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Comet defeat Trojans 54-52 in girls basketball season-opener

Comet defeat Trojans 54-52 in girls basketball season-opener
Press photo by John Burbridge
Charles City senior guard Alex Wohlers looks to swing the ball along the perimeter while being closely guarded by Waterloo East junior Ja’Dajh Latiker. Wohlers scored 8 points as the Comets won their season-opener 54-52.

By John Burbridge

CHARLES CITY — Wins have been at a premium for the Charles City Comets girls basketball team for quite some time.

And they’re not guaranteed in spite of the fact that a typical season grants more than 20 opportunities for a team to get one.

The Comets know this all too well as it took a road victory against North Butler last winter for a multi-season winless drought to finally end.

But it has been an even greater span of time since the Comets could label themselves as “undefeated” in the literal sense.

After withstanding a late surge by Waterloo East while hosting their season- and home-opener at Comet Gym Saturday afternoon, the Charles City’s girls emerged victorious (and undefeated) while seizing the better half of a 54-52 thrilling final.

Senior center Hannah Hoffman scored a game-high 15 points for the Comets. Much of Hoffman’s offensive damage was done in the paint with two of her inside baskets coming from in-bounds plays under the basket.

Seniors Madison Lensing and Alex Wohlers each had 8 points for Charles City — half of Lensings’ total were from clutch free-throws late in the game; Wohlers scored most of her points early in the first half to keep the Comets close before the rest of Charles City’s offense found its rhythm, especially in the third quarter when the Comets outscored the Trojans 20-5 to wrest control of the game after Waterloo East had taken a 31-22 halftime lead.

Seven Comets got into the scoring column, including sophomore Evelyn Mayhew, who scored 7 points off the bench; senior Maggie Boss, who scored 6 points on a pair of 3-pointers and also assisted both of Hoffman’s in-bounds-play baskets; senior Lauren Staudt (5 points); and senior Elayna Hemesath (2 pts.).

Though they filled the scorebook efficiently, it was the Comets’ defense that really paved the way to the decisive second-half surge and victory.

And mind you, this wasn’t a patsy win against a patsy team.

“They’re a very athletic team which puts five players on the floor who all can score,” Charles City head coach David Rottinghaus said while referring to Trojans’ starting lineup of Grysyn Downing, Slyanna Cody, Ja’Miah Ceasar, Ja’Dajh Latiker and Aaliyah Weekley — all of whom can put the ball on the floor in the face of a defender and finish in traffic at the rim.

“But we stuck to our defensive principles and kept at them.”

After the Comets took a 10-9 lead after one quarter, the Trojans rolled out the press and went on to outscore Charles City 22 to 12 for their halftime lead. But if there is one facet of the game Charles City has improved dramatically in while dating back to last season, it’s breaking the press.

Of course, it helps that the Comets are graced with two senior guards — Lensing and Staudt — who are both left-handed and have a penchant for blowing by backcourt defenders (perhaps not accustomed to quick first-steps from the offhand side) and away from would-be traps into the open court, like they did regularly against the Trojans.

Like with football teams getting burned while blitzing or “dogging”, nothing frustrates and fatigues pressing defenses more than getting thwarted repeatedly while eventually being forced to pull back, exerted wind reserves wasted.

With Waterloo West back on its heels, the Comets made their move.

When Boss hit the first of her two treys after a series of promising attempts caught too much iron in the first half, it tied the game at 33 with 3:33 left in the third quarter.

The Trojans were doomed.

Staudt hit a pair of free throws on the next Charles City possession to regain the lead for good for the Comets, who led by as many as 12 points early in the fourth quarter.

After a cold-shooting third quarter, the Trojans got some of their groove back while rolling out the press again midway through the fourth and got within a possession of the Comets on several occasions, but could never regain the lead.

After thanking a pair of Comet graduates from last year’s team for attending the game and for helping provide the foundation for the program’s current upper-level of play, Rottinghaus acknowledged there was still more work to be done.

“We’ve got to stop reaching in on defense,” he said. “We picked up too many ticky-tack fouls. We could have won the game by much more.”

* On Monday, Charles City traveled to Sumner-Fredericksburg for its first road game.

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