At first, Van Buren County High School girls basketball coach Matt Zeitler was angry and frustrated.
A few hours passed after the regional pairings were released Wednesday. His frustration continued, but that anger turned into an opportunity.
No one will mistake the Warriors’ Class 2A Region 6 draw as easy. Indeed, by the current rankings from the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union, it is the most difficult in 2A, with three top-10 teams (Region 4 has two in the top 10). So, while the fairness factor is questionable in Zeitler’s mind, the opportunity to earn respect is not.
“Seventy-five percent of the year we’ve been a top-five team in the state, and then we lose one game (against Wapello),” he said. “It’s frustrating. But you know what? My kids will be ready to play against everyone they play.”
The 10th-ranked Warriors, Cardinal and Pekin all are in the same bracket, but so are No. 6 West Branch and No. 7 Mediapolis. The loss to Wapello, a 14-4 team, was punishing, dropping the Warriors all the way to the third seed despite only two previous losses to top-10 teams by single digits.
“The bottom line is that you have to win. That’s really what it’s all about,” he said. “We knew we were going to drop in the rankings. If we can somehow beat both Mediapolis and West Branch, you’re going to be bumped up in state seeding.
“No matter who gets out of it, all three of us will be battle-tested,” he said. “When we lost close to North Linn, we felt like we could play with anyone.”
Cardinal will face Danville in the opener, with the winner going to Mediapolis. Pekin opens against Wapello, with the winner going to West Branch for a regional semifinal. Van Buren County hosts Louisa-Muscatine, then would potentially visit Mediapolis in the other regional semifinal.
In Class 3A, EBF, Albia and Davis County were split up. In Region 6, EBF will host PCM in a regional quarterfinal, and a win there would send the Rockets to Alleman to likely face No. 8 North Polk in a regional semifinal.
Albia and Davis County are in Region 7 and could face each other in a regional semifinal, but only if the Lady Dees pull an upset of Central Lee and the Mustangs upend West Burlington, which had been ranked most of the season before dropping out Wednesday. Both Central Lee and West Burlington have dynamic scorers, as Central Lee’s Mya Merschman is second in 3A (25.5) and West Burlington’s Sydney Marlow is fourth (19.2).
Sigourney has an opportunity to advance deep in its 1A Region 5 bracket, but could run into No. 10 Springville in the regional semifinal. Fifth-ranked Montezuma earned the first-round bye out of the region in the top half of the bracket.
Zeitler was concerned after his team lost to Wapello how that might affect his team’s draw. His worst fears were realized, though geography played a part as well, as most of the best 2A teams are concentrated on the eastern half of the state.
“I know they had to maneuver a bunch of stuff around over the weekend,” he said. “We spent all but two weeks ranked higher than West Branch and all but one higher than Mediapolis. If we have to go to Mediapolis there won’t be much of an advantage because that place will be so loud.
“We know we can play with both teams,” he said. “But we can’t play bad, or we’ll get beat. I just know our kids will take this to heart. They step up their game against good teams. They always have.”
The Class 4A and 5A pairings will be released Feb. 12 and Feb. 13.