Regardless of whether the Siouxland was a spotless 3-0 or 0-3 in opening-round play this week, in my mind and in the minds of the coaches it stands alone as the top league in Iowa due to its depth and postseason success.
"I think the conference is the best boys basketball conference regardless of class in our state, and I don't think it's really close," said seventh-year Okoboji coach Ryan Paulsen, "When you have the quality of depth that our conference has, there's just such so many good teams and good players and so much tradition. Our teams do so well in postseason play and there's not another league that has the type of success that our conference has."
Boyden-Hull was the only team to win their Class 1A quarterfinal round game and are still searching for a coveted state championship. The Comets are set to play in Thursday's semifinal round, taking on 26-0 Storm Lake St. Mary's at 12:15 p.m.
But in spite of the first-round scores, I'm writing this column because this is the first time the conference has had three teams at state since 2003 when Boyden-Hull (1A) and Sioux Center (2A) won state titles and Okoboji lost to the Warriors in the first round.
Astoundingly enough the league has had at least one team at state in boys basketball for 26 consecutive seasons and five different conference schools have won a state championships since '03.
"I think the stat that says it all is that five different conference schools have won a state title since 2003," said Paulsen. "I doubt there's another league that has had 50 percent of their teams win a state titles within the past 10 years. That depth proves how good our conference is and that we have teams that can churn out good teams every year."
The Siouxland has won 10 state titles since 1987 and finished as runners-up seven times. They also have five third place finishes and six fourth place showings since '91, going 25-8 in first round games since that year with one of those losses coming when Okoboji lost to Sioux Center in '03.
An excellent example of the depth of the league is of ninth place George-Little Rock, which went 4-14 in league games. The Mustangs feature five seniors, including three all-conference starters. Another example are Central Lyon and Sibley-Ocheyedan, which tied for sixth with 7-11 records. The two teams combined to have 16 seniors. The only team with fewer than four seniors aside from Okoboji was Rock Valley.
"When you have 18 of your 21 games as conference games, and our league is as good as it is, there's not a night when you're playing a team that's bad," said Paulsen. "Every night our conference schedule is good and we schedule three quality non-conference schools in Harris-Lake Park, Emmetsburg and Spirit Lake, which were a combined 51-16 this year. This is one of the toughest schedules we've ever played and our conference we know is always going to be good."
In the 1A field, third-seeded Boyden-Hull manhandled traditional power Iowa Mennonite by 20 points after overcoming some red hot shooting. IMS made their first five 3-pointers to start the game, but the Comets went on a 51-25 run over the final 25 minutes. Boyden-Hull finished with three players in double figures and shot an incredible 61.1 percent from the floor in the second half.
Eighth-seeded Sioux Center was hoping to make a run at a state title, but had that taken away from them after an ill-timed technical foul. Even though Beau Boer had been whistled for his fifth foul with his team trailing 70-69 with 10 seconds remaining, the officials handed the ball to MFL's Jacob Dotzler before Boer left the floor. So, even though Dotzler missed both attempts and SC grabbed the rebound, the Warriors never got their chance at pulling out a win.
And it proved to be even tougher to take after Andrew O'Donnell brought the final margin back to one point with a long 3-pointer to beat the buzzer, particularly for Sioux Center coach Todd Arends.
"Take your heart out and step on it for a while and cut it up in a meat grinder and then throw it in the garbage,'' summed up a visibly upset Arends. "That's how it feels. We played hard, we just didn't play well enough. Unfortunately it came down to that situation. Of course I'm interested in what the call is, but there's nothing going to change it."
MOC-Floyd Valley, the favorites to win the 3A crown, got ousted 35-33 by Bishop Heelan in the quarterfinals. The Crusaders have been to state six straight years and were just the fifth three-peat champions in tournament history last March.
The final two hoop teams left standing in Dickinson County created an awful lot of memories as well. The Harris-Lake Park boys advanced to the district finals for the first time since the '06-'07 season and the Spirit Lake girls have nothing to be ashamed of after giving 3A state runner-up MOC-Floyd Valley their toughest battle prior to the 3A semifinals. It was the Indians first regional finals appearance since making it back in '08-'09. As there's still lots more success to come for these two clubs, as the Wolves return three all-conference players and the Indians bring back two all-conference standouts, including two-time all-stater K.J. Veldman, next season.