WCHS hopes to leave inconsistencies in the past

Ballard comes to town for 4A?regional quarterfinal on a 5-game surge

WCHS sophomore point guard Taylor McKinney races the ball up the court during a game this season. She leads the Lynx in scoring at 15.4 points per game entering Wednesday night’s postseason opener against Ballard. DFJ photo/Troy Banning

WEBSTER CITY — No team is immune to the ebb and flow of a long season. The trick is to hang on to the highest of highs and forget the lowest of lows.

With the postseason at the doorstep of the Webster City girls’ basketball team, head coach Nicole Muhlenbruch knows it’s time for her veteran club to take a stand.

“With this being the regional, I’m optimistic about where our minds are,” Muhlenbruch said on Monday as the Lynx (10-10) prepare to host Ballard (12-9) in a Class 4A Region 2 quarterfinal Wednesday evening at 7 p.m. “We’ve got a lot of seniors and we’ve got underclassmen that would like to play another game, too.”

But which WCHS team will take the floor? The team that drubbed Fort Dodge St. Edmond by 27 points, or the one that lost to the Gaels by two? The team that was at its lowest following a three-point loss to Humboldt, or the one that hammered the Wildcats by 31 in the second meeting? The team that celebrated Senior Night by dismantling Hampton-Dumont by 39 points, or the one that failed to show up in a 42-point loss to fifth-ranked (Class 3A) Clear Lake just four nights later in the regular season finale?

The Lynx have proven they can present a serious challenge to some of the upper-echelon teams in the state — anyone remember when they played sixth-ranked (4A) Boone to a five-point game? — but the inconsistencies have held them back at times.

WCHS forward Cassidy Nerland (50) scores from the post against CGD this season. She averages a double-double on the season. DFJ photo/Troy Banning

Enter Ballard, a young team that will force WCHS to play some of its best basketball if it wants to advance. The Bombers have won their last five games by an average of 16 points. They don’t have any player that averages in double figures, but five girls score between 6.0 and 7.9 points per night.

“It looks like any of those girls are very capable of scoring at any time,” Muhlenbruch said. “They look scrappy and they hustle … they like to go after it.”

Freshman Josie Fleischmann leads the team at 7.9 points per game, and fellow rookie Molly Ihle contributes 6.0 points and 5.4 rebounds an outing. Muhlenbruch says Bombers’ forward Juliana Vier (7.0 points, 6.9 rebounds) could present problems in the paint.

“On film, she looks really tough in the post,” Muhlenbruch said of Vier. “She’s strong and she posts up well, and they like to get her a lot of touches.”

The type of defense that Ballard implements will be a factor as well. Muhlenbruch says the Bombers play a zone out of a 1-2-2 press and also mix in man-to-man sets, but the Lynx have seen myriad of junk defenses thrown at sophomore point guard Taylor McKinney, particularly during the second half of the season.

“I’ve watched four tapes and they’ve done nothing to stop one individual player, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that would happen,” Muhlenbruch said.

McKinney leads WCHS at 15.4 points per game, but she’s been handcuffed as of late. She’s been limited to just 4.0 points per game over the last three outings; in the five prior to that she put up 18.2 a night.

If Ballard does throw a box-and-one at McKinney, the Lynx four seniors will be asked to step up, which they’ve proven they can do. Cassidy Nerland averages a double-double — 10 points and 11.8 rebounds — and ranks at the top of 4A in rebounds per game. Halle Mason (6.9 ppg) had a season-high 19 points in the rout of Hampton-Dumont, and Haley Flaws (6.3 ppg) can turn it on as well.

Wednesday’s winner will advance to Saturday’s regional semifinal against seventh-ranked Mason City (12-9) in Mason City.

“We didn’t perform well against Clear Lake and Mason City was there to watch us,” Muhlenbruch said. “So if we can win (on Wednesday), it would be an opportunity to show Mason City a different side of us.”