by a 45-21 margin in their final two games before Christmas.
After the break, Nevada took its game to another level. Rewerts, Fortmann, Mailey and Francis had established themselves as formidable role players to support Koudelka and Rhodes, and Vorm began to establish herself.
The Cubs crushed Saydel (53-27), a strong 1A team in rival Colo-NESCO (58-33), South Hamilton (76-41), Newton (77-44) and Greene County (50-29). But during the Greene County game, Nevada was dealt a huge blow when Koudelka suffered her knee injury.
Losing Koudelka came at just the wrong time as North Polk and Roland-Story awaited on Jan. 19 and 26. The Cubs gave great efforts in both games without Koudelka, but fell to their ranked opposition by respective scores of 44-31 and 40-25.
Nevada picked up a 56-41 win at PCM in between the two losses. On Jan. 29, the Cubs were overpowered by a strong Des Moines Christian team, 44-17.
Koudelka returned to the lineup against Saydel Jan. 30. Nevada need all of her 24 points and eight rebounds in limited minutes, pulling off a 58-46 win.
Nevada clinched a share of the conference title with a 43-29 win at Gilbert on Feb. 2. The Cubs then fell to eventual 2A state runner-up Grundy Center, 45-35, to end the regular season.
On Feb. 10, Nevada opened 3A regional play at home with a 58-26 drubbing of Saydel. The Cubs then rolled over Clarke, 58-32, in the semifinals to reach the regional finals for the sixth year in a row and set up a rubber match with North Polk at Huxley for a trip to state.
Koudelka was amazing in the regional finals, putting up 28 points, 19 rebounds and three blocks. But with her knee still not 100 percent, Neubauer opted not to use the 1-3-1 zone defense that gave North Polk fits in the first meeting between the two teams.
The Comets were able to surge past the Cubs in the second half, handing them a 46-42 loss.
“We were really playing at a high level when Lexy got hurt,” Neubauer said. “I’m sure things would have been a little bit different if that doesn’t happen. But injuries are part of sports and are never a good excuse for anything. Even with all of our injuries and losses to graduation, we were still in the regional finals, and were within an eyelash of making it to state again.”
“Our kids should be extremely proud of what they accomplished this year,” Neubauer said. “I know the great deal amount of success that the Nevada girls’ sports programs have had over the past six years or so has set the bar pretty high. But for our seniors finishing their careers with 87 wins, four conference championships, a (3A) state title, (3A) state runner-up and quarterfinal appearance in 4A is pretty special. I feel pretty blessed to be a small part of that journey.”
Nevada averaged 49.0 points, shot 44 percent from the field, 61.4 percent from the line and made 86 3-pointers at a 28.5-percent success rate. The Cubs averaged 15.3 assists against 14.8 turnovers per game.
Defensively, Nevada ranked fourth in 3A, allowing just 34.8 points per game. The Cubs held their opposition to just 28.8-percent shooting from the field and they forced 18.2 turnovers per game.
Rebounding was also a strong suit for Nevada. The Cubs outrebounded opposing teams by an average of 32.0 to 24.2 per game.
Koudelka was an absolute force in the middle, making all-state for the fourth year in a row and being named to the first team for the third-consecutive season. She was named the Iowa Basketball Coaches Association 3A Player of the Year and was a finalist for Miss Iowa Basketball by the Iowa Print Sports Writers Association.
“I don’t know that I’ve been around a better all-around basketball player and person than Lexy,” Neubauer said of the Illinois State recruit. “Her career at Nevada will go down as legendary. She is just special kid in every sense of the word. I really think she is absolutely steal for Illinois State.”
Koudelka led 3A in scoring and rebounding this season, averaging 23.9 points and 14.1 rebounds per game. She ranked third in field-goal accuracy among players with at least 100 field goals in 3A, shooting at 65.6 percent, and she also rated fourth in total blocks with 57 — averaging 2.9 per game.
Koudelka also shot 71.6 percent from the field and averaged 2.0 steals and 1.7 assists per game.
Koudelka set the school single-game scoring mark with 40 points against Grand View Christian, then broke that record against Newton with 44 points. Koudelka also set the single-game rebounding mark against Newton with 25.
“She probably would have hit 50 in each game, but she was far more concerned with seeing her teammates get on the court,” Neubauer said.
Rhodes was named to the all-HOIC first team this season after making the second team last year. She did a little bit of everything, averaging 5.1 points, 7.0 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 2.1 steals and placing fifth in 3A for total blocks with 54 — averaging 2.3 per game.
“Hattie epitomizes what being a team player is all about,” Neubauer said. “She had to wear a lot of different hats in her high school career. She sacrificed scoring a lot of times so the team could be successful. Without her willingness to do the tough jobs and do them well, we wouldn’t have anywhere near the success that we did. Great leader and more importantly, even better person.”
Kacie Rewerts stepped up to make the all-HOIC second team in her first season as a starter.
Kacie averaged 7.3 points, 3.0 rebounds, 2.3 steals and 2.2 assists per game. She shot 50 percent from the field.
“She was our defensive workhorse this year, especially in our 1-3-1,” Neubauer said. “She was like a jackrabbit that never got tired at the top of our 1-3-1, and did a great job of finishing in transition off of it.”
Fortmann was all-HOIC honorable mention in her first year at point guard. She produced 3.7 points, 2.8 assists, 2.6 steals and 2.4 rebounds per game.
“Amanda did a great job of stepping into our point guard role this year,” Neubauer said. “Her defense was was sensational and she progressively got better handling the basketball as the season went on. She cuts to the basket well and will only get better offensively.”
Mailey also made all-HOIC honorable mention as the team’s top 3-point shooter. Mailey drilled 41 3s, shot 72.7 percent from the line and she averaged 6.6 points, 2.3 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.2 steals.
“Riley did a great job of stepping into a starting role when Kelby got hurt,” Neubauer said. “She was our best outside shooter and hit some absolutely huge shots this season in some big games. Her defense also greatly improved from last season.”
Vorm came on strong the second half of the season to make big contributions both as a starter and off the bench in her first year of varsity competition.
Vorm averaged 4.8 points, 1.9 rebounds and 1.7 assists. She ranked second on the team in total 3s with 17.
“Addi kind of got thrown into the fire when we caught the injury bug,” Neubauer said. “She had some really big games for us when we needed her. She was our most aggressive player attacking the rim on offense. She is only going to get better each year and I’m excited to see what she accomplishes her last three years of high school.”
Francis averaged 1.9 points, 2.7 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 1.2 assists as a big contributor off the bench. She also made five 3-pointers and set the school record for charges taken in a game with three.
“Grace did a little bit of everything this year,” Neubauer said. “She played inside and outside and had to play a lot of different roles defensively. She gave us a lot of depth in different areas and always worked hard.”
Kelby Rewerts averaged 2.8 points, 2.5 assists and 2.3 rebounds in her limited action before the ACL injury.
“Kelby had a great summer in the gym and worked her way into a starting position,” Neubauer said. “She played sensational defense and hit two huge threes in our win at North Polk. She has a very high basketball IQ and is a great team leader. Even after her knee injury, she was still at every practice, encouraging her teammates and staying engaged as to what was going on. She’ll be a great senior leader next year.”
Elizabeth Wessels was Nevada’s other senior competitor alongside Koudelka, Rhodes and Francis. She scored nine points and had six rebounds on the season.
“Having Elizabeth in our program was an absolute joy,” Neubauer said. “She worked hard every single day and always did everything that we asked of her. A lot of times she played the other teams best shooter in practice and did a great job. The manner in which she carried herself with the utmost character and integrity is what you want in your program.”
Next season it will be hard for Nevada to replace the four seniors. The Cubs will also have to adjust to a new coaching style as Neubauer is leaving the program.
“A lot of different things played into the decision to move on from Nevada,” Neubauer said. “The desire to be a head football coach again is a big part of it. I left a head coaching position in Arizona to come to Nevada. I also have a young family at home. My son is three and my daughter is two. I’d like to be around more and be a bigger part of their lives. Basketball is a long grind of a season, which consumes my life for four months of the year. I’ve been coaching basketball since I was 20 years old, the last six years as a head coach, so I’m sure I’ll be part of it in some sort of fashion again in the future, just not as a head coach right now.”
“I feel extremely blessed to have been Nevada’s head girls’ basketball coach,” Neubauer said. “I inherited a great program with great kids. I’ll take a lot great memories from the past two seasons. I want to thank the community of Nevada for being so supportive of our program the past two years. There truly are great fans here. I’d also like to thank my two assistants, Mark Hersom and Scott Uthe, for all of their help. I’d also like to thank our parents for allowing me the privilege of working such great kids. I genuinely enjoyed coming to the gym each day and working with such great kids. Both of the ADs, Kyle Hutchinson and Dustin Smith, were absolutely great to work for. I couldn’t have asked for anything more the past two years. Lastly, I want to thank all of our players. It truly was an honor and a privilege being a part of your lives.”
But with the return of both Rewerts girls, along with Fortmann, Mailey and Vorm, the Nevada girls still have a solid core to build around for whomever takes over the coaching reins in 2017-18.