Just off the disappointment of not making it to the state tournament, Matt Hoeppner is already looking forward to the 2021-22 girls basketball season.
The coach, in his second season, has turned around what was a lackluster West Liberty High School girls basketball program with back-to-back winning seasons, but the team just can’t quite get to the next step of making the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union state tournament despite battling for Regional titles the past two years.
“Our final goal was to get to state,” said Hoeppner of his Comet’s latest campaign that fell short in a two-point loss to an 20-1 West Burlington team. “But in the grand scheme of things, we were very successful in the areas of team and individual improvement.”
The 3A loss to West Burlington may have cut short the team’s goal of making the “Sweet 16,” but the coach says it may have made the team even hungrier to get to the state round next year.
West Burlington played West Lyon, a 22-1 team Monday night in the first round of the tourney at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, losing 52-30. West Lyon will play undefeated Cherokee Washington (23-0), a Monday winner over Davenport Assumption, an 8-12 team, advancing with a 63-43 win.
The semi-final game is Thursday at 2 p.m. before the championship game on Saturday at 11 a.m., when the winner will face either Clear Lake or Unity Christian.
The coach said his team would definitely like to have a “do-over” with West Burlington, especially after taking a nine point lead by halftime, 27-18, before letting the Falcons back into the game in the third quarter, getting held to just four points while giving up 13 to go into the final period tied at 31.
Hoeppner said although West Burlington was a good team, “I think we got too passive in different parts of the game and uncharacteristically turned the ball over too much,” he said, noting his focus was on what his Comets could have done better to win the game rather than the play of West Burlington.
“The girls will need to find ways to continue to improve and I know they will,” the coach said of the off-season. He said the Comets learned some valuable lessons this season, finishing 16-6 after going 19-6 in Hoeppner’s first season with the team. “I believe our girls learned how to compete at an even higher level this year. We will look to step that up even higher next season,” the coach said.
The campaign next year is expected to be led again by the team’s three highest scorers – sisters Sailor and Finley Hall as well as Macy Daufeldt.
A sophomore, Finley Hall, was the Comet’s top offensive player with 326 points to her credit after leading the team her freshman year with 12.7 points per game. She hit nearly 40 percent of her field goals (109 of 276) and nearly 30 percent of her three-point shots (44 of 149) while courting the second-best free throw percentage at 73.6 percent (64 of 87) and finishing second on the team in rebound with 118.
Daufeldt, a 6-0 center, scored 316 points on the season for the Comets, hitting over 45 percent of her field goals (124 of 274) to land seven of 32 three-point shots while leading the team in rebounds with 173.
Junior Sailor Hall was the third leading scorer for the Comets ith 287 points to her credit while leading the team in assists and steals with 107 and 81 respectively. She hit over 40 percent of her field goals (97 of 240) and just under 29 percent from three-point range (28 of 97) while also leading the team from the free throw line, hitting on 75.6 percent (65 of 86).
The coach said the team may have to look at a “different style of game” next season after losing three talented defenders and rebounders the past two season including Janey Gingerich and Averi Goodale.
Gingerich scored 151 points for West Liberty while Goodale hit 97, while the pair had 117 and 115 rebounds respectively while also picking up 27 and 56 steals respectively.
Hoeppner said he could make an argument that all five of the Comet starters were “most improved” this past season.
“I challenged them to be better and everyone one of them improved their stats from a year ago, which allowed us to be successful this season,” he said.
The coach said the 2021-‘22 campaign looks promising, returning five players that played in a majority of games this season. “That, in addition to the incoming freshmen class and JV group from this year, we should have a good core of players again next season,” Hoeppner said, noting he’s expecting all his players to work hard in the off-season to improve, a key to the team’s “continued success.”
The coach said the team was “very fortunate” to be able to finish the season because of the COVID-19 pandemic and said he was just happy “to get to play at all even.”
Hoeppner said the team was the victim of two separate shutdowns this season, “but I am very proud that our girls took the initiative to wear their masks at all times throughout the entire basketball season.”
Overall, the Comets hit just over 37 percent of their shots this past season (429 or 1,156) and 24.5 percent of three-point shots (110 of 449) while connecting on nearly 62 percent of their free throws (264 of 427) . the team also had 321 turnovers, 28 blocks including 10 from Gingerich, 321 steals and 260 assists.
The team will lose two other seniors with graduation including Lindsey Laughlin and Martha Pace.
Expected to return next year will be junior Aly Harned and sophomores Brooklyn Buysse, Kylie Struck, McKenzie Akers, Magaley Kivi and Monica Morales along with freshmen Sammi Goodale and Paige Werling.
Sammi Goodale and Buysse both had a lot of playing time this past season.
The Comets finished second in the River Valley Conference South this season. “I think we would have liked to have two to three of our conference losses back,” the coach said. “We will strive to get ourselves to the top next season.”
You can pretty much bet on it.