An early illness put the Belle Plaine girls’ basketball team in an early hole.
Now, the Plainsmen are more than playing catch-up. They’re two games from Never Never Land.
Belle Plaine continues its postseason journey Friday at Huxley, when it faces Woodward-Granger in a Class 1A girls’ basketball regional semifinal.
“We’ll definitely be an underdog, but that’s something the girls don’t have much trouble accepting,” said Plainsmen Coach Andy Dahlquist. “They like to play basketball, and they don’t want it to be over.”
The tournament trail hits the regional-semi stage Friday in classes 1A and 2A, Saturday in 3A and 4A.
Belle Plaine figured to be an upper-division team in the South Iowa Cedar League, but it didn’t start that way. Julie Long missed the first portion of the season with mononucleosis and an enlarged spleen, and the Plainsmen started 0-5.
“Once we got that out of the way, it made a big difference,” Dahlquist said.
Now 16-8, the Plainsmen have won 10 games in a row, including three in their tournament run. They edged Colo-Nesco, 35-33, Tuesday in the quarterfinals.
They’re two steps away from the first state-tournament appearance in school history, and they have a fighting chance to make it. Kameo Pope is one of the area’s best young players; the sophomore post averages 15.5 points and 11.1 rebounds per game.
“She’s a strong anchor,” Dahlquist said.
Belle Plaine’s late charge is one of the best storylines heading into Friday’s games. The best matchup is at Delhi, where ninth-ranked Maquoketa Valley (23-0) takes on Tri-Rivers Conference foe Monticello (20-3).
Most of Friday’s games are at neutral sites, but Maquoketa Valley will have a home-court advantage.
“It will be a packed house,” said Wildcats Coach Scot Moenck, who is 0-2 all-time against Monticello in the postseason. “It will be a fun environment to play in — loud and crazy.”
Despite the undefeated record, the home court and the season’s earlier meeting (Maquoketa Valley won 60-49 on Jan. 10), Moenck proclaimed the Panthers as favorites.
“I think they have to be,” he said. “They’re healthy now.”
Monticello is 9-0 since the return of all-state guard Brooke Stahlberg, who missed 10 games with a broken wrist.
In another 2A game between league rivals, South Winneshiek (18-5) faces Sumner-Fredericksburg (22-1) at West Union. Sumner-Fredericksburg won both regular-season meetings, by six and eight points, on its way to the Upper Iowa Conference title. The second game went overtime.
Lisbon (14-10) tackles top-ranked North Mahaska (23-0) in a 1A game at Tiffin.
FRIDAY’S CLASS 2A REGIONAL SEMIFINALS (7 p.m.)
South Winneshiek (18-5) vs. Sumner-Fredericksburg (22-1), at West Union
Osage (19-4) vs. West Hancock (23-0), at Garner
Monticello (20-3) at Maquoketa Valley (23-0)
Iowa City Regina (20-3) vs. Pella Christian (19-3), at Sigourney
Grundy Center (20-3) vs. North Linn (21-3), at Waterloo Columbus
West Marshall (18-5) vs. Gilbert (21-2), at Nevada
FRIDAY’S CLASS 1A REGIONAL SEMIFINALS (7 p.m.)
Turkey Valley (14-9) vs. Tripoli (17-6), at New Hampton
Mason City Newman (14-9) vs. North Butler (19-1), at Charles City
Belle Plaine (16-8) vs. Woodward-Granger (17-6), at Huxley
Janesville (12-10) at North Tama (19-4)
Clinton Prince of Peace (16-8) vs. Bellevue Marquette (10-10), at Goose Lake
Lisbon (14-10) vs. North Mahaska (23-0), at Tiffin
Andy Dahlquist, Belle Plaine, Brooke Stahlberg, class 1A, class 2A, girls basketball, Lisbon, Maquoketa Valley, Monticello, North Mahaska, regional semifinals, Scot Moenck, South Winneshiek, Sumner-Fredericksburg