As expected, the Mississippi Valley Conference is a grind. No team has gotten through the front end of the schedule without a slip.
Three area unbeatens remain. Benton Community has extended its regular-season winning streak to 37 games, while North Linn and Cascade might be headed for a Tri-Rivers Conference showdown on Jan. 8.
Waukon Coach Gene Klinge has pushed to the brink of 1,000 career victories. Five wins to go.
The biggest surprise of the 2012-13 girls basketball season? Without a doubt, Meskwaki Settlement School. At 9-1, the Warriors are on their way to the first winning season in their brief history, and have moved into the Class 1A state rankings.
The season resumes Thursday. Here’s a look back — and forward.
MVC MISSISSIPPI DIVISION
* Where we stand — Iowa City High (10-2, 5-1) has established itself as the best team in the MVC. The Little Hawks’ lone loss came at Waterloo West, a place few teams will escape successfully. Cedar Rapids Kennedy (5-2, 3-1) won its first five games under new coach Tony Vis, and defending state champion Iowa City West (6-3, 3-2) is the other threat in this division.
* Midseason MVP — Despite heavy graduation losses, Iowa City West remains a viable threat against anyone it plays. University of Iowa recruit Ally Disterhoft is the major reason. The 6-foot senior guard averages 23.8 points and 8.4 rebounds per game and shoots 61 percent from the field. She’s adept at the baseline drive and lethal from outside, shooting 51 percent from 3-point range.
* Where we’re headed — City High already has waded through the most difficult portion of its schedule, but its two chief threats remain. The Little Hawks host Kennedy on Jan. 18, then entertain Iowa City West on Feb. 4. Kennedy will be a handful once Morgan Martin returns from her knee injury, and wins between now and Jan. 21 are vital in the Cougars earning a favorable postseason draw.
MVC VALLEY DIVISION
* Where we stand — For now, the contenders are a pack of four: Waterloo West (7-3, 5-1) leads the way and already has beaten both Iowa City schools. The chase group consists of Cedar Rapids Xavier (6-4, 4-1), Cedar Rapids Prairie (7-3, 5-2) and Cedar Rapids Washington (7-2, 3-2). The Warriors are the hottest team of the foursome with seven straight wins.
* Midseason MVP — This one’s tough to call. Washington’s Dani Franklin and Abby Herb have enjoyed solid seasons and are worthy of consideration. So is West’s Blaire Thomas. For now, give a slight nod to West junior guard Haley Puk, who leads the division in scoring (18.1 points per game) and adds 3.4 assists per contest.
* Where we’re headed — Lots of big games remain, starting on Thursday, when Washington plays at Xavier. Then, five days later, the Warriors host Waterloo West. The Wahawks play two of their three games against the other Valley Division contenders at home, so they probably rate as slight favorites. Prairie still has two games left with both Washington and West, but the Hawks’ conference-counting games with both are on the road, and that’s a big disadvantage.
WAMAC EAST DIVISION
* Where we stand — Western Dubuque (7-1, 4-0) has held serve on its home court, defeating its two main challengers — Mount Vernon (7-2, 4-1) and Solon (6-3, 4-1) — by four points apiece at Epworth. Those are the only three teams above .500, either in divisional play or overall.
* Midseason MVP — It’s hard to pick between Western Dubuque’s Madalyn Welty and Mount Vernon’s Miranda Chapman. Welty (15.1 ppg) probably gets the edge based on her team’s success. Chapman is averaging 13.9 points and 3.3 steals per game.
* Where we’re headed — The three-team title chase figures to go at least into late January before a winner can be declared. Solon travels to Mount Vernon on Jan. 8, with the loser slipping two games off the pace. Western Dubuque’s key road tests are Jan. 22 (at Mount Vernon) and Feb. 1 (at Solon). If the Bobcats split those two, they’re in great shape.
WAMAC WEST DIVISION
* Where we stand — By far the stronger of the two Wamac divisions, the West goes six deep without much of a dropoff. Benton Community (10-0, 5-0) is the class of the division. Center Point-Urbana (7-3, 4-1) is in striking range, with two games remaining with the Bobcats. Independence (5-3, 3-2) has been the surprise of the group and stands in a third-place tie with Williamsburg (7-3, 3-2) and Marion (5-4, 3-2).
* Midseason MVP — Benton senior Madison Weekly is a slight pick over Williamsburg’s Paige Greiner. Weekly is a UNI recruit and averages 16 points and 4.4 rebounds per game. Greiner (16.1 ppg) has excellent shooting numbers (54 percent from the field, 41 percent from long range, 88 percent from the line).
* Where we’re headed — Benton has established itself as a solid favorite, but as strong as this division is, don’t be surprised if the Bobcats suffer a loss or two. Arika Wooldridge is one of the top freshmen in the state, and Center Point-Urbana will only get better as the season progresses. CPU gets its first shot at the Bobcats on Jan. 8.
* Where we stand — Iowa City Regina (7-1, 6-0) has won three straight CVC titles, and has pushed its way to the top again. The Regals gained the upper hand by beating preseason favorite Mid-Prairie (4-2, 3-2) and West Branch (6-3, 4-1) in successive games in early December. Both of those games were at home, and the road rematches are in mid-January.
* Midseason MVP — Jenna Lehman has developed into the leader for Regina. The junior is averaging 17 points per game and is shooting nearly 60 percent from the floor. Honorable mention to West Liberty’s Kristi Feldman, who has the Comets pointing toward their best season in quite a while.
* Where we’re headed — Regina has put the heat on the other contenders, and if the Regals can steal a win at Mid-Prairie (Jan. 15) or at West Branch (Jan. 18), they’ll be in prime position for a fourth straight league championship.
* Where we stand — Defending champion Bellevue lost Ali Reeg to a knee injury, and that has brought the Comets back to the pack. There’s not much separation among the top five teams. Bellevue Marquette (7-1, 6-0) holds the lead, with Bellevue (6-2, 4-1), Northeast (6-2, 4-1), Preston (6-2, 4-2) and Camanche (7-2, 3-2) on the chase.
* Midseason MVP — With Reeg sidelined, Bellevue’s Kelsey Ernst has had to pick up the slack, and she has. The senior is averaging 18.9 points and 11.5 rebounds per contest.
* Where we’re headed — Toward a climactic final act of Big East basketball. The league will disintegrate after the school year (three schools go to the River Valley Conference, six to the Tri-Rivers). The race will start to take shape in the first week back from break when the top three teams go head to head: Marquette at Northeast on Friday, Bellevue against Northeast at Rivalry Saturday, then Bellevue at Marquette on Jan. 8.
* Where we stand — Waverly-Shell Rock (8-0, 4-0) started the season with an eye-opening win over Waterloo West, and hasn’t slowed down since. The Go-Hawks own a half-game lead on Waukon (9-1, 4-1) and own a 13-point road win over the Indians. Waukon Coach Gene Klinge is in striking range of the 1,000-win mark; he stands at 995 with 11 regular-season games remaining.
* Midseason MVP — Waukon’s Daneshia Snitker leads the state in scoring at 25.6 points per game. It’s not like she’s chucking up a bunch of shots to get there; she is shooting 60 percent from the floor.
* Where we’re headed — For Waverly-Shell Rock, the remaining difficult obstacle standing in front of a title repeat is Jan. 15, when it hosts Waukon. Win that, and the Go-Hawks should be home free. For Klinge, the question no longer appears whether he’ll make it to 1,000, but when. If Waukon wins the games it should (assuming a loss at Waverly), he’ll go for 1,000 at Decorah on Jan. 22.
SOUTH IOWA CEDAR
* Where we stand — North Mahaska is at it again. The defending state champion Warhawks (10-0, 10-0) have extended their winning streak to 38 games, and have taken control of the SICL race. North Mahaska is allowing 25.7 points per game. Iowa Valley is the closest challenger, at 7-3 and 7-2.
* Midseason MVP — Belle Plaine’s Kameo Pope is a dominant post. The junior leads the state in blocks (59 through nine games) and is averaging a double-double — 19.3 points and 11.3 rebounds per game.
* Where we’re headed — North Mahaska’s continued dominance has come at somewhat of a surprise. The Warhawks’ next game against a team with a winning record is Jan. 15, when it hosts Belle Plaine. Their final stretch is difficult — at Lynnville-Sully, then Iowa Valley and English Valleys at home.
* Where we stand — Again, this is a league of haves and have-nots, and the chasm between the classes is a wide one. North Linn (10-0, 7-0), Cascade (10-0, 7-0) and Maquoketa Valley (8-2, 6-1) have moved to the front of the class, to little surprise. North Linn has a prolific offense (64.8 points per game) while Cascade relies on a defense that yields just 25.6 points per game.
* Midseason MVP — This one’s easy. North Linn sophomore Nicole Miller is averaging 20.3 points per game, a league high. She’s also among the leaders in rebounds (7.0 per game), assists (4.9) and steals (4.1).
* Where we’re headed — No question, the pivotal date is Jan. 8, when North Linn visits Cascade. It’s extra important because it’s the only time the co-leaders play, and the winner will have a leg up in the race. North Linn has work to do before that, though, with a makeup date at home with Maquoketa Valley on Thursday.
* Where we stand — Sumner-Fredericksburg (8-1, 8-0) owns the last two UIC titles and is on track to a third straight crown. South Winneshiek (6-3, 6-1) was the Cougars’ prime challenger each of the last two years, and appears to be in that position again. Clayton Ridge (7-3, 6-2) and North Fayette (6-2, 5-2) have been pleasant surprises.
* Midseason MVP — Vicky Kapnisis of North Fayette averages 10.8 points and a league-high 13.9 rebounds per game. She is among the state leaders in blocks with 6.0 per game.
* Where we’re headed — They haven’t exactly obliterated the competition (four league wins have come by less than 10 points), but Sumner-Fredericksburg seems destined to a third consecutive title. Potential remaining roadblocks are late — at Turkey Valley (Jan. 29) and at South Winn (in the league finale Feb. 1).
AND ELSEWHERE …
* With nine wins, Meskwaki already has matched a school record, and the Warriors are among the contenders in the Iowa Star Conference. Dia Keahna, a transfer from South Tama, is scoring 19 points per game.
* Washington (Iowa) has moved to the front of the five-team Southeast Conference. The Demons (8-2, 3-0) hold a one-game lead over Mount Pleasant and Keokuk.
Big East Conference, Cedar Valley Conference, girls basketball, Mississippi Valley Conference, Northeast Iowa Conference, South Iowa Cedar League, Tri-Rivers Conference, Upper Iowa Conference, Wamac Conference