The odds appear stacked against unrated Red Oak (13-11) when it makes its first girls state basketball appearance in 90 years at 11:45 a.m. Tuesday against top-rated and defending champion Davenport Assumption (22-2).
But do you want to talk about odds?
What were the odds that a guy who had never been a head girls basketball coach would take a school that had never played in the previous 87 state tournaments sanctioned by the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union to the promised land in his first season? And that he would do it after the team muddled through a 4-7 start, losing six of those games by a combined 19 points?
“We just had to believe,” sophomore Kate Walker said recently.
The turnaround started on the defensive end. At 6-foot-1 and with natural shot-blocking ability, Red Oak coach Dan Martinez had a legitimate defensive stopper in Grace Blomstedt, a long-armed presence who could erase a lot of mistakes. In a regional semifinal win over Shenandoah, she had 18 points, five blocks and five steals. In the regional final against ADM, she recorded a triple-double with 14 points, 11 rebounds and 10 blocks.
The Tigers have held five straight opponents under 41 points, part of a stretch in which they’ve won seven of eight heading into state. The only loss was a two-pointer to 4-A qualifier Harlan.
“Offensively, we’re going to be up and down,” said Martinez, who led the Red Oak boys program to state in 1983, 1990 and 1993 but hadn’t coached basketball in 10 years. “But defensively, we’ve got to be consistent.”
Martinez thinks his team can play with anybody when the trio of Blomstedt, 5-10 sophomore Walker and 5-10 junior Blake Bergren are at the top of their game.
Walker, already an all-state volleyball player and state tennis quarterfinalist, averages 11.3 points and 6.7 rebounds, and is the team’s table-setter with 4.8 assists per game.
“She’s been a great leader all year,” Martinez said.
Bergren possesses the athletic ability to create her own shot and pitches in 12.8 points and 6.2 rebounds per contest.
The other starters are juniors Bailey Hankins and Sabrina Guerra.
Red Oak faces a daunting task in its quarterfinal game with Assumption. The Knights return three all-tournament players from last year’s run to the 3-A title, including captain Hailey Schneden, a 6-2 center who likely will match up with Blomstedt. Senior guard Danielle Moore (5-7) is the team’s leading scorer (13.1) and a returning all-state player. The third all-tourney selection is senior Kate Fennelly (5-10), who leads all 3-A players with 61 made 3-pointers, and is shooting 41.2 percent from long range.
With athletes who have competed in state tennis and volleyball, Martinez expects his team to be competitive. He said the support of the Red Oak community aided his players throughout the regional run.
“They’re getting excited about the girls,” he said, “and we’re excited about what we’ve done.”
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