Council Bluffs Lewis Central coach Derek Archer heard the term so many times during the offseason. He understood why.
The Titans returned two players with varsity experience. He had been coaching for two seasons and had never run a program. And he was about to put two freshmen in his starting lineup.
Yet, Archer never bought into what he heard. Instead, he set lofty goals for his first Lewis Central team.
Win 20 games. Win the Hawkeye Ten Conference. Win your way to state.
Check. Check. Check.
“A lot of people may have seen those as unattainable goals,” Archer said. “But to everyone in this room, that was nothing out of the ordinary. To achieve all of those goals that you set out to do, there’s not a lot of teams can say that. To be one of them definitely feels good.”
The No. 7 Titans (20-3) make their first state appearance since 2005 Wednesday when they meet No. 5 Cedar Rapids Xavier (14-9) at 10 a.m. in the Class 4-A quarterfinals at Wells Fargo Arena.
Lewis Central is one of three western Iowa teams in the 4-A field. No. 8 Harlan (21-2) will play No. 3 Benton Community (21-2) at 6:45 p.m. Tuesday, and No. 1 Sioux City Heelan (20-3) will meet unrated Dubuque Wahlert (10-13) at 11:45 a.m. Wednesday.
Archer played in the Nebraska state tournament twice while at Bancroft-Rosalie. He said the unique opportunity is one he wants the girls on his team to cherish.
“I keep trying to tell the girls that it’s something that you never forget,” he said. “The state basketball tournament is an experience unlike most others in sports. You create memories at something like that which you will keep for a lifetime.”
This year’s players still recall Lewis Central’s last trip. Senior starters Natalie Madsen and Aubrey Norville were in fourth grade. Freshmen Paige Beacom and Kye Madsen were in first.
“We watched them make it to state,” Beacom said. “We knew that’s where we wanted to be. We went to that game and had the face paint and the ribbons. We wanted to be actually playing in the game.”
Now they are.
The Titans give up 34.4 points per game on average, third best in 4-A.
“If we mess up, we can always come back on defense and get a stop,” Natalie Madsen said.
Archer likens Xavier to Indianola, the team the Titans just beat. Both, he said, had records that were indicative of their tough schedules. Lewis Central’s ranked in the lower half of 4-A.
Still, Archer thinks his team will be ready Wednesday.
“I’m thrilled to have that opportunity to take them down there and give them some of the experience and atmosphere down there,” Archer said. “It’s fantastic.”
Harlan is back at state for the 10th time and first since 2009. The Cyclones have a balanced attack, with nine girls averaging between three and 10 points per game.
Harlan also has a first-year coach in Zach Klaassen. After spending two years as an assistant, he maintained high expectations when he took the reins from Tony Vis.
“We had a meeting when I got the job at the end of the school year and we laid it out: This is our goal and this is how we’re going to do it,” he said. “If you buy into this system, I’m going to guarantee you it’s going to work.
“I don’t know what I was going to do if it didn’t, but it ended up working out in the end.”
Sophomore Jess Schaben leads Harlan in points (9.9), rebounds (5.9), blocks (2.8) and field-goal percentage (63.8). But the Cyclones don’t lean on one person for production. It all depends on the opponent and the flow of the game.
“Not a lot of teams could play this many girls and everybody be OK with it,” Klaassen said. “There’s a lot of girls that don’t even get on the floor that I think could play quite a few minutes for other teams. But they’re buying into the system. They’re cheering each other on when they’re on the bench. They’re doing all the right things.”
Making its third straight state appearance, Benton is led by Northern Iowa recruit Madison Weekly, a 5-foot-7 guard who averages 18.8 points and 4.6 steals.
Sioux City Heelan, riding a 12-game winning streak, is back in Des Moines for the fifth time in six years. The Crusaders play a fast-paced brand of basketball and lead 4-A in scoring with 69 points per game.
Morningside basketball recruit MaKayla Augustine leads Heelan with 14.7 points per game and is joined in double figures by junior guard Jenna Bork (11.8) and South Dakota volleyball recruit Megan McCarthy (10.8).