COLO - Graduation, injuries and personal matters have altered the look of the Royals roster, but not their expectations.
Coming off its first state tournament appearance in eight years, the Colo-NESCO girls basketball team brings back a talented trio of all-Iowa Star Conference players ready to return to Des Moines. And this time, they're hoping to go further.
Junior point guard Shayla Dean joins senior posts Caitlyn Riese and Madison Farren as the foundation of the 2013-14 club and the reason the Royals have high hopes after losing five players from last year's 23-3 campaign.
T-R PHOTO BY TYLER STRAND
Colo-NESCO junior Shayla Dean, front, is joined by seniors Caitlyn Riese, left, and Madison Farren, right, as the Royals look to return to the Class 1A Iowa Girls High School State Basketball Tournament. All three were starters on last year’s 23-3 squad that claimed the Iowa Star Conference South title and earned the program’s first trip to Des Moines since 2005.
"We think we're definitely a state tournament team and if things can fall together right, we think we have a team that can contend for a state title," said Colo-NESCO coach Wayne Cafferty, who enters his 21st season with the Royals with a record of 312-155. "We have to improve, we have to make that step from being a state tournament contender to a state title contender."
A major factor in that step involves the development of a supporting cast that will play expanded roles after the graduation of three seniors including leading scorer Madison Eley (12.7 ppg), Haley Stoeffler and Ashlyn Eley. Colo-NESCO also is without the services of 6-foot-2 junior Samantha Riese, who is rehabbing knee and hip injuries this winter, and senior Shelby Anthony, who opted not to return this season for personal reasons.
Dean, a Class 1A all-state third team guard, reprises her role at the point after finishing second in all classes with 162 steals, while also averaging 8 points and 4.8 assists per game as the Royals claimed the Iowa Star Conference South Division title with a 15-1 mark in the league.
"Shayla is Shayla, the other team's going to have to get the ball across half court and she'll have a lot to say about that," said Cafferty, who is joined by sixth-year assistant Dana Johnson. "(Shayla) is probably one of the best point guards in the state, and she'll be there to run the show for us."
Caitlyn Riese remains a double-double threat at center as the 6-2 senior tallied 11.2 points and 7.2 rebounds per contest last year, while earning all-Iowa Star conference second-team honors. Farren earned honorable mention in the league after putting up 7.7 points and 6.8 rebounds as the Royals look to take on a stronger paint presence this season.
"We're going to need to be able to get some consistent scoring on the inside and then let the outside game develop," said Cafferty, who views junior Melanie Van Loon as a key contributor from the perimeter. "We'll still shoot a lot of 3s. If Mel keeps shooting like she's been shooting the last week, we'll be OK."
Sophomore Makaelyn Neuendorf and junior guard Hannah Buseman also will vie for a starting spot, while juniors Tabitha Halferty and Leah Vincent also can provide some scoring punch in the Royals' eight-player rotation.
Cutting down on turnovers, establishing more of an inside presence and developing the perimeter attack are the main areas Cafferty believes his team must address to reach the next level. With six letterwinners on board and eight varsity players capable of contributing, the Royals will look to replicate the chemistry that led to a 17-game win streak and last year's postseason trek.
While a few key cogs will have to be replaced from that fine-tuned machine, Cafferty believes the pieces are present to build around his top trio and trigger another playoff run.
"All of them saw quality minutes at some time or another," said Cafferty of his team's supporting cast. "Even though we lost some good seniors and other letterwinners, we've got some good kids coming up too."
The Royals start the season on the road against West Marshall Friday at 7:45 p.m.