How Ballard girls and boys basketball plan to emulate dominance from 2020 season
HUXLEY — Christmas may be over a month away, but it starts this Friday for the communities supporting Ballard High School.
That's when basketball season begins, with the defending state champion Ballard girls facing off against Dallas Center-Grimes in Huxley.
Last year saw both Ballard basketball programs peak in the same year. In a historic first for the school, the girls and boys both played in a state championship game during the same season.
The Bomber girls won a state championship for the second time in their storied history by pulling off a 47-45 win over Glenwood in the Class 4A title game. The Bomber boys made their first-ever appearance in a state title game, falling to Pella in the Class 3A finals 68-59.
Expectations for 2021 are lofty in both programs.
"The bar is set high," Ballard head boys basketball coach Jeff Schertz said. "For the boys there is another step to take and for the girls trying to repeat is no easy task."
The 2020 derecho storm brought the Ballard communities together after they were hit particularly hard that summer. The local residents looked to the local high school sports student-athletes and teams as a source of inspiration.
That was especially true in basketball. Though COVID-19 restrictions prevented most fans from attending games until late in the season, the support for the two Bomber teams was at a fever pitch all winter.
This season the gyms will be filling up with fans from the very start. Both Ballard teams want to reward them by making another deep run into the state tournament.
"It’s an expectation here at Ballard, boys and girls," Ballard all-state boys guard Ashton Hermann said. "To be successful and succeed every year. If we lose pieces it doesn’t matter; we’re going to gain pieces."
Ballard girls eyeing second straight title
The Ballard girls are moving down from 4A to 3A this season. But they must replace one of the best senior classes in school history. Led by defensive wonder Molly Ihle and clutch sharpshooter Josie Fleischmann, Ballard went 24-1 a year ago.
Ihle and Fleischmann are now playing college ball for Minnesota State and Northwestern State (Louisiana), respectively, and the Bombers must also replace outstanding role players Cassidy Thompson, Ashley Wuestenberg and Sydney Briggs.
"We’ll definitely miss them, but I think we’re fully capable of doing the same thing we did last year," all-state guard Brooke Loewe said. "With the girls we have and our experience, I think we’ll be fine."
Loewe and Ihle formed a devastating backcourt tandem. This year, Loewe will be flanked by fellow senior Kylie Rigby and Lily Hillebrand and Lily Beall. Loewe averaged 10.7 points, 4.2 points, 3.5 steals and 3.3 assists last season.
"It’s definitely going to be different," Loewe said. "I’d been playing with Molly for three years and now I’m trying to step into her position and help lead other girls to keep doing our thing on defense."
At 6 feet, Rietz will be the top post threat for Ballard, though she's more of a slasher with a nice outside shooting touch. She averaged 6.4 points and 5.5 rebounds last season.
Ballard boys looking for defense to lead the way
The driving force behind the Ballard girls success last year was defense. The Bombers may have been the best defensive team in the entire state, regardless of class, holding five opponents below 20 points in entire games.
That is something the Ballard boys are going to try and emulate.
"The girls showed it’s the Ballard way," Hermann said. "Defense is big here."
The Bomber boys were 25-2 last year. They must replace all-state forward Connor Drew (15.5 points and 8.9 rebounds), point guard Mason Murphy (11.8 points and 5.1 assists) and valuable role players Sam Petersen, Isaiah Peasley and Kade Miller.
"This year’s team hasn’t done anything," Schertz said. "Last year’s team did something and we’ve got pieces that returned from that. We’ve seen it and experienced it, but if we can be mature enough to play every single night like we’ve got something to prove then we’re going to put ourselves in the best possible situation we can to accomplish that."
Hermann averaged 16.2 points and 3.3 steals last year. Krogh put up 7.3 points and 5.9 rebounds.
"Ashton’s going to be our guy,” Krogh said. "I’ve got a little of responsibility to protect him, but it’s more about making sure he can do his thing so he can help our team as well as he can."
Hermann will also get a spark from his younger brother, Jaxon.
A sophomore, Jaxon underwent heart surgery last winter to fix an anomalous coronary artery that was attached on the wrong side of his aorta. He became a huge rallying cry not only for the team, but the entire Ballard community.
Jaxon has endured a grueling recovery process. But he's healthy enough to join the team as a manager this winter.
"I wanted him to be a part of my senior year," Ashton Hermann said. "To have him on the bench and at practices gives me the extra edge that I need."
Jaxon is happy for the chance to be at his big brother's side.
"I really like how they’re letting me be involved with basketball," Jaxon said. "I love basketball and love seeing Ashton in person. It's a lot better than seeing him on screen."
On the court, Hermann and Krogh will be complemented by senior guards Jacob Ihle and Colby Calvert. Ihle averaged 3.4 points and 3.1 rebounds and Calvert 2.6 points last year.
The top newcomer to the Bombers this year is Mason Gorsh, a transfer from Ankeny Centennial. Gorsh is an excellent outside shooter who will open things up for Hermann and his teammates.
"We’ve got some other guys that can make you pay," Schertz said. "I like all of our guys and their ability to get the job done on both ends of the court."
Last season, the girls ended up with bragging rights over the boys. Loewe said she's perfectly fine with sharing in the glory this time around.
"I think we’re both aiming for a state championship this year," Loewe said. "I’m hoping that’ll happen."