Creston’s girls basketball team fought through adversity — both injuries and illnesses — to tie for the third-most victories since the school went to five-player basketball in 1993-94.
That’s why coach Larry McNutt and assistant Mendy McCreight both spoke of their pride in this year’s group at Thursday’s team banquet. It was a team that played its best basketball down the stretch of a 9-13 season.
Creston was 6-5 in the last 11 games of the season. Probably of no coincidence is the fact that junior leader Natalie Mostek was finally playing at 100 percent after prolonged effects of a severe concussion suffered in a preseason scrimmage at Adair-Casey.
However, the team also had to deal with the loss of junior point guard Brenna Baker, who underwent knee surgery after aggravating an injury on Jan. 7.
Illnesses also cost some key Panthers playing time during the season. Sophomore Taylor Briley became an integral presence in the varsity guard court, and junior Maria Mostek filled in at times for Baker and Chelcee Downing, when illness affected the senior sharpshooter.
McNutt became a chess master, moving players like Natalie Mostek and sophomore Camryn Somers to various positions, whereever they were needed at a particular time.
Sophomore post player Jenna Taylor became the team’s primary scorer, finishing with a 14.2 average while setting program records for free throw percentage (85.4) and field goal percentage (55.7).
Seniors Olivia Nielsen and Sadie Jones ended up contributing more minutes than first projected, when Mostek and Baker encountered their issues. And speedy sophomore Caitlin McIlravy was inserted for defensive work in certain situations.
It all made for an interesting set of challenges for McNutt in his third season at the helm.
“We dealt with injuries and sickness all season,” McNutt said after a pizza buffet was provided to the players and families from proceeds associated with team events. “Someone else came in and played. That’s what a team does. They played their best ball toward the end of the season. And the games we lost, we were right there. I’m proud of what they did.”
The 9-13 record ties the teams of 2011-12 (McNutt’s first) and 2005-06 for the third-most wins since the conversion to five-player basketball. The only teams ahead of that are 15-9 in 2006-07 and 10-12 in 1998-99.
That 2006-07 team featured the program’s all-time leading scorer in Katie McKim (856 points), who is also the clear leader in career made 3-pointers (145).
This year’s team set a school record for free throw percentage (67.5) and fewest points allowed in one game (18) against Orient-Macksburg in a 58-18 win at the Mount Ayr tournament.
McNutt cited several season highlights during his presentation Thursday, including free throw shooting by Baker and two key putbacks by Jones off the bench in a come-from-behind victory over the host Raiderettes. Downing also had exceptional 3-point shooting success in that tournament.
Beating Clarinda 61-48 on senior night was a highlight as well, McNutt noted. He also mentioned the season sweep of Atlantic, and two good challenges of a 16-8 Red Oak team that was a regional finalist.
In a home game played at Southwestern Community College because of a scheduling conflict at the high school, Creston beat Interstate 35, which went 14-9 and took second to Central Decatur in the Pride of Iowa at 12-4.
“Beating I-35 at SWCC was a good win for us,” McNutt said. “They were within a basket of a conference championship. This was a very coachable group, which always made it fun to go to practice.”
Although all of the selections haven’t been announced yet with Harlan still playing, Taylor and Natalie Mostek received all-conference honorable mention, and Jones was on the Hawkeye 10 All-Academic Team.
As with any postseason gathering, much of the night was devoted to the three departing seniors.
“Olivia was our first player off the bench, and she had a really good senior year,” McNutt said. “She’s a good rebounder for us and we couldn’t’ have done what we did without her.
“Chelcee improved so much from last year,” he said. “When Brenna went down, she took on more ball-handling responsibilities. And she hit some key 3-pointers to extend the defense.
“Sadie may not have played a lot of varsity minutes, but at Mount Ayr I remember back-to-back putbacks that were key to us winning that game. She always worked hard and had a positive influence on the team. Sadie is the ultimate team player.”
McCreight spoke about the 11-8 junior varsity team that compiled nine consecutive victories, and the freshman team that went 9-3.
Jones scored 175 points to lead the JV, followed by McIlravy with 173 and Cammy Rutherford with 127. Maria Mostek also surpassed 100 points and made 13 of the team’s 14 3-pointers.
For the freshmen, Rutherford scored 128 points, Madison Callahan contributed 93 and Lexie Little had 45.
Seniors — Chelcee Downing, Olivia Nielsen, Sadie Jones.
Juniors — Natalie Mostek, Brenna Baker, Maria Mostek.
Sophomores — Jenna Taylor, Camryn Somers, Taylor Briley, Caitlin McIlravy.
Sophomores — Jessica Beatty, Becca Ross.
Freshmen — Cammy Rutherford, Logan Pettit, Madison Callahan, Rachel Shepherd.
Honorable mention — Natalie Mostek, Jenna Taylor.
Academic all-conference — Sadie Jones.
Best free throw percent, team — 67.5 percent.
Fewest points allowed/single game — 18 vs. Orient-Macksburg on Nov. 25, 2013 (58-18).
Free throw percent/single season — Jenna Taylor, 76-89 (85.4 percent). Surpasses Heidi Hellyer, 52-66 (79 percent).
Field goal percent/single season — Jenna Taylor, 117-210 (55.7 percent). Surpasses Jessica Moeller, 68-122 (55.7 percent).
New to rankings
Scoring/single season — 6. Jenna Taylor, 312 points.
Scoring/single game — 5. Jenna Taylor, 24 (vs. Orient-Macksburg, Nov. 25, 2013); 9. Jenna Taylor, 23 (vs. Winterset, Dec. 2, 2013).
Rebounds/single season — 7. Natalie Mostek, 163; 12. Jenna Taylor, 152.
Assists/single season — 5. (tied) Chelcee Downing, 7 (vs. Atlantic, Feb. 8, 2014).