New players, same coaches lead All-GTNS boys' basketball team
All 12 of the players named to this year’s all-Golden Triangle News Service team are first-time selections, but for the two men chosen as Coach of the Year, receiving all-GTNS honors is nothing new.
Mt. Pleasant’s Paul Rundquist, the large-schools Coach of the Year, and IMS’ Dwight Gingerich, the small-schools Coach of the Year, worked their magic again this season with a new group of star players.
Gingerich took his team as far as the substate game and Rundquist made it one game further, despite losing a number of strong starters from last year’s teams.
As a result, Panther players make up the majority of the all-GTNS large-schools team, and IMS has a pair of players on the small-schools squad.
It was the fourth straight trip to the state tournament for Mt. Pleasant, and Rundquist has been selected as the All-GTNS Coach of the Year just as many times.
Despite losing his top three scorers — Jordan Ashton, Nick Lyon and Blake Vandenberg, each of whom also did some damage defensively — from last year’s state championship-winning team, Rundquist led his squad right back to Des Moines. The Panthers finished the season with another SEC title and an overall record of 19-5, including a come-from-behind victory over Solon in the substate game. The Panthers then fell in overtime of their first-round state game against Waverly-Shell Rock, the eventual Class 3A champions.
The Mt. Pleasant team — made up of some varsity returners, some new varsity players, and some transfers — also finished the year with a class-leading defense, with fewer points allowed per game than any other 3A team and more steals than any other 3A team.
For three of the Mt. Pleasant All-GTNS selections, four straight trips to state means they saw their school play in Des Moines all four years of high school.
One, on the other hand, was making his first trip to state — but the Panthers would have had a tough time making it back there without him.
And that’s why this year’s All-GTNS boys’ basketball large-schools team captain is Faith Pope, an Ottumwa transfer who was a huge contributor to both the Panthers’ offense and defense in his first year on the team.
The 6-foot-6 senior led the team in scoring with 16.4 points per game, shooting 68.8 percent from the field on the season, including 50 percent from 3-point range (17-for-34). Pope’s ability to score from inside, outside, and anywhere in between made him nearly impossible to stop, and he posted double-figure scoring 21 times in the 22 games he played with the Panthers this year.
On defense, Pope’s height and long arms were a big asset as he pulled down a team-high 8.9 rebounds per game, the 10th-highest average in Class 3A, and had 54 thefts on the season. He also had a team-high 66 blocks, and his efforts have already earned him first team all-state honors from the Iowa Newspaper Association.
Despite playing only one season with the Panthers, Pope has left his mark on Mt. Pleasant basketball history — his 66 blocks tied the single-season record set in 1992.
Another Panther who found his way into the record books this season was Cameron Frank, who broke the school’s 39-year-old single-season assist record with his 130th assist, which came in the district final game against Williamsburg. He now holds the record with his season total of 135, but that’s only one reason that Frank finds himself on the All-GTNS team this season.
Frank was one of two returning starters for the Panthers, along with Dalton Conrad, who had to miss 10 games this season due to injury, and he was one of seven Panther seniors. Among a big group of experienced players, Frank was the one who stepped up as a leader for the Mt. Pleasant team.
The wing-turned-point-guard played a big role on the Panther defense, leading the team with 69 steals on the season, a number that ranks him sixth among 3A players. He was also the team’s second-leading rebounder with 5.6 boards per game, and he was third on the team in scoring with 9.6 points per game.
Two other players stood out in this year’s talented Mt. Pleasant lineup: Ryan Hanna and Logan Mulford.
Hanna stepped up his game down low this season, helping to fill in the gap left by a pair of 6-foot-7 graduates, Lyon and Vandenberg. Hanna was the team’s second leading scorer, averaging double figures with 11.0 points per game on 64.4 percent shooting. He also had 26 blocks.
Mulford’s quick hands helped him to 39 steals this season as he stepped into a starting role. The senior guard allowed only 26 turnovers on the year — fewer than any other starter. He kept up the outside shooting that made him such a valuable player off the bench last season: he sank 20 3-pointers this year, just two behind team leader Connor Shull. On the season, Mulford averaged 5.8 points per game.
Joining the four Panthers on the All-GTNS large-schools team are two standout players from the Washington and Fairfield boys’ basketball teams.
Kyle Roder was Washington’s go-to scoring option this season, and he led the Demons in scoring in 12 of their 22 games. The senior scored a career-high 26 points in Washington’s 57-53 win over Durant on Nov. 30, and he had 20 points in a 49-37 loss at West Branch on Dec. 15. In Washington’s Class 3A district semifinal against No. 10 Solon, Roder hit his first three 3-pointers as the Demons led the Spartans at halftime. Roder finished the season averaging a team-leading 11.8 points per game, and he also led the Demons in steals with 51 on the season. He was a second team All-SEC selection.
Another second team All-SEC selection, Fairfield senior Spencer Peterman, was a valuable asset for the Trojans both in the stat book and as a leader. The 6-foot-3 forward set team-highs in everything from points per game (11.1) to steals (23), and he also ranked third in the SEC in rebounds with eight per game. He raised his field goal percentage nearly five points from his junior season, making 49.5 percent of his shots this winter. He also improved his free-throw shooting from 29.4 to 60.3 percent between the last two seasons. Along with his All-GTNS and all-conference honors, Peterman was winner of his team’s MVP Award this season.
For the third straight season and for the fourth time in five years, IMS’ Gingerich gets the nod as the GTNS small-schools Coach of the Year. Even after losing all-conference big men Brian Hagedorn and Johnny Lackender to graduation and then losing all-state point guard Chance Miller to a season-long suspension, Gingerich still took IMS all the way back to the substate final. The team’s only two regular-season losses came at the hands of a ranked Lone Tree squad, and then IMS lost to a ranked North Tama squad in the substate final. The loss in the substate final was a rare one, as IMS had won 12 of its 14 substate games prior to the defeat, but IMS still finished its season with an impressive record of 22-3.
The two main reasons for IMS’ success this season were seniors Peyton Thompson and Cameron Gingerich. Thompson, this year’s all-GTNS small-schools captain, was a scoring machine, averaging 19.5 points per game. And he was a dynamic scorer, as he could hit 3-pointers (at a nearly 40 percent clip), score on acrobatic drives, and hit free throws (he was a 78 percent foul shooter). The senior guard showed off all of those skills as he sank six 3-pointers and scored a career-high 40 points in an 88-58 win over Washington on Jan. 29. Thompson, who was a first team all-conference selection, also led IMS in assists (5.1 per game) and steals (1.9 per game).
Gingerich did a little bit of everything for IMS this season. He added 16.3 points per game on 66 percent shooting. He chipped in 4.3 rebounds per game. He dished out 3.5 assists per contest and came up with 1.8 steals per game. On top of that, the senior swingman was the team’s leader and glue guy. Whatever IMS needed, Gingerich did it.
Just as Gingerich did a little bit of everything for his team, so Luke Lyle led Keota in a number of statistical categories. Not only did Lyle average a double-double of 15.3 points and 10.2 rebounds per game to lead the Eagles in both categories, but the junior also led Keota in steals (2.7 per game). His 63 assists ranked second on his squad, as did his total of 20 blocks. The first team All-South Iowa Cedar League selection led Keota to a record of 18-5 this season.
Van Buren’s Thomas Fitzsimmons and Pekin’s Cade Millikin are not only new additions to the All-GTNS team this winter, but they’re both new additions to the starting lineups of their respective teams.
Fitzsimmons, a 6-foot-3 center, made a big splash in his first season as a full-time starter. The junior Warrior ranked first in blocks in the Southeast Iowa Super Conference South Division with 46 swats, and he also pulled in a team-leading 5.6 boards per contest. Perhaps most impressive, however, was his ability to make shots in the paint at an unbelievable rate. The first team all-conference selection ended up connecting on 63 percent of his shot attempts, scoring 12.4 points per game as part of a balanced Warrior attack.
Although Pekin lost 10 seniors from last year’s 16-6 campaign, including two-time All-GTNS captain Trey Sathoff, the squad fought to a similar 15-9 record this year. Millikin was instrumental in helping Ken Hutchinson’s team transition to a brand new era. The junior Panther led his team in several categories, including assists (122) and steals (119), to earn first team all-conference honors. Like many of his teammates, Millikin could shoot, too. He made 43.2 percent of the shots he attempted and was Pekin’s second-leading scorer with 14.8 points per game.
One of the SEISC North’s best shooters was Highland guard Jake Hootman. Highland had its best season in many years this winter — finishing 14-9 overall and fourth in the SEISC North with an 11-7 league mark — and a lot of that had to do with Hootman. The senior led the Huskies in nearly every category, including scoring (16.7 points per game), 3-point shooting (38-97 from beyond the arc), free-throw shooting (81 percent), rebounding (6 per game), assists (3 per game) and blocks (17). For all he accomplished this season, Hootman was a first team all-conference selection as well as a first-time all-GTNS pick.
The Golden Triangle News Service teams are selected by sports editors Travis J. Brown (The Washington Evening Journal), Ashlee De Wit (Mt. Pleasant News) and Michael Leach (The Fairfield Ledger).