Great senior class leads R-S boys to a HOIC title in 2020-2021: Rebounding, depth key 17-4 season

Joe Randleman
Story City Herald
Sophomore Luke Patton averaged 7.5 points and 6.2 rebounds to help Roland-Story win the Heart of Iowa Conference championship in 2020-2021.

Thanks to great depth and chemistry the Roland-Story boys’ basketball team turned in one of the most memorable seasons in program history in 2020-2021. 

The Norsemen finished 17-4 and won the Heart of Iowa Conference title for the first time since 2009 with a 10-1 conference record. They beat Nevada by 1.5 games for the title. 

“Almost every game I had someone stop me and tell me how fun these guys were to watch,” Roland-Story head coach Darrin Berggren said. “We had a great group of seniors and some very talented underclassmen.  This allowed the underclassmen to just play loose and not have to worry about making big plays all the time.  It was great to see these guys rewarded for their hard work.” 

Roland-Story averaged 62 points shooting 42.5 % from the field, 57.2 % from the line and making 146 3-pointers at a 33.1 % clip. The Norsemen held opponents to 49.3 points per game and 35.5 % shooting from the field and they outrebounded foes by a 38-31.5 margin and forced 13.7 turnovers per game. 

Eight different players averaged at least 3.0 points and a ninth was just off the mark. 

“I think our depth and rebounding were two big strengths,” Berggren said. “We really put a big emphasis on turnover margins and rebound margins and our guys really bought into that.  We felt if we could win those two categories then we would win a lot of games.  We ended up leading 2A in rebounds per game and won the turnover margin by almost three a game.” 

Seniors Sam Skaar and Adam McIlrath led the way as first-team all-conference performers. 

Skaar averaged 14.4 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.4 assists. He made 67 3-pointers at a 42.9 % rate, including a record 11 3s in one game against Saydel on Jan. 12, and shot 44.7 % overall from the field and 69.4 % from the line. 

McIlrath averaged 10.0 points, 6.0 rebounds and 1.8 steals. He shot 47.9 % from the field. 

“Sam Skaar and Adam McIlrath were both first-team all-conference picks this year after being second team last year,” Berggren said. “They had been major contributors the last two years so had a lot of experience that the rest of the guys could lean on.” 

Point guard Nolan Faber, shooting guard Dhruv Patel and reserve Ajay Twedt made up the rest of the senior class. 

“The seniors were such great leaders this year both vocally and by example,” Berggren said. “They did a great job of encouraging and leading the underclassmen and making sure we were focused and at our best every night.” 

Faber averaged 5.5 points, 4.1 assists and 1.7 steals. He led the team in free-throw shooting with 83.3 % accuracy. 

“I really think every great team has a great point guard and Nolan was that for us,” said. “He was our leader in steals and assists and had over a 3:1 assist to turnover ratio.” 

Patel hit 13 of 25 3-pointers (52 %) and averaged 2.6 points and 1.1 assists.  

“Dhruv was a big player off the bench for us and finished sixth in Class 2A in 3-point percentage,” Berggren said. “More important was the leadership and energy he brought every day.  Everyone fed off his energy and loved to play with Dhruv.” 

Twedt totaled seven points and nine rebounds on the season. 

“Although he didn't get a lot of game minutes Ajay was a major reason we had the success we did,” Berggren said. “He came to work every day and pushed guys to get better in practice.  You don't have the success we had unless you have some unselfish players like Ajay.” 

Freshman Jonovan Wilkinson was the top underclassman for the Norsemen. He made an immediate impact as a first-team all-conference performer. 

Wilkinson averaged 11 points, 6.7 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.1 steals. He shot 43.7 % from the field and 67.7 % from the line. 

Junior Will Bunn and sophomores Luke Patton, Isaiah Naylor and Kale Lande also made big contributions. 

Bunn put up 3.2 points and 1.7 assists per game and shot 55.6 % from the field. Patton, a second-team all-conference performer, averaged 7.5 points and 6.2 rebounds, Naylor 4.9 points and 1.1 assists and Lande 3.1 points and 3.4 rebounds. 

Sophomores Dillon Lettow and Ben Greenfield (both 1.3 points per game), juniors Matthew Phelan and Thomas Matthes (four total rebounds apiece) and freshman Boaz Clark (five assists) also saw time at the varsity level. 

“Our depth allowed us to really change how we played each and every night,” Berggren said. “We could go with a big lineup one game and then with a smaller, quicker lineup the next.  Our depth also allowed us to keep getting better all year.  We had great competition in practice and guys were constantly competing for spots.”   

During HOIC play Roland-Story's only loss was to South Hamilton (55-50) on Feb. 2 in Story City. The Norsemen beat the Hawks 49-46 in December. 

Roland-Story swept Nevada (60-56 and 74-58), Prairie City-Monroe (62-44 and 65-43), West Marshall (60-21 and 70-59) and Saydel (65-32 and 51-25). The Norsemen also won their only meeting with Greene County, 94-55. 

“I think the biggest thing was our confidence in each other just continued to grow,” Berggren said. “We got off to a hot start and momentum just kept us going.”   

In non-conference games Roland-Story defeated old rival Gilbert (66-59), Grundy Center (51-38), Iowa Falls-Alden (62-42), Southeast Valley (54-39), South Hardin (79-48) and Van Meter (66-60). The Norsemen came up short against Martensdale St. Marys (66-63) and Grand View Christian (87-54). 

“Our biggest highlights were getting off to a great start and beating a really good Gilbert team, winning the conference with only one loss and beating Van Meter who qualified for state,” Berggren said. 

During 2A districts Roland-Story won a rematch with Southeast Valley, 58-49, then lost a 53-50 heartbreaker to South Central Calhoun to end the season. 

 Next season Roland-Story wants to keep building off the momentum set by this year’s senior class and attempt to repeat as HOIC champions. 

“With two all-conference players coming back I think we have a chance to have another very successful season,” Berggren said. “We need everyone to continue to improve their overall games and have a few of our underclassmen step up to fill some roles.  But I love how hard our guys play and how coachable they are and if you take care of those two things you can get a lot better very quickly.”