Roland-Story gives Coach Maddie Gelber a memorable first season: Norsemen go 19-6, qualify for state

Joe Randleman
Ames Tribune
The Roland-Story girls basketball team made another run to the state tournament in 2021-2022. First-year coach Maddie Gelber led the Norse to a 19-6 record.

The Roland-Story girls basketball made first-year coach Maddie Gelber's first year at the head of the program a memorable one.

Gelber inherited the program from long-time successful coach Justin Morton, who took over during Gelber's senior year playing for the Norse in 2010-2011. With Illinois State recruit Reagan Barkema and fellow senior Reece Johnson leading the way Roland-Story went 19-6, placed second in the Heart of Iowa Conference and earned its third trip to the state tournament in four seasons.

"We had a bit of an up-and-down year but definitely had more up than down," Gelber said. "Any time you can end your season in Des Moines you have to feel good about what you accomplished. The kids earned everything they got. Nothing was given to them. They went out and took it."

Roland-Story opened the season with a 65-50 loss to Class 4A power Gilbert. The Norse bounced back to give Gelber her first win as the team's head coach three days later by crushing Greene County at home, 90-13.

The victory over Greene County sparked a four-game winning streak. Roland-Story also defeated Nevada (62-25), Perry (61-24) and Saydel (71-13). Grundy Center, a 2A powerhouse, defeated the Norse in non-conference play Dec. 16, 53-46, to end the streak.

The Norse won their final two games before Christmas over South Hamilton (62-50) and Prairie City-Monroe (61-23). They also prevailed in their first game back from break with a 54-32 victory over Iowa Falls-Alden Jan. 4.

Eventual HOIC champion West Marshall knocked off Roland-Story Jan. 7 in Story City, 52-40. The Norse rebounded with another four-game winning streak, topping Southeast Valley (62-36), 3A power Clear Lake (36-34), Nevada (44-30) and South Hardin (59-36).

On June 24 Roland-Story traveled to Dike-New Hartford and fell to the eventual 2A state champions in overtime, 68-63. Gelber dubbed the game "a classic".

The Norse won their next five games. They defeated Perry (65-23), Greene County (69-16), Saydel (69-37), South Hamilton (62-38) and PCM (62-34).

West Marshall prevented Roland-Story from repeating as HOIC champions Feb. 8. The Trojans defeated the Norse at State Center, 43-32, to wrap-up the conference title.

But Roland-Story ended up having the last laugh against West Marshall.

After defeating South Tama (59-18) and Mount Vernon (40-29) in their 3A regional quarterfinal and semifinal games the Norse faced West Marshall in the regional finals at State Center for the right to go to state. With everything on the line Roland-Story played its best game of the season, trouncing the Trojans by a 63-35 score to punch their tickets to Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.

At state Roland-Story ran into a tough West Lyon team led by South Dakota recruit Brooklyn Meyer in the 3A quarterfinals. The Norse hung with the Wildcats for a half, but they were held to just three points over the final two quarters in a 38-23 loss.

"The win at Clear Lake, the all-time classic game we played with Dike and our regional final win were our biggest highlights," Gelber said. "Also getting the opportunity to play in Des Moines — that is always special."

Gelber said the team really started coming together late in the season after the offense started clicking.

"We struggled to put points on the board when we were unable to get out in transition — offensive confidence and consistency was the key to our improvement," Gelber said. "We also had some great leadership that kept us moving in the right direction when things weren't going well."

Roland-Story averaged 56.2 points shooting 40.2 % from the field, 30.8 % from 3-point range and 57.6 % from the line as a team. The Norse totaled 192 3-point baskets and averaged 14 assists against 13.4 turnovers.

On defense Roland-Story gave up just 34.6 points per game. The Norse averaged 28.8 rebounds and 11.8 steals as a team.

"We were a very good defensive team," Gelber said. "We rebounded well considering our size and our kids played extremely hard every night."

Barkema completed a four-year run as an all-state performer by making the 3A first team once again in her senior year as the go-to force for the Norse.

For the season the 5-11 guard/forward averaged 15.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.8 steals. She led the team in 3-pointers with 56 and blocks with 21 and shot 48.7 % from the field, 34.4 % from 3-point range and 63.5 % from the line.

Johnson was a first-team all-HOIC performer at guard. She averaged 8.1 points, 4.4 assists, 3.2 rebounds and 2.4 steals, made 23 3-pointers and shot 36 % from the field and 64.7 % from the line.

Reece Johnson averaged 8.1 points and 4.4 assists in her senior season for Roland-Story.

Junior guard Maddie Bauer was Roland-Story's breakout performer of the season. She averaged 7.3 points, 2.3 rebounds, 2 assists and 1.6 steals, made 44 3-pointers at a 37.6 % clip and shot 40.3 % from the field.

Senior Madison Geise stepped up to give Roland-Story a steady post presence. Geise averaged 6.7 points and 3.6 rebounds and shot 45.3 % from the field and 67.6 % from the line with 14 3-point baskets.

Freshman Claire Truesdell became a valuable role player in the starting lineup. Truesdell averaged 4.3 points, 2.6 rebounds and 1.1 steals and she made 12 3-pointers.

Sophomore Elizabeth Ihle helped Johnson run the offense. Ihle was a defensive whiz and strong ball-handler who averaged 4.1 points, 2.7 assists, 2.5 rebounds and 1.9 steals.

Freshman Kamryn Lande was a top player off the bench for Roland-Story. Lande averaged 4 points, 2.4 rebounds and 1.1 steals and she shot 44.3 % from the field and made 11 3-pointers at a 39.3 % rate.

Freshman Alyssa Jones averaged 2.5 points and sophomores Makenna Carlson and Ali Charlson 1.9 and 1.7 respectively. Senior Samantha Elsberry averaged 1.5 points, junior Libbie Johnson 1.1 points and 1.6 rebounds and freshman Kate Berggren also saw varsity minutes.

Junior Libbie Johnson will be one of the top returners for Roland-Story in 2022-2023.

Gelber will have a tough time replacing Barkema, Johnson, Geise and Elsberry next season.

"This was an incredible senior class," Gelber said. " =They raised the bar and the standards in the program and gave a lot of younger kids in the community someone to admire and want to be. We will miss their production and their leadership."

But the Norse plan on remaining very competitive and maybe even turning some heads in 2022-2023.

 "We bring back a lot of nice pieces and a lot of youth that will need to have big offseasons," Gelber said. "Our goals and standards will always remain the same no matter who graduates. We will always hang our hat on defense and playing as hard as we can at all times. We will try to push the tempo. We will be incredibly small and will have to find a way to put the ball in the basket."