GREENFIELD — It’s wide open.
That’s the assessment of this year’s Class 2A boys state tournament by both Nodaway Valley coach Darrell Burmeister and Carroll Kuemper Catholic coach Tyler Edwards.
Neither is a newcomer to the state tourney setting, and what they see developing next week is an evenly-contested affair that makes nearly every tip-off a coin toss.
“Class 2A is better, one through eight, than you’ll typically see,” said Burmeister, who ranks 16th among active coaches in career wins with a record of 475-170 (376-62 at Nodaway Valley). “2A is wide open. We could lose to Kuemper, or we could win it all.
“A team like Carroll Kuemper, you really don’t consider a seven seed,” Burmeister added. “I think they are a little bit better than that, with the competition they play. But, it’s seeded by wins and losses, so that’s what it is.”
Nodaway Valley, ranked third on the final Associated Press poll, takes a 23-1 record and No. 2 seed into Tuesday’s opener against Carroll Kuemper (16-8). The only team seeded above the Wolverines is No. 1 ranked West Fork of Sheffield (24-0). Cascade was ranked No. 2 on the final AP poll and Western Christian was fourth, but neither made the tournament.
While West Fork is the only team ranked higher than No. 10 on the top half of the 2A bracket, Nodaway Valley looks to be in a dogfight to Friday’s 8:05 p.m. championship game.
The winner of the NV-Kuemper game meets either ninth-ranked Sheldon (22-3) or No. 11 Pella Christian (20-4) in the semifinals at 3:45 p.m. Thursday.
“I think we got the tough side of the bracket,” said Wolverine senior starter Dean Frank. “But, if we get past Kuemper, most likely Sheldon is going to win their first game. Kuemper and Sheldon are two very similar teams, starting lineups with 6-6 kids that don’t shoot the three that much. If we can get by Kuemper, I think we’ll be ready.”
“Sheldon is the biggest team in the tournament,” Burmeister said, “but we have to get by Kuemper first. Four of the top five teams are probably in the bottom bracket.”
Nodaway Valley placed fourth in Class 1A with the same lineup last year, but is no stranger to the 2A tourney. The Wolverines were second in 2005, champions in 2006 and third in 2007, all in 2A.
Fresh in the minds of the Nodaway Valley players’ minds is a stinging 81-46 defeat to Storm Lake St. Marys in last year’s 1A consolation game. It was a short turnaround from a disappointing 65-49 semifinal loss to Danville.
“We took that pretty hard,” said junior forward T.J. Bower. “A lot of people said we shouldn’t have been there after that. We wanted to get back and make it happen. We’ve put a lot of hard work into proving people wrong.”
“That definitely motivates us,” said senior center Alex Welsch. “I don’t think any of us really wanted to play that day. They (St. Marys) had a lot of seniors so they played a lot harder than us.”
One thing learned from the 2012 experience, senior 3-point shooter Dan Ehrsam said, is the 32-minute intensity required to be successful at state.
“We knew we had to play better defense throughout the whole game,” Ehrsam said.
“I think we’re a lot more physical this year,” said shooting guard Dean Frank, who missed some postseason games last year with a cracked femur, and the first seven games this year after arthroscopic knee surgery. “The (first) Kuemper game proves that. I think if we would have played them this year with last year’s team, they would have destroyed us.”
Nodaway Valley defeated a bigger Kuemper team, 64-60, in a regular-season contest this year.
That game, a 59-49 loss to Creston, and tough encounters with league opponents Interstate 35 and Mount Ayr this year were good measuring sticks in a season when much of the Pride of Iowa was in a rebuilding mode this year.
“If we didn’t have those games, and the offseason tests we have, I don’t think we could have beaten a team like North Polk,” said point guard Brad Baudler.
Ehrsam’s 3-pointer with three seconds left carried NV past North Polk, 64-61. It’s a Comet team that won by 15 points at state qualifier Pella Christian.
The loss to Creston on Jan. 19 was a valuable learning experience, Wolverine players said. They got complacent with a 17-5 early lead, and the Panthers stormed ahead with a 28-point second quarter. That’s against a team on school record pace with an average of 34.1 points allowed per game.
“That quarter was one of our worst ever,” Baudler said.
“It was a loss that was well worth it,” Frank added. “It really helped us realize we have to pick it up in the big games.”
Quick shooting, before any rebounders are in place, helped Creston get defensive rebounds and score quickly on the other end.
Similar lessons have been learned in large-school divisions at team camps at Augustana in Sioux Falls, S.D., Iowa State University, Nebraska Wesleyan, Northwest Missouri State University, University of Northern Iowa, the Northeast Iowa Shootout in Cedar Falls and William Penn University. Some years, the team also participates at SWCC and Central College.
The weekend of the Adair County Fair is about the only time off in the summer, starting in early June.
“These kids have played at the top level of those places,” Burmeister said. “We’ve lost some, but we’ve won some of those tournaments, too.”
The team was reeling emotionally right in the heart of the season with the Jan. 25 death of Cindy Kohler, wife of assistant coach Richard Kohler. She sat perched above the action at every game, keeping the team’s “shot chart.”
Team members have said Kohler’s experience has given them added incentive to finish this season strong.
“We want to do it for him,” Bower said. “He broke down after the substate game, because he knew his wife would have loved to have been there celebrating with us. In the middle of the season, that was hard for us. It made us all realize that small things weren’t such big deals.”
Kohler has continued to work hard as Burmeister’s right-hand man in practices and during games. But he defers any added attention.
“I don’t want it to be about me or my wife,” Kohler said. “I want them to do it for them, and for everybody. It’s just nice that they think that way. They have been a special group. Cindy and I were always very close to these guys.”
Burmeister is a hard-driven taskmaster with laser-focused attention to details during preparation. Kohler is cast in the same mold, but with a different approach.
“He takes the stress out of things,” Baudler said.
“I’ll throw some satire in there,” Kohler said, “jab them a little, you know?”
“We’re trying to do it for the rest of the community, too,” Welsch said. “Everyone wants it as much as we do.”
State Class 2A boys
At Wells Fargo Arena
March 4 — No. 4 seed North Cedar, Stanwood (21-3) vs. No. 5 M-F-L, Marmac (21-3), 6:30 p.m.; No. 1 West Fork, Sheffield (24-0) vs. No. 8 Dike-New Hartford (17-9), 8:15 p.m.
March 5 — No. 2 Nodaway Valley (23-1) vs. No. 7 Kuemper Catholic, Carroll (16-8), 10:30 a.m.; No. 3 Sheldon (22-3) vs. No. 6 Pella Christian (20-4), 12:15 p.m.
March 7 — Semifinals, 2 p.m. and 3:45 p.m.
March 8 — Consolation, 11:45 a.m.; championship, 8:05 p.m.