The first few weeks of the season didn’t go exactly the way Stephen Bender hoped they would during the first year of his new coaching job.
Bender, who took over as the girls coach at Mid-Prairie this season after spending eight years as the boys coach at West Branch, watched as his team dropped three straight games to open the season and struggled to a 1-4 start.
To many, the slow start was to be expected.
Along with a new coach, Mid-Prairie had an entirely new starting lineup this season and returned just four letterwinners from last year’s team that finished 18-7.
Following a 45-39 win over West Branch on Friday, the early-season struggles seem like ancient history.
Mid-Prairie has won five of its last six games, the only loss coming to Class 2A No. 11 Regina, to improve to 6-5 on the season.
“I’ve seen a lot of improvement from the start of the season to now,” Bender said. “A lot of that has to be with being in a new system and getting comfortable with the system.”
The Golden Hawks haven’t just adapted to Bender’s system, they have flourished in it of late.
Routinely playing as many as 12 players, the Golden Hawks have begun to climb the River Valley Conference standings and are currently 6-3 in conference play.
“At the beginning of the year when we were playing teams that were pressing us or doing this or that and we were running our offense, we weren’t comfortable in it,” Bender said. “We didn’t know exactly, do I got here or do I go here, and now we have had the repetition and they know what to do and they feel a lot more comfortable out there.”
Junior Taylor Kurtz leads the way for Mid-Prairie.
The 5-foot-9 Kurtz came off the bench last season to average 4.8 points and 4.1 rebounds per game but has increased those numbers dramatically this season to 14.6 points and 9.6 rebounds per game, both team highs.
Kurtz also leads the Golden Hawks in blocks (11) and is second in steals (18).
While Kurtz has put up big numbers, it has been Mid-Prairie’s depth and balance that have stood out during its current hot streak.
Three players average more than seven points a game as Ali Riggan (7.5) and Alex Rath (7.2) join Kurtz in that club, but the Golden Hawks have had 15 players score this season and consistently use up to 12 players in their rotation.
“We don’t have a lot of girls that score a lot of points, but we play 12 girls, and when you look, we have a lot of kids that have two or three points, and that adds up,” Bender said.
TRIPLED UP: City High senior all-stater Haley Lorenzen continued her outstanding season with her first triple-double of the year in a 75-28 win over Linn-Mar on Friday.
The 6-foot-3 Lorenzen finished with 21 points, 13 rebounds and 11 blocked shots as the top-ranked Little Hawks improved to 15-0.
Lorenzen leads Class 5A with 58 blocked shots (3.9 per game) and rebounds per game at 10.5 and ranks third in 5A with 21.5 points per game.
LEHMAN & LAMPE: While Haley Lorenzen notched a triple-double this week, two other area players came close to joining her.
Highland junior Chelsey Lampe nearly accomplished the feat twice.
She had 11 points, nine assists and seven rebounds in a win over Wapello and then posted 19 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists in a win over Columbus.
For the week, Lampe averaged 14.7 points, 8.7 rebounds and seven assists in three games.
Regina senior Jenna Lehman came within one steal of a triple-double against West Liberty when she had had 18 points, 10 rebounds and nine steals along with five assists.
Lehman also had a career-high 28 points in a win over Northeast and averaged 21.3 points, 6.7 rebounds and 5.7 steals for the week.
A LOOK AHEAD: City High and West High both hit the road this week for a pair of road tests against ranked foes.
City High will travel to No. 7 Cedar Rapids Kennedy (10-2) for a key Mississippi Valley Conference matchup Friday while West High (5-7) will step out of conference action when they travel to No. w West Des Moines Valley (12-0) on Saturday.
Long-time rivals Solon (5-8) and Regina (11-2) will face off Saturday in Iowa City.
PERFORMANCES OF THE WEEK: Highland sophomore Cheyanne Adamson had 20 points on 10-of-16 shooting and five steals in a 75-39 win over Wapello.
Iowa Mennonite’s Olivia Yutzy had 25 points in a 56-47 loss to Lone Tree.
West High junior Mikaela Morgan had 13 points, 12 rebounds and four assists in a 63-59 loss to Cedar Rapids Jefferson.