The Nevada boys’ basketball team overcame early health issues to take a big step in the right direction this season.

The Cubs finished 12-12 overall and placed fourth in the Heart of Iowa Conference with an 8-6 Heart of Iowa Conference mark. That is a 4.5-game improvement from last year’s 8-13 overall record and three games better than their 5-9 conference showing in 2018-2019.

“Despite a couple games that could have gone either way where we ended up on the wrong side, I thought our guys had a great season,” Nevada head coach Tyler Struck said. “We were in every game in the fourth quarter except a couple and constantly improved both on and off the court all year. This group also came together as a team as good as any team that I have had, which is impressive considering how many kids played from three different grades.

Nevada did this despite having two starters, senior guard Kody Kruschwitz and junior forward Ayden Rhodes, miss the pre-Christmas portion of the schedule due to injuries suffered during football.

“Injuries to start the year was a big challenge for us in a couple ways,” Struck said. “First we were without two starters until after Christmas Break, and one of those starters didn’t get back to 100 percent until almost February. The other part of that challenge was that we played some younger kids in big roles early in the year.”

But Struck was impressed with how his inexperienced players performed in the absence of Kruschwitz and Rhodes.

“After some initial growing pains they really stepped their games up and were playing very good for us in those roles,” Struck said. “Once the starters came back and were healthy the younger players’ roles changed a little and that was a tough transition for them and the team. To their credit they worked through it and were able to still be big contributors in practices and games down the stretch.”

The Cubs opened the season with a 71-62 victory over South Hardin, but then fell to Roland-Story (70-63) and Iowa Falls-Alden (67-60). They came back with a 51-39 victory over Saydel for their first conference win, but then dropped a 62-59 heartbreaker to three-time defending HOIC champion South Hamilton and struggled against North Polk in a 69-46 setback.

Nevada got some momentum back before heading into Christmas break, defeating Prairie City-Monroe on Dec. 20, 54-51. In their first games back from break the Cubs rolled Grundy Center, 84-45 and put up a good fight against eventual state qualifier Ballard in a 68-63 road loss to the Bombers.

The Cubs defeated Greene County by an 89-74 score on Jan. 7 then fell to eventual HOIC champion Gilbert a week later, 81-68. They responded to the Gilbert loss by getting revenge on Roland-Story with a 51-47 victory over the Norse at home on Jan. 21, but then lost back-to-back non-conference games to Bondurant-Farrar (63-43) and Madrid (74-72).

Nevada followed up the loss to Madrid with a four-game winning streak. The Cubs took down North Polk in a 51-49 thriller and easily handled PCM (58-39). Saydel (56-44) and Greene County (74-60).

The Cubs nearly made it five wins in a row against Gilbert Feb. 7. The Cubs pushed the Tigers to three overtimes in the most exciting game of the season before running out of gas in a 101-91 setback.

The Gilbert loss took a lot out of Nevada. The Cubs fell to Newton (69-67) and South Hamilton (57-38) the next two games then held off a struggling Boone team in their final game of the regular season, 56-54.

But 3A substate play gave Nevada new life on Feb. 24. The Cubs traveled to Norwalk for the quarterfinals and stunned Gilbert in overtime, 81-80, for their biggest victory of the season.

“Winning our first round district game vs a very good Gilbert team was the definitive highlight of the year,” Struck said. “We had played a good game against them at their place but they pulled away from us late and then we played an unbelievable three-overtime game against them at our place late in the year that we ended up losing as well. So to find a way to beat them on a neutral court with a great crowd and high school atmosphere was a huge highlight for us as a team and showed how far we had progressed throughout the year.”

Two nights later Nevada faced top-ranked Norwalk in the semifinals. The Cubs were no match for the Warriors and the state’s leading scorer - Bowen Born - in an 86-59 loss to end the season.

Struck liked his team’s mental toughness throughout the season. In addition to fighting through the health issues the Cubs came back to win several games.

“Our biggest strength was our ability to remain in close games and come back in games and give ourselves a chance at the end,” Struck said. “We were a resilient team all year long.”

For the season Nevada averaged 62.7 points shooting 41.7 percent from the field, 31.4 percent from 3-point range and 67.6 percent from the line. The Cubs gave up 62.9 points a game, allowing teams to shoot 42 percent from the field.

Nevada was outrebounded by an average margin of 36.8-29.6. The Cubs also committed 15.7 turnovers per game and forced 13.4.

“In our loses rebounding and turnovers were always a major point of concern,” Struck said. “We also struggled to shoot the ball early in the year and at times towards the end of the season. The good thing was we continued to work on these areas and definitely improved on them but it was a struggle at times.”

Senior guard Tyler Sansgaard was the go-to player for Nevada all season, especially early with Kruschwitz and Rhodes out.

Sansgaard was a first-team all-HOIC selection after averaging 18.2 points 5.4 rebounds and 3.3 assists. Sansgaard shot 38 percent from the field, made 64 3-pointers at a 34-percent clip and converted 75 percent of his free throws.

Henry Nelson stepped up in the low post to make the all-HOIC second team in his senior year. Nelson averaged 11.8 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.8 blocks and 1.5 assists and he shot 58 percent from the field.

Kruschwitz and fellow senior guard Chase Lycke were both all-HOIC honorable mention as Nevada’s top perimeter defenders.

Kruschwitz averaged 12.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 2.2 steals. He shot 48 percent from the field and 76 percent from the line and made 21 3-pointers.

Lycke put up 5.6 points and 2.5 assists per game. He shot 41 percent from the field and made 29 3-pointers at a 37-percent clip.

Rhodes averaged 3.8 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.6 assists and fellow junior Cooper Bovee 3.5 points and 1.8 rebounds with 14 3-pointers.

Ty Dittmer, Colin Memmer, Spencer Grant and James Edwards led a talented sophomore class for Nevada.

Dittmer averaged 4.6 points, 2.2 rebounds and 1.8 assists with 15 3-pointers. Memmer averaged 3.4 points with 17 3-pointers, Grant put up 2.5 points and rebounds per game and Edwards came on late, averaging 2.0 points.

Next season Nevada must do some rebuilding with the loss of Sansgaard, Nelson, Kruschwitz, Lycke and fellow seniors Jarrett Fredin, Bem Rima and Kyle Linder. But with Rhodes and Bovee leading the way and the sophomore class gaining another year of experience the Cubs still expect to be competitive in 2020-2021.

“We lose a lot of great seniors who were major contributors on the court during games and practices, so we have a lot to replace,” Struck said. “However, we had a lot of juniors and sophomores get valuable varsity minutes this year and they played a lot of different roles well. Our JV also had a great year despite some injuries and some players being on quarter limitations for the varsity games. So although we will miss our seniors the future looks bright!”