The Ottumwa Courier

January 16, 2013

New challenges await as IHCC begins Region XI play

SCOTT JACKSON
Ottumwa Courier

OTTUMWA — Northeast and Southeastern Community Colleges. Over the years, the two schools have been staples on the Indian Hills basketball schedule.

Last year, however, neither team opposed the Warriors on their way to a national tournament appearance. One, Northeast, was not included on the original schedule while the other, Southeastern, called their season off before a 2012 chapter of the “War on 34” could be written.

Because of that, no member of this year’s 10th-ranked Indian Hills basketball team has any experience facing either the Hawks of Nebraska or the Blackhawks of West Burlington. Starting tonight, they’ll experience a brand new chapter to the season, renewing one of those rivalries when IHCC heads west to face Northeast, the newest entrant in the race to the 2013 Region XI title, in the Cox Activities Center at 7 p.m.

And the Warriors can’t wait to hit the ground running in defense of the regional title.

“I think the guys are excited to get this portion of the season started,” second-year IHCC head coach Barret Peery said. “You prepare your team all season for these games and we feel like we’re very prepared. We’ve just got to focus on each game as it comes along.”

“We’re hungry. It feels like we haven’t eaten in a month. We’re hungry to get back out there and compete,” sophomore transfer Richard Amardi added.

IHCC, the last team left standing after sweeping Iowa Western in the Region XI championship series last year, is the last team to begin regional play this year. While the Warriors had the weekend off, their four rivals tipped off the first Saturday of Region XI action.

For Northeast, their debut in the region was a exhilarating one. The Hawks overcame a 13-point second-half deficit to stun 25th-ranked Marshalltown in overtime, 108-101, in the Tigers home gym.

K.J. Bluford announced his presence in the region, scoring 31 points — including 19 in the final 10 minutes that allowed Northeast to run their record to 13-5 and 1-0 in Region XI.

“Bluford’s definitely a guy we have watch out for,” Peery said. “They have quick guards that can burn you if you’re not careful.”

“Coach does a good job of getting us prepared,” sophomore Frank Williams added. “We’re not taking anything for granted. We’re ready for the challenge.”

Tonight’s game in Norfolk is hardly the only challenge that awaits No. 10 IHCC (17-2) in the eight regular-season regional matchups. Both Iowa Western and Marshalltown, the two teams that battled the Warriors in regional play last year, joined IHCC in the top 25 of the NJCAA Division I poll.

“We’re not focusing on anything else right now. Our most important game is our next one. We’re just focused on what we’re preparing for, which is this game (tonight),” sophomore Rawane Ndiaye said.

Indian Hills doesn’t even enter regional play as the highest-ranked team in the state. Iowa Western, unbeaten through their first 19 games including a 77-60 win over Southeastern Saturday, is ranked third in the nation and is one of five teams left with perfect records.

After beating out the Reivers for the regular season and postseason regional titles last year, the higher ranking only serves as motivation for the Warriors.

“It challenges us to prove we’re still the top team,” sophomore Trinson White said. “We’re playing all of these games like we’ve got a target on our back. We’re the team that can defend this title.”

The Reivers will put their unblemished record on the line at the Hellyer Student Life Center, where IHCC hasn’t lost under Peery, Saturday night at 7 p.m. The following Wednesday, the Warriors’ top regional rival makes their first trip to Ottumwa since ending IHCC’s 2010-11 season, as Southeastern resumes the “War on 34” after a one-year absence.

To say the least, it will be an incredible challenge for all five teams to try and attain the Region XI crown this season. IHCC is plenty battle-tested, however, after four straight road games in a two-week span ended with three straight wins, including a gutsy late comeback at Three Rivers last Wednesday.

“We’ve been through so much already this year,” freshman Gary Williams, Jr. said. “I’m ready for my first regional game. I’m excited to get it going.”