The Colo-NESCO boys’ basketball team won a conference championship, but struggled down the stretch in 2017-18.

The Royal boys went 12-9 overall and claimed the Iowa Star Conference South Division title with a 9-1 record. Heading into late January, Colo-NESCO looked as if it could do some damage in the postseason, but the Royals ended up losing their final three games, including suffering a 60-53 loss to conference rival Baxter in the Class 1A district quarterfinals.

“Our season was very up and down this year,” Colo-NESCO head boys’ basketball coach Patrick Wynja said. “We were lucky enough to have a tough schedule this year and we played some really good teams tough. We just couldn’t get over the hump and play consistent enough for an entire game to beat those great teams.”

Colo-NESCO started the season 4-0. The Royals whipped Collins-Maxwell (69-30), North Tama (62-43) and CAL (69-36), and they pulled off a 54-51 squeaker over Meskwaki on Dec. 8 at Colo.

West Marshall handed Colo-NESCO its first loss, 76-50, Dec. 9 at Colo. The Royals rebounded with a 65-55 win at GMG on Dec. 15, but four days later, Baxter handed them their only loss of ISC South Division play, 46-43, at Colo.

Colo-NESCO came back with a hard-fought 48-46 win over South Hardin at home in its final game before Christmas.

After the break, Colo-NESCO ran into two larger schools in 3A rival Nevada and eventual 2A state qualifier South Hamilton. Nevada defeated the Royals by a 52-41 score and South Hamilton handed Colo-NESCO a 65-51 defeat.

The Royals trounced Collins-Maxwell by a 79-36 score and pulled off a 67-55 win over North Tama in their next two games. Then they went up against defending 1A state champion and eventual state qualifier Grand View Christian, and suffered a 65-50 setback.

“This team grew the most after Christmas when we faced South Hamilton and Grand View Christian,” Wynja said. “We started rough in both of these games, but battled back in the second half to give both of these state tournament teams a game. The kids realized we had the potential; we just had to find a way to put an entire game together.”

Colo-NESCO won four of its next five games after Grand View Christian.

The Royals won at Meskwaki, 53-41, and crushed BCLUW by a 69-28 score. They suffered a 59-48 home loss to Dunkerton on Jan. 22, but came back with a 70-61 win over GMG.

Then the Royals earned their biggest triumph of the season, a 58-55 overtime win at Baxter to secure the ISC South Division crown.

“Beating Baxter on their home floor to win the conference was a huge highlight for this group,” Wynja said. “It was a great atmosphere and our kids made some huge plays to take the lead in that game. We gave up a 3-pointer to send it into overtime, and our kids could have let that affect them and throw in the towel. They decided to battle and they controlled the overtime to pull out the win and the championship. They will always be remembered by me as conference champions and they had to earn it.”

The regular season ended with Colo-NESCO facing a non-conference 2A rival in Roland-Story, plus a strong ISC North Division squad in Janesville. The Royals dropped both games in heartbreaking fashion, 42-39 and 52-49 respectively, and they couldn’t turn the tide against Baxter at districts.

For the season, Colo-NESCO averaged 56.5 points, shooting 43.4 percent from the field, 63.1 percent from the line and making 73 3-pointers at a 26.6-percent clip. The Royals gave up 50.2 points per game and opposing teams shot 40 percent from the field, 61 percent from the line and 30 percent from 3-point range.

“Our biggest challenges this year were shooting the ball and defending the 3-point line,” Wynja said. “We did a great job of getting great shots, we just weren’t consistent enough in finishing those shots. Our 3-point defense really improved the last part of the season.”

Colo-NESCO outrebounded its opposition by a 33.2-27.2 margin. The Royals averaged 11.2 turnovers per game.

Seniors Matthew Hill, Philip Bower, Jacob Clatt, Sean Cutler, Bryce Niemeyer and Mason Lytle were the driving force for Colo-NESCO all season.

Hill had an outstanding final year in the post, averaging 20.4 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.5 blocks and 1.1 steals. He shot 53.9 percent from the field and 70.6 percent from the line.

“Matthew Hill completed a great career at C-N,” Wynja said. “He ended up with 995 points, and I feel for him because he missed out on a regular season finale game because of a weather cancellation.”

Bower was tremendous at point guard, averaging 11.1 points, 6.7 assists, 3.2 rebounds and 1.0 steals. Bower made 19 3-pointers at a 31.7-percent rate and shot 42 percent overall from the field.

Clatt was a force inside, putting up 10.7 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game. He shot 55 percent from the field and 65.8 percent from the line.

Cutler was the team’s top 3-point shooter, converting 45 shots from beyond the arc at a 28.5-percent clip and averaging 7.8 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.8 assists. Cutler was the team’s top free-throw shooter as well, converting 84.6 percent of his foul shots.

Niemeyer produced 2.6 points and 3.6 rebounds per game and shot 43.8 percent from the field. Lytle tallied 1.7 points and 1.9 rebounds per game.

“Our senior class of six left a great impression on the basketball program,” Wynja said. “They played a ton of minutes over their careers and were part of three conference championships in their four years. It has been awesome to see how they have grown as basketball players and young men. We truly have some of the best kids around at Colo-NESCO.”

Junior guard Kelly Gray was the only underclassman to see regular minutes for Colo-NESCO. Gray averaged 1.5 points, 1.6 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.3 steals.

Sophomores Brighton Clatt, Francis Bower, Luke Hill and Jack McKinney all saw limited minutes for the Royals.

Wynja stepped down as the Royals’ head coach at the end of the season. He is hoping the program continues to build off the progress made during his tenure.

“I have had the pleasure of coaching at Colo-NESCO for 13 years, 10 years as the head coach,” Wynja said. “I came into this position with two goals in mind: I wanted to bring stability to a great basketball program that had been dealing with a lot of coaching turnover and instill a base of hard work in the boys of Colo-NESCO.”

“I was lucky enough to have great support and I feel like we met those goals in my ten years at the helm,” Wynja said. “I publicly would like to thank each and every player that has gone through our program. I am grateful to have had such great kids and formed lasting relationships. I look forward to the future of the basketball program. With hard work and the right attitude, these kids will continue to succeed where it really matters — becoming great young men.”