Seeing his team was swatting some butterflies and dealing with the nerves just prior to perhaps the biggest game of their young basketball careers, Glenwood girls basketball coach Barry Loeffelbein lofted a joke at his team.
“What's blue and smells like red paint?”
After a few dull stares, the coach replied, “Blue paint.”
The team burst into laughter. Butterflies gone. Nerves restored.
The joke served as the perfect ice breaker for the No. 5 ranked Rams right before they went out and calmly routed Winterset 71-46 for their first trip to the Iowa State Basketball Tournament since 1979.
“On the bus ride there we were all doing our normal thing and we felt good but when we walked into the locker room, we were like ‘Oh my God, this is it,’” said starting point guard McKenna Henze. “I felt like I was going to get sick I was so nervous. But as soon as he said that joke, right before we started, that got us laughing. It really got us loose.”
Loeffelbein saw the makings of a pretty special group of girls three years ago when he took over the program. They had the talent, the size and the leadership to forget all about a few decades of post-season futility and put Glenwood back on the basketball map.
“They had a lot of ability and they were all hard workers,” said Loeffelbein of that group three years ago who blossomed into his state qualifying team. “I thought we had a shot last year and it just didn’t work out. We stumbled a couple of times and got a tough draw and we just didn’t get there. But for three years I’ve thought this team had a chance to be special.”
Glenwood ran roughshod over it’s 2011-2012 schedule, stumbling just once in a 22-1 season thanks to a balanced offense (four starters average double figures) and a multiple defensive approach that could see them playing 1-3-1 zone one night and full court man-to-man pressing the next. The Rams’ only loss this season came in a 46-43 January setback to Council Bluffs Lewis Central where the Titans rallied from 15 points down.
The Rams saw their season come to a premature end last season in a hard-fought 56-51 loss to No. 5-ranked Sergeant Bluff-Luton in the regional opening round. Glenwood finished the year with a 16-6 record and a big chip on their shoulder to redeem themselves this season.
This year’s seniors have seen their record improve every year, from eight wins as freshman, to 14 the next year, 16 last year, culminating this in this season’s 22 wins, which match a school record. These girls know they’re playing for more than just a win at the state tournament.
Ram’s center Morgan Lucy has been a starter for the Rams since her freshman year but she’s played with most of the varsity regulars since second or third grade. That shows on the court, she said.
“Freshman year, we were just fighting to get a win,” she said. “This year, we came in with confidence from last season and we have unbelievable team chemistry. It’s felt like a progression of how we’ve gotten better each year.”
“Last year, I felt like we had the mentality to do it but this year, it’s different. We know the feeling of losing last year and that might have been our turning point to this year.”
“This is what they’ve worked for and it’s been their goal for three years,” the coach said. “They’ve worked hard and I think they know this is a big step for the school, the community and the program. We’ve had track and baseball, and soccer keeps getting there, and this is another big step. Hopefully they realize that and feel that pride when the step on the court.
A pair of banners hang in the Rams gymnasium commemorating the school’s lone visit to the girls state basketball tournament (1979) and it last conference title (1976). Both will be having some additional days added to them after the season.
“Ever since the beginning of the season I’ve looked up at that conference banner and the state banner, and I would think: I want another number on there,” said Rachel DeYoung, whose back-to-back three pointers in the third quarter helped Glenwood extend its lead to double figures against Winterset after the trimmed the margin to five points. “It’s awesome I can come back in future years and know I was a part of that.”
Ask any one of this year’s Rams and you get pretty much the same answer: It’s hard not for any of them to think about the state tournament and not get the sense of history in the making for Glenwood basketball.
“It’s an awesome feeling to know we’re a part of history. People can’t say anymore ‘The last time they went was 1979,’’ said starting forward Lexi Fisher. “Now they’ll have to say it was 2012. And it’ll be us.”
“It feels really good to be a part of that and it’s something I’ll never forget by looking up there at that banner,” said guard Grace Newman.
The school held a pep rally Tuesday morning before an Iowa State Patrol motorcade led the team around Glenwood and on to Des Moines.
“All our hard work, playing in second grade, it was all worth it. We can always come back and look at that (banner) and realize how special this season was,” said guard Lexi Moreno.
The high school held an all-school pep rally Tuesday morning before the Rams were escorted around town by a state patrol motorcade. Loeffelbein said the out-pouring of support and school spirit has been overwhelming for him and his team.
“We have all the focus right now,” said Loeffelbein. “We’ve all been getting pats on the back and that’s awesome. They’ve worked real hard and they deserve all those praises. It’s great for them. The support has been great. Hopefully we can continue that at state.”