IOWA CITY – Unproven and untested became undisputed and undefeated.
Iowa City Regina experienced a lot of turnover to its starting lineup for the second straight year, and managed its third straight title.
The Regals capped their third straight undefeated season, claiming the Class 1A state title and 42nd consecutive victory. Cook was named The Gazette-KCRG Coach of the Year.
The championship follows two straight 2A crowns. This year’s team made its own mark on the Regals program, dedicating themselves to hard work and improvement in the offseason. A relatively new cast, including just three returning starters, rose to the challenge of a tough district and postseason of a smaller class.
“Every year, you have a senior flavor,” said Cook, who guided Regina to a 35-14 win over Council Bluffs Saint Albert in the state final. “Each one is very distinct to me. The big thing with this one is they really had to earn it.”
Cook, a former University of Iowa and NFL tight end, and his staff of former Division I players have put the Regals (14-0) in position to reload and produce on the field. The goal is to build unity among the players before high school and provide them with the blueprint to succeed at the varsity level.
“The kids have bought in,” Cook said. “From junior high on, we try to incorporate the system. The template is in place.”
Hard to argue the results. Quarterback Mark Ward, wide receivers Alex Balke and Matt Streb, lineman Daniel Gaffey, kicker Nick Dolezal, running back Riley Dixon and senior linebacker Mike Donovan earned all-state honors from the Iowa Newspaper Association.
This season, Regina coaches were tested, trailing in a handful of games. They showed an ability to make in-game adjustments, equipping the Regals with a winning formula in those contests.
“They tell us exactly what each of us as individuals need to do,” Donovan said. “It’s always you do your part, everybody does their parts, the team will come out with a win.
“I never had a feeling we couldn’t win the game. The coaches would change something up, or if a player made a mistake, and we did what they said, we’d win, and that’s exactly what happened.”
Cook said opponents presented new challenges at his staff this season. It was important for players and coaches were on the same page, and they relied on the players to convey what was happening on the field.
“We’re blessed in Eastern Iowa to have phenomenal coaching staffs,” Cook said. “Teams have put wrinkles in, so the kids need to make those adjustments.”
Cook benefits from a staff stocked with experience. Assistants Ed Hinkel, Alex Kanellis and Jason Dumont are former Hawkeyes. Mike Brinkman played at the University of Northern Iowa. They devote numerous hours to go over strategy and game film, trying to prepare the Regals for their next foe.
“I think it’s amazing what they do,” Donovan said. “We’d come in and watch film on Sunday and they’d have everything planned out for the week. They’d know exactly what defense we need and what the other team would be doing. They put in more time than most players.”
Regina led 1A with 5,732 total yards of offense, including a class-best 2,635 through the air. The Regals had three shutouts, allowing an average of a little more than 10 points per game. They forced 35 turnovers in winning the 1A District 6 title.
A large amount of time is put before the season, especially figuring out how to adapt to a little less than 20 new starters. The coaches have to the right fit for the team. It can be hard when coaches have different preferences.
“Ultimately, as coaches, we have to try to make sure whatever we feel our personnel will match then going to try to run those sets and packages to put our kids in the best possible position to be successful,” said Cook, noting Hinkel prefers a spread, passing offense, and Kanellis leans to a physical run game. “Having a staff with diversity helps as well.”
Coaching is a team effort, too. An accomplished staff allows Cook to delegate responsibilities. He encourages their contributions, admitting his assistants have a better grasp of some aspects of the game.
“I trust them,” Cook said. “I ask them to take it because I know they are smarter than me in a lot of those key areas.”
Donovan said Cook and other coaches develop strong relationships with the players, making time to talk to them when they see each other away from football. It’s more than a coach-player relationship, according to Donovan.
“They did all they could to help you,” Donovan said. “I don’t think we could have any better coaches.”
Alex Balke, Alex Kanellis, coach, Coach of the Year, Daniel Gaffey, Ed Hinkel, Elliot Halsch, Football, Iowa City Regina, mark ward, Marv Cook, Matt Streb, Mike Donovan, Nick Dolezal, Regals, Riley Dixon