DES MOINES — The trail is freshly blazed.
Class 4A runners-up one year. Champions the next.
Des Moines East did it Saturday. Iowa City West will try to repeat the feat in 2012.
“We’re going to come back and get it next year,” West’s Jessica Shull said after East vanquished the Women of Troy, 52-40, in the 4A final at the girls’ state basketball tournament.
The Scarlets were fueled by last year’s three-point loss to Linn-Mar in the championship game, and used that to construct a 26-0 season capped by Saturday’s title.
“They were in the same exact spot we’ll be in next year,” said West Coach B.J. Mayer. “I’m sure it motivated them all season.”
Another parallel between the 2011 Scarlets and the 2012 Women of Troy: Just about all the roster returns.
Of the nine West girls that played Saturday, only one — Paige Yoder (two minutes, no points) — was a senior.
And with East losing virtually all of its firepower, the Women of Troy have to be considered, at the very least, a co-favorite to come back and win it next year.
Here’s an extremely preliminary look at 2011-12, in each of the four classes:
West isn’t the only big school that returns virtually intact. Rapidly rising Southeast Polk, which gave East more than a mild tussle in the semifinals, also returns five starters. So does Ankeny, which was a could-go-either-way call at the end from getting past Linn-Mar and into the semifinals.
State qualifiers Waukee and Mason City return four starters apiece, giving this class a rock-solid top five.
Top five: 1. Iowa City West, 2. Southeast Polk, 3. Ankeny, 4. Waukee, 5. Mason City.
Probably the most difficult class to locate a frontrunner. Champion Davenport Assumption loses its top two scorers, but don’t count out the Knights.
A pair of state quarterfinalists — Sergeant Bluff-Luton and South Tama — probably rise to the top. SBL has four starters back; South Tama has all five. Both were extremely competitive in first-round defeats.
Keep a close eye on two non-qualifiers, Dubuque Wahlert and Williamsburg.
Top five: 1. Sergeant Bluff-Luton, 2. South Tama, 3. Davenport Assumption, 4. Dubuque Wahlert, 5. Williamsburg.
Ready for a rematch, anyone?
Friday finalists Ida Grove OA-BCIG and Estherville-Lincoln Central probably have the inside track to getting back to the championship game. OA-BCIG returns arguably the state’s best junior in Jessie Pauley, and two other starters from a championship outfit that averaged nearly 80 points per game. ELC started four sophomores and a junior this year.
IKM-Manning, which pushed OA-BCIG hard in the quarterfinals, should be the next best challenger.
Top five: 1. Estherville-Lincoln Central, 2. Ida Grove OA-BCIG, 3. IKM-Manning, 4. Carroll Kuemper, 5. Fort Dodge St. Edmond.
Next year’s preseason No. 1 was detemined in the quarterfinals, where West Hancock rallied from 16 points to beat Bedford.
Both of those teams are stacked for 2012. And so is North Mahaska. The three teams combine to return 14 of 15 starters.
Runner-up Ar-We-Va will remain strong. LeMars Gehlen, which brings back its top four scorers, looks like the best non-qualifier.
Top five: 1. West Hancock, 2. Bedford, 3. North Mahaska, 4. LeMars Gehlen, 5. Ar-We-Va.