Warriors ready to tip off new basketball season

The Indian Hills Warriors men’s basketball team hosted Meet the Warriors Night at the Hellyer Student Life Center on the Indian Hills Community College Campus in Ottumwa, Iowa on Monday, Oct. 18, 2021.

OTTUMWA – The 2020-21 Indian Hills men's basketball season was anything but routine.

Starting with the fact that is was played entirely in 2021. There were no fans, no trips out of state and no ticket to the national tournament waiting for the Warriors at the end of Hank Plona's sixth season at the helm of the program.

Fans are hoping for a return to normal with the 2021-22 campaign. The fact that it will start on Friday night, the first Friday in November, with fans in the stands and two out-of-state teams competing over the next two nights shows that some of that normalcy has returned for the upcoming Warrior basketball season.

Whether or not IHCC returns to what has become its normal season-ending destination of the NJCAA Division I national tournament will be determined over the next five months. The Warriors open the season ranked second in the NJCAA's preseason poll, giving the Warriors status immediately as a national championship contender in 2022.

"It seems like a long time ago that we had a full year of a basketball season," Plona said. "Going to the preseason scrimmages in Dallas and Orlando was great just to be in that environment. We got to see some great teams and great coaches. It's been a long time, but I think it's good for the guys. Having fans back in the stands is somewhat rejuvenating. I know the guys are looking forward to it."

The preseason has already allowed Plona and the Warriors to get back into something of a normal routine to what a college basketball team would do preparing for a season that runs from early November all the way into March. That was not the case last year as a season that was even in some doubt as to whether it would be played, or able to be completed, was held with the Warriors competing in just 24 games starting in mid-January running all the way until a district championship loss at Dawson College in Montana in early April.

That season-ending loss was the only game IHCC played outside of Iowa last season. The Warriors played a full home-and-away slate of 21 regular-season games against Iowa Community College Athletic Conference teams, leading to some tense battles throughout with all 12 teams in both the Division I and II ranks battling for the same ICCAC regular-season title.

While it provided a unique challenge for the Warriors, who would ultimately come out on top winning the outright regular-season ICCAC championship before adding a regional tournament title to their 2021 resume, getting the chance to test themselves against teams from around the country may have hurt the Warriors in the long run. After losing at Dawson in the district final, despite finishing the regular season ranked sixth in the NJCAA national poll, the Warriors were denied an at-large bid to the national tournament in large part due to playing a majority of their games against NJCAA Division II schools.

"The cool part about coming to Indian Hills is that you play a more national schedule," Plona said. "We try to find the best teams and the best games around the country to test ourselves against. I did enjoy what we did last year. It was a cool experience to battle in something of an old-school conference schedule where everyone knows everyone and it gets tricky.

"At the same time, I did think we were probably the fastest, quickest and most athletic team in the region. When you play teams from around the country, you're playing teams that are much more like you."

Perhaps no season-opening opponent will have more familiarity on its sidelines with the Warriors than Friday's foe. Tyler not only brings a talented team to the Hellyer Center to test IHCC right out of the gates, but will be led by former IHCC head coach Mike Marquis who was on the coaching staffs of Terry Carroll and Mike Capaccio during a run of three straight national titles (1996-98) before taking over as head coach from Capaccio in 1999.

"Those national championship pictures with Mike stare right back at you every time you take the floor here at the Hellyer Center. Those banners hang up at the other end of the floor, so there's no getting away from that history that Mike was a huge part of," Plona said. "He seemed very excited to be coming back here with a very good Tyler team. They've been the national tournament a couple of times in recent years. He coached the best junior college player currently in the NBA in Jimmy Butler. He's had quite a run. It's going to be a very exciting season opener."

— Scott Jackson can be reached at sjackson@ottumwacourier.com. Follow him on Twitter@CourierScott.

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