Missouri River Conference NEW

(KMAland) -- The winter sports season is right around the corner, and we are getting you ready with daily conference previews. No. 12 is the Missouri River Conference girls basketball preview.

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2020-21 MISSOURI RIVER CONFERENCE GIRLS BASKETBALL PREVIEW

Five of the eight teams in last year’s Missouri River Conference touted positive point differentials. The other three all had point differentials in the negative double digits. Here’s how those standings looked.

Sioux City East Black Raiders — 18-5 overall, 13-1 conference

Bishop Heelan Catholic Crusaders — 17-6 overall, 10-4 conference

Sergeant Bluff-Luton Warriors — 13-9 overall, 10-4 conference

LeMars Bulldogs — 14-9 overall, 9-5 conference

Abraham Lincoln Lynx — 10-11 overall, 8-6 conference

Sioux City West Wolverines — 5-16 overall, 4-10 conference

Sioux City North Stars — 1-21 overall, 1-13 conference

Thomas Jefferson Yellow Jackets — 2-20 overall, 1-13 conference

COACHES

•Bishop Heelan Catholic: Jay Wright

•Council Bluffs, Abraham Lincoln Lynx: Chad Schaa

•Council Bluffs, Thomas Jefferson Yellow Jackets: Shelby Graves

•LeMars: Cody Dyhrkopp

•Sergeant Bluff-Luton: Joe Hardy

•Sioux City East Black Raiders: Brian Drent

•Sioux City North Stars: Angela Kristensen

•Sioux City West Wolverines: Betsy Boetger

NOTES 

•Heelan has been to state an MRC-high 11 times, including their last trip to Des Moines in 2020. They won state championships in 2008, 2010 and 2020.

•Abraham Lincoln has qualified for four state tournaments, including their last trip in 2003. The other seasons that saw them in Des Moines were 1995, 1996 and 1999. 

•Thomas Jefferson has never been to a girls state tournament.

•LeMars went to the state tournament in 2002 and again in 2018. Their only state tournament win in school history came against Lewis Central in 2018.

•Sergeant Bluff-Luton’s only state tournament in school history came in 2011 when they lost their opening round meeting to Assumption by seven. Assumption went on to win their next two games by 14 and 11.

•Sioux City East made their fifth state tournament trip two seasons ago in 2020. They also went to state in 1986, 1989, 2000 and 2001. The Black Raiders clinched their 2020 state tournament trip with a regional final win over some girl named Caitlin Clark. In their five trips to state, they’ve never won a state tournament game.

•Sioux City North made five state tournament trips between 2002 and 2009, including four straight seasons from 2006 through 2009. That included state championships in 2007 and 2009. Their head coach at the time — Kirk Walker — is now the College of Saint Mary head coach.

•Sioux City West has never been to the state tournament in their history. 

TOP-RETURNING SCORERS 

The top scorer in the conference last season is gone. The No. 6 scorer is also gone. However, nine of the top 11 are back. Here is the top 15:

1. Emma Salker, SR, Sergeant Bluff-Luton: Salker ranked second int he conference last season with 12.9 points per game.

2. Kayla Benson, SR, Sioux City East: Benson put in 11.8 points per game a season ago, ranking third in the conference.

3. Lauryn Peck, JR, Bishop Heelan Catholic: The highest-scoring sophomore in the conference last season, Peck put in 11.7 points per game.

4. Sarah Brown, SO, LeMars: The highest-scoring freshman in the conference last season, Brown averaged 11.4 points per game.

5. Lily Juhnke, SR, Sioux City West: Juhnke had 11.6 points per game a year ago to rank seventh in the league.

The rest of the top 15:

6. Gabby Wagner, SR, Sioux City West: 10.8 PPG

7. Baylie Girres, SR, Abraham Lincoln: 10.3 PPG

10. Kenley Meis, JR, Bishop Heelan Catholic: 10.2 PPG

11. Payton Hardy, JR, Sergeant Bluff-Luton: 10.0 PPG

12. Maddie Hinkel, SR, Sergeant Bluff-Luton: 9.8 PPG

13. Madison Craighead, SR, Sioux City North: 9.7 PPG

14. Megan Callahan, SR, Sioux City East: 8.3 PPG

15. Libby Buhman, SR, Sioux City West: 7.2 PPG

Seven of the eight teams are represented here, and it’s led by three each from Sergeant Bluff-Luton and Sioux City West. Bishop Heelan Catholic and Sioux City East had two apiece on the list. Thomas Jefferson’s top-returning scorer:

30. Lexi Smith, SR, Thomas Jefferson: 3.5 PPG

TOP-RETURNING REBOUNDERS 

Much like the top scorers in the league, a lot of the top rebounders have returned. That includes three of the top four and six of the top 10.

1. Madison Craighead, SR, Sioux City North: Craighead led the conference last season with 8.2 rebounds per game, including a league-best 5.5 defensive boards per game.

2. Emma Salker, SR, Sergeant Bluff-Luton: Salker was one of just two players last season — and the only one returning — that averaged at least 3.0 offensive rebounds per game while posting 7.2 per contest.

3. Payton Hardy, JR, Sergeant Bluff-Luton: Hardy joined Salker as the only two players in the conference to average double digit points and 7+ rebounds per game. Hardy had 7.1 rebounds on average.

4. Baylie Girres, SR, Abraham Lincoln: Girres is one of just three returning players — along with Salker and Hardy — that averaged double digit points and 6+ rebounds per game. The KMAland Volleyball Offensive Player of the Year grabbed 6.2 caroms per game.

5. Libby Buhman, SR, Sioux City West: Buhman ranked ninth in the conference a year ago with 5.8 rebounds per game.

The rest of the top 15:

6. Taylor Drent, SR, Sioux City East: 5.7 RPG

7. Jordyn Reising, SR, Sioux City West: 5.3 RPG

8. Gabby Wagner, SR, Sioux City West: 5.1 RPG

9. Lauren Woods, JR, Sioux City North: 5.0 RPG

10. Maddie Hinkel, SR, Sergeant Bluff-Luton: 4.6 RPG

11. Payton Schermerhorn, JR, Bishop Heelan Catholic: 4.3 RPG

12. Madalyn Welp, JR, Sioux City North: 4.3 RPG

13. Kenley Meis, JR, Bishop Heelan Catholic: 4.1 RPG

14. Alex Flattery, SO, Sioux City East: 4.0 RPG

15. Kayla Benson, SR, Sioux City East: 3.9 RPG

All three Sioux City public schools and Sergeant Bluff-Luton welcome back three of the top 15 returning rebounders. SBL can claim three of the top 10. Here are the top-returning rebounders for LeMars and Thomas Jefferson:

17. Sarah Brown, SO, LeMars: 3.5 RPG

21. Lexi Smith, SR, Thomas Jefferson: 3.1 RPG

TOP-RETURNING ASSISTS 

Six of the top seven players in last year’s conference in total assists are back this season. The leader in the category is gone and graduated. Here’s the top 15 returnees in total assists:

1. Gabby Wagner, SR, Sioux City West: Wagner is one of two players returning with 200+ points and 70+ assists. The other is…well, the other is No. 2 on this list.

2. Baylie Girres, SR, Abraham Lincoln: Girres is that other. She had 71 assists to Wagner’s 72 to rank third in last year’s MRC.

3. Sydney Rexius, JR, Sioux City North: Rexius ranked fourth last season with 69 assists.

4. Lily Juhnke, SR, Sioux City West: Juhnke posted 66 assists and ranked fifth in the conference last year.

5. Emma Salker, SR, Sergeant Bluff-Luton: Salker is one of six in last year’s conference with 200+ points and 60+ assists. She was sixth in the MRC with 63 dimes.

The rest of the top 15:

6. Maddie Hinkel, SR, Sergeant Bluff-Luton: 62 assists

7. Katelyn Sale, SR, Sergeant Bluff-Luton: 51 assists

8. Payton Hardy, JR, Sergeant Bluff-Luton: 50 assists

9. Joslyn Verzal, SR, Bishop Heelan Catholic: 43 assists

10. Kenley Meis, JR, Bishop Heelan Catholic: 41 assists

11. Brooklyn Stanley, SO, Bishop Heelan Catholic: 39 assists

12. Kyley Vondrak, SR, Sioux City East: 38 assists

13. Jacee Tindall, SR, Abraham Lincoln: 35 assists

14. Emily Pomernackas, JR, Abraham Lincoln: 31 assists 

15. Lauryn Peck, JR, Bishop Heelan Catholic: 30 assists 

Bishop Heelan Catholic and Sergeant Bluff-Luton have four each on this list, and they are all ranked within the top 11. Abraham Lincoln brings back three in the top 14, and Sioux City West has two in the top four. LeMars and Thomas Jefferson are absent here, too. Their top-returning players in total assists:

18. Maggie Allen, SR, LeMars: 28 assists 

25. Samara Alcarez, JR, Thomas Jefferson: 21 assists 

TOP-RETURNING STEALS 

Get this: Sixteen of the top 18 players in total steals last year are back in this year’s MRC. Here are the top 15:

1. Gabby Wagner, SR, Sioux City North: Wagner had some kind of season with a league-best 65 steals.

2. Lauryn Peck, JR, Bishop Heelan Catholic: Peck was ranked second in the conference a year ago with 56 steals.

3. Brooklyn Stanley, SO, Bishop Heelan Catholic: Another from Heelan, Stanley tied for third in the conference with 54 steals last year.

4. Kayla Benson, SR, Sioux City East: Benson had 53 steals a year ago to tie for fifth.

5. Megan Callahan, SR, Sioux City East: Callahan posted 51 steals during her junior season, tying with a teammate for the seventh spot in the MRC.

5. Taylor Drent, SR, Sioux City East: It was Drent that Callahan tied with. The senior finished with 51 steals of her own.

The rest of the top 15:

7. Maddie Hinkel, SR, Sergeant Bluff-Luton; 50 steals

8. Alex Flattery, SO, Sioux City East: 47 steals

8. Sydney Rexius, JR, Sioux City North: 47 steals

10. Kaia Downs, SR, Sioux City East: 46 steals

11. Payton Hardy, JR, Sergeant Bluff-Luton: 45 steals

11. Hannah Mogensen, JR, Sioux City North: 45 steals

13. Baylie Girres, SR, Abraham Lincoln: 42 steals

14. Joslyn Verzal, SR, Bishop Heelan Catholic: 40 steals

14. Emma Salker, SR, Sergeant Bluff-Luton: 40 steals

The top 15 here are spread between five teams with Sioux City East placing five in the top 10. Heelan, SC North and Sergeant Bluff-Luton have three each on the list. The other three teams their top-returning stealers:

18. Jordyn Reising, SR, Sioux City West: 34 steals

19. Sarah Brown, SO, LeMars: 32 steals

29. Taryn Gant, SO, Thomas Jefferson: 21 steals

TOP-RETURNING BLOCKS 

Two of the top three and four of the top seven in total blocks last season have graduated form the conference. However, 13 of the top 17 are coming back. Here’s the top 15:

1. Baylie Girres, SR, Abraham Lincoln: Girres is one of two players with 20+ blocks and less than 35 fouls. She was second last season with 31 blocks.

2. Taylor Drent, SR, Sioux City East: Drent posted 24 blocks and was one of just two players in the conference with 50+ steals and 20+ blocks.

3. Addie Harris, SR, Sioux City East: Harris was the other player in the Girres category, posting 23 blocks and just 16 fouls.

4. Payton Hardy, JR, Sergeant Bluff-Luton: Hardy was eighth last season with 16 blocks.

5. Madalyn Welp, JR, Sioux City North: Welp finished last season tied for ninth with 14 blocks.

5. Jordyn Reising, SR, Sioux City West: Reising also tied for ninth with 14 blocks last year.

The rest of the top 15:

7. Emily Pomernackas, JR, Abraham Lincoln: 13 blocks

7. Lauren Woods, JR, Sioux City North: 13 blocks

9. Gabby Wagner, SR, Sioux City West: 12 blocks

10. Samara Alcarez, JR, Thomas Jefferson: 9 blocks

10. Libby Buhman, SR, Sioux City West: 9 blocks

12. Joslyn Verzal, SR, Bishop Heelan Catholic: 8 blocks

13. Payton Schmerhorn, JR, Bishop Heelan Catholic: 6 blocks

14. Lauren LaFleur, JR, Bishop Heelan Catholic: 5 blocks

14. Kenley Meis, JR, Bishop Heelan Catholic: 5 blocks

Heelan boasts four in the top 15, although they are all from 12 through a tie for 14. Sioux City West has three here, and Abraham Lincoln and East and North have two apiece. LeMars? Glad you asked.

16. Madi Huls, SO, LeMars: 4 blocks

TOP-RETURNING SHOOTERS 

Three-point shooting is usually a category dominated by veterans, but this league brings back 15 of the top 17 in 3-point makes from last year. Here’s the top 10:

1. Kayla Benson, SR, Sioux City East: 63 3PM (38.9%)

2. Lauryn Peck, JR, Bishop Heelan Catholic: 53 3PM (35.1%)

3. Sarah Brown, SO, LeMars: 50 3PM (37.6%)

4. Lily Juhnke, SR, Sioux City West: 41 3PM (37.3%)

5. Maddie Hinkel, SR, Sergeant Bluff-Luton: 34 3PM (37.8%)

6. Kenley Meis, JR, Bishop Heelan Catholic: 32 3PM (33.3%)

7. Katelyn Sale, SR, Sergeant Bluff-Luton: 27 3PM (32.5%)

8. Emma Salker, SR, Sergeant Bluff-Luton: 25 3PM (31.6%)

8. Gabby Wagner, SR, Sioux City West: 25 3PM (31.6%)

10. Emily Pomernackas, JR, Abraham Lincoln: 24 3PM (32.9%)

Sergeant Bluff-Luton has three in the top eight while Heelan and Sioux City West bring back two each on the list above. Thomas Jefferson and Sioux City North are the only teams not in the top 10:

16. Sydney Rexius, JR, Sioux City North: 15 3PM (33.3%)

20. Grace Strong, SO, Thomas Jefferson: 12 3PM (23.1%)

On to the free throw shooting, where four of the top five in total free throw makes are back this year. Here’s the top 10:

1. Kenley Meis, JR, Bishop Heelan Catholic: 48 FTM (54.5%)

1. Lauryn Peck, JR, Bishop Heelan Catholic: 48 FTM (75.0%)

3. Sarah Brown, SO, LeMars: 45 FTM (54.2%)

3. Gabby Wagner, SR, Sioux City West: 45 FTM (71.4%)

5. Emma Salker, SR, Sergeant Bluff-Luton: 44 FTM (67.7%)

5. Kyley Vondrak, SR, Sioux City East: 44 FTM (73.3%)

7. Payton Schmermerhorn, JR, Bishop Heelan Catholic: 41 FTM (66.1%)

8. Megan Callahan, SR, Sioux City East: 36 FTM (58.1%)

9. Baylie Girres, SR, Abraham Lincoln: 32 FTM (59.3%)

10. Brooklyn Stanley, SO, Bishop Heelan Catholic: 31 FTM (68.9%)

Heelan has four of the top 10 returning free throw shooters while Sioux City East has two in the top eight. Thomas Jefferson and Sioux City North are both missing from the list above. Their top free throw shooters: 

16. Hannah Mogensen, JR & Lauren Woods, JR, Sioux City North: 25 FTM (47.2% & 59.5%)

25. Lexi Smith, SR, Thomas Jefferson: 16 FTM (57.1%)

ONE FINAL TAKE FOR EACH TEAM 

Here is one final take for each team, listed in the order of projected finish:

Sioux City East: Good news for Sioux City East and bad news for the rest of the league. They return every single last player from a team that won the league. I would think they will be among the top 15 in the preseason state rankings.

Bishop Heelan Catholic: All but two of their starts are returning, and here’s the thing we know about Heelan from volleyball season: They have some impact freshmen. I’m not completely sure that they play basketball, but if they do, they figure to be pretty good. A return to state could be in the offing for the Crusaders.

Sergeant Bluff-Luton: Two senior starters are gone from a team that ran across Glenwood in regional play last season. Their senior class is loaded with talent and athleticism, and this group should be very deep. I see a third team in a row that will be improved.

Abraham Lincoln: They lose the top player in the conference from last season, and she was hardly alone in a strong senior class. However, Baylie Girres and Emily Pomernackas make for a solid duo that should help the Lynx jump a spot in the standings. 

LeMars: A highly productive senior class is gone, but this sophomore class has the makings of something special. Sarah Brown is the big name here, but Zoe Wittkop and Madi Huls also made starts. They might not see a jump this year, but it’s coming soon enough.

Sioux City West: There’s a chance they could go a spot or two higher. Their senior class is loaded with all kinds of experience, and I would expect this Wolverines team will also be much improved. I’m staying conservative with a No. 6 slot, but I think they could go as high as 4. 

Sioux City North: North was very, very young a season ago with three sophomores starting every single game. They’re talented, too, leading the Stars in most categories. Their growth should be evident.

Thomas Jefferson: Three important senior starters have graduated. There’s not a lot of depth in this group yet, and they’re under new leadership. If nothing else, that should make them exciting to learn more about throughout the season. 

Send any questions, comments, concerns and/or corrections to dmartiN@kmamail.com.

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