Forget about competitive conferences or difficult divisions.
Seven unbeaten teams remain in Iowa boys’ basketball, and two of them reside in the Western Dubuque Community School District.
Cascade (ranked No. 2 in Class 2-A) and Western Dubuque of Epworth (No. 3 in 4-A) are a combined 44-0 this season.
The accomplishment is impressive even to Cascade coach Al Marshall, who has seen plenty in his storied 44-year coaching career.
“It’s pretty remarkable,” Marshall said. “Both Cascade and Western Dubuque have had very good basketball teams in the past, but you couldn’t expect both teams to go undefeated.”
Success isn’t unexpected for the sister schools. One of the teams has represented the school district in each of the last three state tournaments, and Western Dubuque was the 3-A runner-up last year.
“Both schools have a bunch of kids that have really, really dedicated themselves since they were in the fourth or fifth grade,” Western Dubuque coach Dennis Geraghty said.
The Bobcats (21-0) were bumped up to 4-A in the offseason and forced to toughen the nonconference schedule while trying to fly under the radar until the postseason.
A top-10 ranking all season long and impressive shooting performances kept that from happening.
“This is the first time in my coaching career I’ve ever started four guards,” Geraghty said. “Going into the season, I didn’t know how we were going to compete in 4-A. I’m still not positive, but I do know we have a pretty good team.”
Western Dubuque ranks second in the state in both free-throw shooting (78.1 percent) and 3-point shooting (42.4 percent).
“It’s a special group of guys, and it’s been one of those fun years,” Geraghty said. “The four guards all have the green light, and I know we’re playing with confidence.”
Cascade earned its spot in Saturday’s substate final with defense. The Cougars (23-0) have held opponents under 30 points 13 times this season.
Marshall is fourth on Iowa boys’ basketball’s all-time wins list.
“We didn’t talk about going undefeated at all,” Marshall said. “We didn’t even talk about one game at a time — we talked about getting better.”
Creighton coach Greg McDermott, one of Marshall’s former players, isn’t surprised by his area’s continued success.
“Coach Marshall has had a tremendous run of good teams over the course of his career, and he’s a wonderful person,” McDermott said. “When you were in elementary school and junior high, you longed to be part of something like that. So once we were able to get into high school and have some success, it was very gratifying.”
Cascade’s last undefeated regular season was 1976-77, when McDermott was still in junior high. The rivalry between Cascade and Western Dubuque has mellowed a bit over the years.
“When I was playing, it was a fierce rivalry,” McDermott said. “It was a full house whether the game was in Epworth or Cascade, and we’re talking 30 years ago.”
The two teams played each other in a preseason scrimmage, but Western Dubuque’s nonconference scheduling didn’t allot for another meeting. The longtime coaches said things are friendly with the programs now and they’ll support each other’s undefeated runs.
Cascade even won Tuesday’s district final against defending 2-A champion Mount Vernon in Western Dubuque’s gym.
“We’re pulling for them and I’m sure they’re pulling for us,” Geraghty said.
Weather permitting, both teams will play substate games this weekend. Cascade and Western Dubuque both qualified for the state tournament in 2001.
Another boys’ team in Dubuque County is having an extraordinary season. Dubuque Senior is ranked No. 4 in 4-A with a 20-1 record.