Warriors prepare for road tests

Indian Hills head men's basketball coach Hank Plona instructs his team on Thursday at the Hellyer Student Life Center in Ottumwa one day before the first road game of the season for the sixth-ranked Warriors. IHCC will take on Three Rivers Friday as part of the inaugural Iowa-Missouri Challenge in Sedalia, Missouri.

OTTUMWA - Whether its Moberly Area, Missouri State-West Plains or Mineral Area.

It seems there a story that Indian Hills basketball fans can be share about a clash from the past with any team from Region XVI. Buzzer-beaters, classic comebacks, national tournament hopes and historic winning streaks have highlighted many of the match-ups between the Warriors and the proud programs from Missouri. 

"Anytime Missouri State-West Plains gets mentioned, fans always seem to bring up they were the ones to bring that 89-game winning streak to an end," said Indian Hills head coach Hank Plona, referring to an overtime loss to the Grizzlies back in 1998 that ended the longest intercollegiate basketball winning streak in the country.

Three Rivers and State Fair, two teams that have also had great clashes with the Warriors, will be the next two teams to challenge sixth-ranked IHCC in the inaugural Iowa-Missouri Challenge. Plona is well-schooled in the history of the Raiders, coached by junior college's all-time winningest coach Gene Bess, and has been a part of great games with the Roadrunners having seen the last two meetings with State Fair be decided by a combined four points.

For the players who will represent the Warriors on Friday against Three Rivers and Saturday against State Fair, that history is unfamiliar territory. Aside from the home-and-home sweep of Moberly and the overtime win at West Plains last season that returning sophomores Tyon Grant-Foster and J.D. Muila were a part of, no current IHCC player has faced a Missouri school wearing Warrior maroon and gold.

"I don't think these guys know anything about these programs, aside from the fact some of the kids have been recruited by those programs," Plona said. "In all honesty, when you look how we look at a season and how we break things up, we try to focus on the next game. I don't think our guys even know who we're playing on Saturday. They were aware of John A. Logan before last weekend because of how highly John A. Logan was ranked.

"I've talked with the guys about the tradition of Three Rivers and the tradition of Gene Bess. It's going to be a really good challenge. Three Rivers beat Wabash Valley, who beat us during the preseason. I'm hoping that gets our attention. For the fans, it's great to talk about the tradition, but as far as our players go, we just need to focus on the team and task at hand."

Three Rivers, like IHCC, opened the season at home with a pair of wins last week beating Link Year Prep 92-61 and Wabash Valley 83-65. One advantage for the Raiders that the Warriors will have to overcome on Friday is the experience edge that comes with Three Rivers returning six sophomores to the floor this season.

"That's a huge advantage this early in a season. They've already been through tough games and tough environments together. They're not going to be intimidated by playing us," Plona said. "They play 12 guys, so they're going to rotate in a lot of people. We're going to have to be aware of who we're guarding. If we start switching on defense, our guys need to be aware if the player they're guarding is a threat to shoot and you need to be up on them or, if the player likes to drive, you need to avoid getting beat off the dribble."

Plona is hoping to see quicker starts from his team against Three Rivers and State Fair after struggling early in both wins last week in the Reed Overhead Doors Classic. Despite reaching 100 points in a 40-point win over Pratt, Indian Hills failed to score in the first five minutes of the season opener last Friday and trailed throughout the first half on Saturday before erasing a 10-point deficit against John A. Logan in a 72-63 win.

"We're capable of beating anybody, but we need to play at our best for an entire game in order to do that," Plona said. "Just 95 percent effort is not going to get the job done. We fall behind as we did on Saturday against John A. Logan when that happens. We need to continue to get off to better starts. If we're at 100-percent effort playing hard, smart and together from start to finish, we have the ability to play with the best teams in the country."

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

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