Norse achieve dream, now want more

Joe Randleman Staff Writer
Susie Weaver and the rest of the No. 11 Roland-Story girls’ basketball team will be competing at the state tournament for the first time in eight years when they face No. 5 Des Moines Christian in the Class 3A quarterfinals Monday at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines. Weaver is one of only two seniors on a talented Norse squad. Photo by Joe Randleman/Story City Herald

When the final buzzer sounded at the end of No. 11 Roland-Story’s 44-43 comeback win over No. 6 Clear Lake in the Class 3A regional finals last Saturday at Clarion, there were tears of joy streaming down senior center MaKayla Geise’s face.

A future Division 1 volleyball player at Valparaiso, Geise had never participated in a state event during her high school career. This fall, the Roland-Story volleyball team won 30 matches, but was unable to advance past the regional semifinals.

But on Saturday, her dream was fulfilled when Roland-Story punched its ticket to state in girls’ basketball for the first time since 2011.

“I really wanted it for volleyball, but we didn’t get the chance to make it,” Geise said. “This being my last high school sport — making it means everything to me. I remember going to the Well in 2011 and wanting it to be me so bad. I’ve been working for it and my other teammates have been working for it for so long and just for this to be the result — we all worked for it.”

Roland-Story (19-5) will face No. 5 Des Moines Christian (22-2) in the 3A state quarterfinals on Monday.

It hasn’t been an easy task to get that far. The Norse also faced a stiff challenge in the regional semifinals from Carroll before prevailing, 50-44.

But for a team with only two seniors — Geise and guard Susie Weaver — the Norse have shown tremendous grit.

Last year, Roland-Story went 20-3, but couldn’t get past the regional semifinals. This year, the Norse had to replace leading scorer Jenna Clark and rebounder Madison Friest, along with leader Hannah Patton.

Clark averaged 15.5 points per game and Friest pulled down 6.9 boards.

But new faces stepped up, others embraced new roles and the team formed a tremendous bond that helped them through some early bumps in the road.

“Our mantra this year was ‘trust the process,’ and it has definitely been that,” Roland-Story head girls’ basketball coach Justin Morton said. “I told the girls at the beginning of the year we had the potential to be better than last season. We had a lot of people coming back and I thought we were maybe a little bit more athletic in some spots.”

Morton didn’t have anything set in stone when the season started. He wanted the team to come together organically.

It worked.

“We play for each other and not just for ourselves,” Norse junior guard Juliann Clark said. “That selflessness is really key in finding a true team. I’m really thankful for all my teammates.”

Clark is averaging 7.6 points, 4.9 rebounds and 4.1 assists. Weaver is putting up 6.8 points per game with 34 3-pointers made, junior Kylie Tjernagel averages 5.8 points, sophomore Madeline Morton 4.7 points with 27 3-pointers, freshman Reece Johnson 3.8 points and sophomore Jordyn Ramus 3.2 points with 21 3-pointers.

As a team, Roland-Story is tied with the team it just beat for the most 3-pointers made in 3A at 184.

On the inside Geise averages 3.0 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.2 blocks and junior Amy Rathmacher 2.3 points and 3.4 rebounds.

“It’s nice to have different shooters and then MaKayla inside,” Weaver said. “It makes it harder to defend us. That opens up more shots. If they go in on MaKayla, then it opens up the 3.”

A huge key to Roland-Story’s run to state has been the emergence of 5-11 freshman Reagan Barkema.

Barkema has been able to fit in nicely as a versatile weapon who can burn teams both inside and on the perimeter. It took awhile for her to get comfortable, due to inexperience and a lower calf injury, but once she got going the Norse became that much better down the stretch, winning 13 of their final 14 games, with the only loss coming to No. 1 North Polk.

“We were hoping that she would be able to step in and fill the role we lost with Jenna,” Justin Morton said. “At the beginning of the year, she was trying to feel things out and she didn’t want to step on other kids’ toes, but I told her ‘hey, every girl here knows what you’re capable of doing — they all expect you to go out and score.’ Since she came back from her injury, she’s just played at another whole level.”

Barkema leads Roland-Story in scoring (11.9 points per game), 3-pointers (36) and steals (1.9 per game) and is shooting 48 percent from the field and 73 percent from the line. She also averages 4.4 rebounds.

Defense has been the biggest strength for Roland-Story all season.

The Norse like to mix things up, playing a lot of different zones and also incorporating some man defense. They are only allowing 33.8 points per game and last Saturday they held Clear Lake — the top scoring team in 3A — 20 points below its season scoring average.

“I feel like our defense is always there,” Geise said. “Every game, all 32 minutes. We’re always ready.”

Roland-Story is going to need to be ready against a Des Moines Christian team that has won 22 straight since dropping its first two contests of the season.

The Lions enter state averaging 58.4 points, the sixth-best scoring average in 3A. They lead 3A in both field goal (46 percent) and 3-point (36 percent) shooting accuracy.

“It’ll be interesting,” Justin Morton said. “They have a lot of scorers that present issues and you can’t really help out a whole lot because they’ll burn you. But I’d like to think the conference (Heart of Iowa Conference) we played in, with the Gilbert’s and North Polk’s, will kind of help us. I think there are some similarities between those teams and DMC.”

The biggest threat for Des Moines Christian is 6-1 senior Kalli Lawson inside. Lawson is averaging 13.1 points, shooting 59 percent from the field, and she also averages 6.8 rebounds and 2.9 blocks.

“I’m super-excited to face someone the same height as me, just to see how I can match up against someone who’s probably a little bit better shooting-wise on the perimeter,” Geise said. “I’m ready.”

Like Roland-Story, Des Moines Christian has outside-shooting weapons and good balance.

Sophomore Moriah Prewitt averages 11.6 points with 42 3-pointers, senior Mia Potratz 9.4 points with 55 3-pointers and senior Emma Veenstra 9.0 points, shooting 51 percent overall from the field. Veenstra is a tremendous all-around performer, averaging 6.8 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 2.6 steals.

Monday’s 3A state quarterfinal game between the Norse and Lions will take place at 8:30 p.m. at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.