PJ Sweeney is constantly stressing free throws to his team.
Making free throws, that is.
Getting to the free-throw line hasn’t been a point of emphasis for the first-year Clear Creek-Amana coach.
It’s just been something that has happened for the Clippers this season — a lot.
Clear Creek Amana (13-8) leads Class 4A and ranks fourth in the state in free-throw attempts entering Wednesday’s Region 4 opener against No. 15 Mount Pleasant (17-4).
“It’s not something that we ever say we’re trying to get free throws, it just happens,” Sweeney said. “That is going to keep you in a lot of games. In a lot of close games you look at free throws as the difference.”
Clear Creek Amana’s 510 free-throw attempts this season are nearly 100 more than any other team in Class 4A.
The Clippers have made 308 of those attempts, which is also tops in Class 4A and ranks third in the state.
“I think it’s just our shooters getting the ball down low and our coaches stressing that we need to get the ball inside and go up strong,” senior Hanna Stokes said. “We have struggled a little bit at times with shooting free throws but I think the importance of getting to the basket is something we stress.”
Stokes leads the free-throw brigade for Clear Creek Amana, attempting a team-high 137.
The 5-foot-11 senior is shooting 62 percent from the line and ranks fifth in 4A in made free throws with 85.
Stokes is one of six Clear Creek Amana players with at least 43 free-throw attempts this season.
Fellow seniors Lexi Kinnaird (99 attempts) and Emily Wieland (69 attempts) both have more than 60 attempts.
“Everyone knows our cow bell is Hanna Stokes, we try to get the ball to Hanna and she is going to draw a lot of attention and get a lot of fouls,” Sweeney said. “We have a lot of girls that will rip through and attack the rim. It has been a combination of a lot of things.”
Getting to the line has been a consistent weapon for the Clippers this season.
Clear Creek Amana averages 14.6 free throw makes per game to account for 25 percent of the Clippers scoring.
The Clippers have shot 30 or more free throws seven times in 21 games and have made 20 or more four times.
Clear Creek Amana shot a season-high 42 free throws in a win over South Tama this month.
Free throws have helped the Clippers win five games this season by less than 10 points.
“Coach really stresses how important it is to make free throws,” Stokes said. “It’s a big thing at crunch time.”
One of the few teams in the state as successful at the charity stripe as Clear Creek Amana has been City High.
The Little Hawks are sixth in the state in attempts, second in Iowa in made free throws with 349 and lead Class 5A in both.
Freshman Ashley Joens leads the state in both attempts (210) and made free throws (149) for City High.
“This is the best team I’ve had since I’ve been at City High at getting to the line,” City High coach Bill McTaggart said. “We’ve done a good job when we’ve been there, too.”
• KNOW YOUR FOE: After earning first-round byes in Class 2A regional play, Regina and West Branch both found out their quarterfinal opponents on Saturday.
West Branch (16-5) will host Columbus (16-6) at 7 p.m. on Tuesday in a Region 5 quarterfinal.
Regina (18-3) will host Highland (15-7) at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
The Huskies downed North Mahaska 57-25 Saturday in the opening round.
• RATINGS UPDATE: A pair of area teams reappeared in the rankings just in time for the postseason as the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union released the final rankings for Classes 1A, 2A and 3A on Thursday.
Mid-Prairie climbed back into the 3A rankings at No. 14 while West Branch jumped back into the 2A rankings at No. 15.
Also in 2A, Regina dropped two spots to No. 12.
Top-ranked teams entering the postseason are Mediapolis in 3A, Unity Christian in 2A and Burlington Notre Dame in 1A.
The final rankings for Classes 4A and 5A will be released on Monday.
• A LOOK AHEAD: Postseason play picks up this week as all five class begin regional play. Mid-Prairie will host Benton Community in a Class 3A Region 5 semifinal on Wednesday while West Liberty will travel to No. 6 Center Point Urbana in the 3A Region 4 semifinals.
City High and West High open regional play on Saturday against the winners of Wednesday’s opening-round games.
• PERFORMANCES OF THE WEEK: Iowa Mennonite senior Riley Schmieder had 17 points and six rebounds in a 38-29 win over Keota.
Regina sophomore Sarah Lehman had 19 points in a 54-38 win over Camanche.
Clear Creek Amana senior Lexi Kinnaird had 21 points in a 72-34 win over Independence.
Reach Ryan Murken at 319-339-7369 or firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @rmmurken.