It was a record-setting season for the Nevada girls’ basketball program as the Cubs continued their march forward with another 19-win campaign.
Nevada finished 19-5 overall to match last season’s record. The Cubs claimed their first conference championship since 1987-88 in 2013-14 with an impressive 17-1 Heart of Iowa Conference mark, and they reached the regional finals in Class 3A, coming painfully shy of reaching state.
"Last year we took a big step forward in a number of wins, this year although we ended with the same record, we raised our level of play considerably," Nevada head coach Kristin Meyer said. "A big reason we were able to do so was that we returned a number of players with considerable varsity experience. We were able to blend them with the new freshmen, and what they lacked in experience, they made up for in competitiveness and willingness to learn so they fit in easily."
The Cubs opened the season a little sluggish. With several players coming fresh off the state volleyball tournament, Nevada wasn’t fully dialed in against Boone in its opener, suffering a 48-40 setback at the hands of the Toreadors.
It didn’t take long for things to come together after that.
Nevada reeled off four consecutive victories – whipping HOIC foes Prairie City-Monroe, South Hamilton, Colfax-Mingo and Collins-Maxwell-Baxter by an average margin of 33 points. On Dec. 13, the Cubs traveled to Alleman and took on defending HOIC champions North Polk.
The Cubs nearly came back from a big third-quarter deficit before suffering a 56-53 loss at the hands of the Comets.
The loss may have done more good than harm for Nevada. The Cubs followed it up by winning 10 of their next 11 games.
Nevada’s only loss in that stretch was a 48-37 road game versus non-conference rival Ballard – an eventual Class 4A state semifinalist. The biggest victory in that stretch was an impressive 66-52 revenge win over North Polk on Jan. 24 – a win that gave Nevada sole possession of first place in the HOIC.
"A really big game was beating a very good North Polk team at home, which helped us secure the conference championship," said Meyer.
Bondurant-Farrar knocked off Nevada by a 44-33 score in Bondurant on Feb. 1. The Cubs came back to win their final three games of the regular season, whipping Gilbert, Roland-Story and Greene County by an average of 26 points to clinch the HOIC championship.
Regional play began with a decisive 65-26 victory over Greene County at home. The Cubs then won a 39-38 defensive war over traditional power Kuemper Catholic in Nevada on Feb. 19 to advance to the regional finals for the second season in a row.
"The most exciting game I’ve ever been a part of or witnessed in person was the end of our Kuemper game," Meyer said. "Fighting back from down nine in the fourth quarter is a testament to our girls and their competitiveness and composure."
Last year Nevada was overwhelmed by eventual 3A state runner-up Estherville/Lincoln-Central in the regional finals, losing by a 62-31 score. This season Nevada had a rematch with Bondurant-Farrar, and it was anything but a blowout between two teams that also played for the right to go to state in volleyball during the previous fall.
The Cub-Bluejay regional final was a gritty, well-played game that was tight throughout. The game was tied in the final seconds when Bondurant-Farrar had the ball and misfired on a go-ahead shot with just a couple seconds left.
But an offensive rebound and putback at the buzzer gave Bondurant-Farrar a thrilling 47-45 victory. Even though the Cub locker room was filled with heartache after the game, nothing could take away from what the team had accomplished during the season.
"Even though we didn’t win, our regional final was one of our best games of the season," Meyer said. "Both teams played great for four quarters, executed their game plans and knocked down big shots. We ended up unlucky on the last play of the game, but it was a great matchup between two top-10 teams."
"We were all disappointed that we fell short of our goal to compete for state," Meyer added. "But overall our team has a lot to be proud of. Conference champions for the first time in 25 years, earning 19 wins and breaking a number of team and individual school records are all great accomplishments."
The 5-on-5 team records Nevada tied or broke this season were: wins in a season (tied with 2012-13), points scored in a season (1,275), average points per game (53.1), blocks in a season (187), blocks in a game (15 versus Saydel on Jan. 28), assists in a season (346), assists in a game (22 versus Greene County on Feb. 15), field goals made in a season (465), season field-goal percentage (40.2 percent), 3-pointers made in a season (147), free throws made in a game (24 versus North Polk on Jan. 24) and lowest opponent field-goal percentage allowed in a season (27.2 percent).
Nevada ended up shooting 29.5 percent from 3-point range and 57.4 percent from the line as a team. The Cubs finished with an average victory margin of 18.3 points after limiting foes to 34.8 points per game, and they posted a 31.3-27.5 average rebound margin and forced an average of 19.6 turnovers per game.
"We were a very tough team to defend this year because we had so many offensive threats, and defensively we were just as solid, holding our opponents to the second-lowest scoring total in 3A," Meyer said.
Seniors Jessica Helton and Megan Pringnitz, and sophomores Kati Cassabaum and Alli Fey led the way individually for Nevada. Helton and Cassabaum were both first-team all-HOIC performers and Pringnitz and Fey made second-team all-conference.
Helton averaged 11.6 points, shooting 37 percent from the field and 72 percent from the line. She became Nevada’s all-time 5-on-5 leading scorer with 816 points – surpassing the 766 by Crystal Moody – and passed Anne Hoover’s career school record in steals with 171.
Helton shot 36 percent from 3-point range, making 41 shots from behind the arc. She tied for the team lead in steals with 2.2 per game and also averaged 2.5 assists and rebounds per game respectively.
Cassabaum was the defensive anchor for Nevada. The athletic 6-0 center set a school record for rebounds (254) and blocks (111) in a season – averaging 10.6 and 4.6 per game respectively.
"Kati had another great season for us," Meyer said. "She averaged a double-double and broke our blocked-shots record. A great example of her personal growth was her performance in our last game against Bondurant-Farrar, because we trusted her to be our No. 1 option and she excelled, going 8 of 9 from the field and finishing with 19 points."
Cassabaum also averaged 11 points, shooting 56 percent from the field and 54 percent from the line. She matched Helton for the team in steals as well.
Pringnitz became Nevada’s all-time leader in assists (220) and 3-pointers (151). She also set the school single-season mark in 3-pointers this year with 58 and tied Helton, Amber Ramthun and Natalie Tendall’s single-game 3-point mark with six.
Pringnitz averaged a team-best 3.2 assists; she also pulled down 5.4 rebounds and tallied 1.4 steals and 1.3 blocks per game. Pringnitz averaged 9.5 points, shooting 34 percent from the field, 32 percent from 3-point range and 59 percent from the line.
Fey put up 7.3 points per game, shooting 41 percent from the field and 56 percent from the line. She made 20 3-pointers and averaged 2.8 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 2.0 steals.
"Alli’s hard work in the offseason paid off big for us this year," Meyer said. "She provided another ball handler and legitimate scoring threat."
Senior forward Emma Lodestein was Nevada’s other returning regular with quality varsity experience. She averaged 3.8 points, 3.1 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.0 steals and also totaled 11 blocks on the season.
Junior Raegan Saunders also had a lot of varsity time last year, but she was recovering from a knee injury and only able to see limited time in eight games during 2013-14.
Senior center Christine Ausman provided some help inside off the bench. She was a good defensive presence in the middle, averaging 2.0 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game.
"The senior class has played a big role in moving Nevada from 7-15 their freshman year to a top-10 19-5 team their junior and senior years," Meyer said. "Jessica and Megan started varsity all four years and their impact is obvious by looking at our school-record book. We would not have had such a successful year this year without Emma and Christine. Both players did a lot of unglamorous, but very important, jobs all season long."
Claire Ausman and Abby Stephenson were the two freshmen inserted into the varsity lineup this year and they both provided a tremendous amount of energy and productive play.
Claire hit 26 3-pointers and averaged 5.5 points and 2.0 rebounds per game. Stephenson was a defensive whiz and she averaged 3.9 points, 2.5 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 1.5 steals.
"Clair and Abby were great additions to our team this season," Meyer said. "Claire gave us another outside shooter and made our team stronger by bringing a high level of focus and competitiveness to our practices. Abby is one of those rare players who loves playing defense and made many opposing point guards very frustrated throughout the season."
Next season will be the start of a new era of sorts after the departure of Helton, Pringnitz, Lodestein and Christine Ausman. But with four talented regulars returning, plus a healthy Saunders poised to return to full-time play, the Cubs have the potential to defend their conference title and make a run again at state in 2014-15.
"We’re excited to see what we can do next year," Meyer said. "I think the five players we have coming back with varsity experience are motivated to put in the work needed to take us to the next level competitively. We also expect to get additional help from the players on this year’s strong JV team, as well as look forward to the incoming freshman class."