A trip to the semifinals of the state volleyball tournament forced West Branch to get a late start on its basketball season.
That hasn’t meant a slow start for the Bears.
West Branch has won three straight River Valley Conference road games to open the season, including a pair of wins over ranked opponents.
The Bears opened the season with a 62-48 win over Class 2A No. 12 Durant, a team that downed West Branch three times last year, and knocked off Class 3A No. 4 Monticello 67-50 on Friday.
“I think they understood what we started with,” West Branch coach Jarod Tylee said. “I think they understood kind of what they were up against and honestly I was pretty impressed with how well they handled that situation, especially with three games on the road.”
West Branch opened the season ranked No. 6 in Class 2A after finishing 17-6 a year ago.
The addition of sophomore West Liberty transfer Tatum Koenig raised expectations for a West Branch squad that returned four starters.
Two weeks into the season, West Branch has lived up to those expectations.
After averaging 50.3 points per game a year ago, West Branch has averaged 69 points per game during its 3-0 start.
“The girls don’t get many shots prior to the season starting, other than a couple of open gyms here and there, so as well as we’ve been able to score that has been what’s impressed me the most,” Tylee said. “Otherwise with that much experience coming back I figured we’d be caught up on what we want to do.”
Last year, Allyson Simpson was the only double-digit scorer for West Branch, averaging 11.6 points per game.
Through three games the Bears have a trio of players averaging between 12 and 13.7 points per game.
Simpson leads West Branch with 13.7 points per game while Koenig is averaging 13.3 points and senior Haley Poula is adding 12 points per game.
That experience has been a big part of the quick start for West Branch after the Bears went almost a week without practicing with their full squad as volleyball season concluded.
“That is the nice thing about having experience back is they have played the game plenty,” Tylee said. “There wasn’t much fundamental work, it was more working on things we had to put in and preparing for our opponents.”
After facing two ranked teams in the opening two weeks things won’t get any easier.
The Bears conclude the pre-holiday portion of their schedule with seven games in 15 days, beginning with a RVC meeting with Tipton on Tuesday.
West Branch faces Class 4A sixth-ranked Fairfield, Class 2A second-ranked Regina, 2015 state qualifier Cascade, along with Mid-Prairie and Clear Creek Amana during that stretch.
“In my honest opinion there is not an easy game in there,” Tylee said. “We have a stretch with a ranked Fairfield team on Monday, Cascade on Tuesday, ranked Regina on Friday and at Clear Creek, who always plays us tough, on Saturday. We have our work cut out for us for sure.”
RANKINGS UPDATE: City High climbed one spot to fifth in the Class 5A rankings released by the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union on Friday.
West High made its first appearance of the season in the 5A rankings, debuting at No. 15, while Waukee held onto the top spot in 5A.
Regina remained second and West Branch stayed at No. 6 as the top seven spots in the Class 2A poll went unchanged.
Unity Christian remained atop the 2A rankings.
Other top-ranked teams include Springville (1A), Nevada (3A) and Ballard (4A).
A LOOK AHEAD: West High will put its unbeaten record on the line when it travels to Class 4A No. 14 Cedar Rapids Xavier on Tuesday.
Clear Creek Amana and Solon will both face large WAMAC challenges on Friday.
Clear Creek Amana travels to 3A third-ranked Center-Point Urbana, while Solon hosts Class 4A fifth-ranked Western Dubuque.
PERFORMANCES OF THE WEEK: Mid-Prairie junior Ali Butters had 22 points and six rebounds in a 55-46 win over Northeast.
Highland senior Cheyanne Adamson had 25 points, 17 rebounds, seven assists and five steals in a 79-45 win over Cardinal.
West Liberty senior Hailey Daufeldt had 20 points, 10 rebounds and six steals in a 69-49 win over Wilton.
Highland junior Kelsey Hora had 20 points, 11 rebounds, six assists and five steals in a 67-36 win over Wapello.
Reach Ryan Murken at 319-339-7369 or firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @rmmurken.