The plan for any team in any sport is to be playing its best at the end of the season.
Less than a month from the start of postseason play, the West High girls basketball team is seeing that plan become a reality.
West High (7-8) has won four of its last six games following a 3-6 start to the season and is 4-4 in Mississippi Valley Conference play.
The 3-6 start to the season came as West adjusted to life without graduate all-stater Ally Disterhoft and the loss of junior point guard Dani Craig, who was lost for the season with a knee injury just days before the season opener.
The young Women of Troy lost four of their first six games to open the season, but have picked things up in the past several weeks.
“When Dani went down, we got a lot more inexperienced in a hurry, but every single time that we play and every single practice, we just feel that we keep getting better and better,” West coach BJ Mayer said. “We still have a ways to go, but our big thing right now is to keep getting better and to try to put 32 minutes of a game together.”
A key part of West’s improvement has been the play of Mikaela Morgan.
The 5-foot-10 junior leads the Women of Troy in scoring (16.7) and rebounding (6.8) on the season and also has team-highs in steals (37) and assists (41).
Morgan has been especially effective of late, shooting 50 percent from the field, including 52 percent from beyond the 3-point line (12-of-23) while averaging 17.5 points over the past six games.
“Last year she was more of a role player for us, and this year she has had to really step up her game,” Mayer said of Morgan. “She has had to help be a leader, be a leading scorer and usually she gets matched with one of the opponent’s best players to guard as well. We have seen a lot of improvement out of her.”
Junior Grace Tafolla is second on the team in scoring at 10.3 points per game, and the younger players on the West roster have made considerable strides over the past month as well.
Freshman Emily Halverson averages 6.1 points per game but has scored in double figures twice in the past six games, including a career-high 17 against Cedar Rapids Jefferson.
The 6-foot-2 Halverson is averaging better than six rebounds per game over the last six games.
“Some of these kids were playing a lot of junior high basketball last year, and now they are going up against juniors and seniors who are bigger and stronger than them,” Mayer said. “It’s taken an adjustment period, and we were well aware of that.”
Five of West’s eight losses this season have come to ranked teams, including losses to five teams ranked in the top 10 in Class 5A.
Two of those losses are against two of the three unbeaten teams in 5A, a 16-point setback against top-ranked City High and a nine-point loss at No. 2 West Des Moines Valley on Saturday.
The Women of Troy will face another ranked opponent today when they host No. 7 Cedar Rapids Kennedy.
“I think what we really need right now is we need to win one of those games, just for our confidence,” Mayer said. “Our kids keep showing up and working and hearing us preach to keep getting better and good things will happen. Well now it’s time for one of those good things to happen.”
* 200: Highland coach Jody Fink collected the 200th victory of his career in the Huskies’ 75-39 win over Wapello on Jan. 13.
* POSTSEASON PAIRINGS: The postseason pairings were released Monday by the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union and City High and West High landed in different 5A regionals.
Top-ranked City High is in Region 6 and will host the winner of a game between Clinton and Davenport Central on Feb. 22.
With a win in their regional opener, the Little Hawks would face the winner of Bettendorf and Pleasant Valley in the regional final, played at West High.
West High is in Region 7 and will host Cedar Rapids Jefferson in a regional opening-round game Feb. 19, with the winner traveling to Linn-Mar.
No. 4 Waukee and Ottumwa are on the other side of the Region 7 bracket.
Postseason play opens Feb. 13 in Class 1A, Feb. 15 in 2A and 3A, and Feb. 19 in Class 4A and 5A.
The state tournament is March 3-9 at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.
* A LOOK AHEAD: Highland has won three of its last four games entering a rematch with Class 1A No. 12 Winfield-Mount Union today. Winfield-Mount Union downed Highland 46-41 on Dec. 16 in Riverside.
Clear Creek Amana also will have a chance to avenge an earlier loss against a ranked foe when the Clippers travel to Class 3A No. 8 Williamsburg on Friday.
Williamsburg pulled away late for a 59-52 win over Clear Creek Amana on Dec. 17 in Tiffin.
* PERFORMANCES OF THE WEEK: Kayla Kaalberg had a career-high 16 points on 5-of-9 shooting as West Liberty won its first game of the season 56-48 over Bellevue.
Iowa Mennonite School senior Olivia Yutzy averaged 18.5 points and 14 rebounds in a pair of games last week. Yutzy had 18 points and 16 rebounds in a 50-29 win over WACO, and 19 points and 12 rebounds in a 37-36 loss to Columbus.
Regina senior Jenna Lehman had 16 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and five steals in a 69-50 win over Durant.
City High senior Kiera Washpun had 20 points, nine rebounds and eight assists in a 67-44 win over No. 7 Cedar Rapids Kennedy.