Throughout its storied history, Iowa Lakes has fielded some very talented men's basketball teams.
As evidenced by the three banners in the Laker gym in Estherville, the team has qualified for nationals three times-1992, 1994 and 2000.
That means the team has won the Region XI Tournament three times.
However, Iowa Lakes has never won the regular season conference title until this season, 2012-13.
Iowa Lakes coach Troy Larson said men's basketball has a long tradition starting with former coach Bob Grems.
"We had a lot of good teams," Larson said.
But he pointed out that before the 1991-92 season, the Iowa schools were just in one division and Iowa Lakes would lose in the tournament to schools like Southeastern and Indian Hills, which are now Division I schools.
Larson said even up until the last 15 years or so, the Lakers didn't play every school twice a season.
However that doesn't make the Lakers conference title any less special.
The parity and difficulty of accomplishing this year can be seen in the conference standings. The Lakers finished with three conference losses and second-place Kirkwood finished with a 9-5 record. The next team, Ellsworth, is 8-6 while Southwestern and Iowa Central are sitting at 7-7 and DMACC and NIACC are both 6-8. All seven teams have an overall winning record as well.
"We swept the second and third teams in the conference and split with the fourth, fifth and sixth teams," noted Larson. "We also had a couple highly competitive games against NIAC. This year, the parity has been as good as it's ever been."
The good thing about winning the regular season title is having home court advantage for each game.
The Lakers began defense of the regular season conference title tonight at 7 p.m. against eighth-seeded Clinton.
Clinton is the only team with a record below .500 at 8-19 overall and 2-12 in league play.
But that doesn't mean the Lakers can overlook them.
"If we try to look past Clinton, it will be a very competitive game," said Larson. "But then we've always been more concerned about how we play and how hard we compete and execute than who the opponent is."
The Lakers defeated Clinton in two regular season meetings, winning 74-53 on Nov. 20 in Clinton and 76-56 on Jan. 26 in Estherville.
The Lakers, ranked 11th in the final NJCAA Division II poll, started the same five players in 27 of the 29 games this season.
Kelly Madison was injured recently and it is hoped he will be able to play a few minutes in tonight's first-round game or at least be ready for a second-round matchup.
Madison is averaging 14.6 points and 5.6 rebounds per game.
The other four players who have started all 29 games are Deondre Parks, Ben Shellim, Josh Schaben and Kevin Larson.
Parks leads the team in scoring with 14.8 points per game while shooting 49 percent from the field. He also averages 5.7 rebounds per contest.
Shellim averaged 13.5 points per contest while shooting 53 percent from the field including 46 percent from 3-point range.
Schaben averages 11.4 points and 7.5 rebounds per contest. Larson averages 3.6 points and 3.2 rebounds per game.
Four other players have played significant minutes.
Colten Neff has played in 25 games and is averaging 6.8 points while shooting 65 percent from the field.
Diamontae McKinley, Mark Miedema and Tate Harmon have played in all 29 games. McKinley is averaging 5.7 points and also 1.8 assists per turnover. Miedeman is averaging 3.9 points and 3.8 rebounds. Harmon is averaging 4 points and shooting 39 percent from the field.
Rounding out the Laker contributors is Justin Murphy, who has played in 15 games.
Larson thanked the fans for their huge support this season.
"I hope to see a lot of them there tonight and I'd like to see the crowds get bigger and bigger throughout the tournament."
Tonight's will play the winner of the No. 4 vs. No. 5 seed game-Southwestern vs. Iowa Central-on Friday at 7 p.m. with the higher seed hosting.
The Region XI Championship will be played Sunday at 3 p.m. with the higher seed hosting.