Golden Hawks hope to overcome nerves, Dutchmen
WELLMAN — When Mid-Prairie takes on second-ranked MOC-Floyd Valley in the quarterfinals of the Class 3A girls’ state basketball tournament next Tuesday afternoon, it will be the school’s seventh state tournament appearance. But it will be the Golden Hawks’ first state tournament since 2004, when the tournament was still played in Veterans Memorial Auditorium, more commonly known as “The Barn.”
So when the Golden Hawks (18-7) take the court inside Wells Fargo Arena on Tuesday, Mid-Prairie head coach Marc Pennington hopes nerves aren’t a factor for his squad.
“Hopefully we’ll settle in quick. Obviously it’s a different environment,” said Pennington, who is taking the Golden Hawks to Des Moines for the first time in his eight seasons as the team’s head coach. “We’ve never been there. MOC’s been there a lot. But I think once that first hoop goes in, everybody sort of relaxes. So I think it’s important to get off to a good start.”
It will definitely be important for the 13th-ranked Golden Hawks to get off to a good start against the second-ranked Dutchmen. MOC-Floyd Valley is making its seventh state tournament appearance, and this is the third straight year the Dutchmen have made it to Des Moines. MOC-Floyd Valley lost to Davenport Assumption in the Class 3A state championship game last season.
“They’ve been to the state tournament a lot,” Pennington said. “It’s a huge challenge. But there’s no pressure on us. They’re expected to get to the finals. We just have to go out and play. They haven’t been challenged a whole lot this year, so our goal is to get them in a game and make them play.”
While facing MOC-Floyd Valley (23-1) seems daunting, the Golden Hawks have beaten some quality teams this season. Mid-Prairie handed then-No. 4 Mediapolis its first loss of the season in early January, defeated a ranked Washington squad in late November and defeated a tough Williamsburg squad in last Saturday’s regional final.
“MOC’s very good. We know that. But we’ve beaten a lot of teams that are pretty good, so I think we’re pretty good, too,” Pennington said.
The Golden Hawks feature a balanced offense led by senior Mariah Swartzentruber’s 10.4 points per game. Senior Mallory McArtor adds 9.6 points per game, but Mid-Prairie’s main weapon is its defense. The Golden Hawks play a stifling full-court defense that limits teams to just 36.3 points per game.
“Our defense, even though teams know it’s coming, they have a hard time adjusting to the intensity of it,” Pennington said. “Hopefully that will carry us through and give us a chance.”
Mid-Prairie’s defense will be focused on MOC-Floyd Valley junior Alexis Conaway, a 6-foot point guard. Conaway leads the Dutchmen in scoring, rebounding, steals and blocked shots. She averages 18.3 points, 7.6 rebounds, 5.1 steals, 3.2 assists and 2.8 blocks per game.
“We’ll surround her and make things difficult for her, but she’s going to score. We know that,” Pennington said of Conaway. “But we’ve just got to make sure we contain her the best we can. We’ve got to make her work for everything. We’ve had good success with that all year, and hopefully that will work again.”
The Dutchmen also have another 6-footer, junior Emily McDonald, in the middle. McDonald averages 9.4 points and 4.9 rebounds per game. With the size MOC-Floyd Valley possesses, Pennington knows his squad has to beat the Dutchmen in the full court.
“We’re not going to beat them in the half court,” he said. “We have to get out and play 94 feet.”
Pennington hopes his team can limit the Dutchmen defensively, giving the Golden Hawks a chance to win.
“We’re not going to score 80 points on them, obviously. I think a game in the 40s is to our advantage,” he said. “If it gets into the 60s, we’re going to struggle with that. They’re better offensively than we are. They have more offensive playmakers than we do. So we’ve got to play to our strengths. We need to get in the open floor, get some pressure on them, and get some steals and convert.”
And if the Golden Hawks can get a couple of steals early and turn them into fast-break baskets, they’ll be right where Pennington wants to be.
“Hopefully we’ll get a bucket to go down early and kind of just play our game,” he said.