WEST BRANCH, Ia. — The Bears’ formula for success is simple: Posts defend and rebound; guards score.
Head coach Jarod Tylee knew that was the case long before this season started. West Branch returned three veterans in the backcourt and lost nearly everyone from the paint, so he recruited two volleyball studs to man the posts.
Those guards — Tatum Koenig, Haley Mullinix and Paige Miller — scored all year. Those volleyball studs — Abby Knoop and Abbey Fryauf — started off talented but raw. But slowly they refined their athleticism to work on a basketball court, and slowly West Branch improved as the season wore on.
Now Knoop and Fryauf are peaking, and so are the Bears (14-8). They did just about everything right in handling North Cedar, 69-46, in the quarterfinal of Class 2A Region 7 on Tuesday night.
“That’s what it’s going to have to be for us to be successful,” Tylee said. “Everybody’s got to do their part. And we talked all week about doing your job every single possession, and I thought they did that, for the most part, tonight.”
Knoop and Fryauf dominated the paint. North Cedar (9-14) made just 18 of 59 attempts, and the vast majority of those came on contested mid-range or long-range jumpers.
Meanwhile, the guards dominated their job, too. Mullinix led everyone with 26 points. Koenig added 23 and Miller had 11 — nine in the second half.
As a team, the Bears shot 47 percent (24-for-51) and 32 percent (7-for-22) from 3-point land. They held North Cedar to 31 percent overall and 18 percent (3-for-17) from beyond the arc. They also forced 20 North Cedar turnovers.
Darby Hawtrey paced North Cedar with 18 points, and Lexus Crist scored 10.
West Branch beat North Cedar, 50-38, back on Jan. 27. Despite the win, Tylee thought his team got “out-toughed” that day.
“We out-toughed them,” he said. “‘Toughness’ is such a cliché word with coaches and sports, but it’s true. You have to be tough. Whatever it is — defensively, rebounding the ball. And I thought we were tough tonight.”
The Bears continue their tour through River Valley Conference opponents when they travel to Bellevue to play the Comets this Friday night in the regional semifinal. West Branch secured its best win of the season in late January when it beat the then-ranked Comets, 57-39, up in Bellevue.
“Any time you get a big win on a good team, going in the next game you have a lot of confidence for sure,” Miller said.
Coach Tylee’s take: “For our kids, there’s a comfort level. There’s never a comfort level for me. My biggest thing is, the last time we went up there we played really well. It was one of our best games of the year, which means you know they’re going to be well-prepared and they’re going to be out to get some revenge on us. So we have to be ready to go.”
Koenig and Miller combined for 46 points in Round 1 vs. Bellevue.