Lakers prepare for Nationals

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The Iowa Lakes Men’s Basketball team will play the 2020-21 NJCAA Division 2 National Tournament as the sixth seed. The Lakers will open up the tournament against 11th seed North Central Missouri. The tournament gets underway on April 20. However, the Lakers will not begin play until Wednesday the 21st. The tip for their game will be at 11 a.m. It will be the Lakers’ fifth appearance at the National Tournament and second under Head Coach Troy Larson. 

Larson talked about how this has been a different season due to the Covid pandemic. Players arrived on campus in September and began practices in October. The Lakers had six scrimmages with other teams and a “ton of intersquad scrimmages” prior to the season starting in January.

“We had a couple cases that canceled scrimmages, but since January, it’s been a go since then and the guys have done a nice job during the process,” the coach said.

Larson’s team finished 18-7 overall and he noted they were 7-4 on the road and 6-2 against Division 1 junior colleges.

“Around February we really committed together—spending a lot of time in the gym and the coaching staff assisted the players in helping perfect their craft,” Larson said. “I know we’re playing our best basketball and the expectation going into the National Tournament is to continue.”

The starting five for this team—Xzavier Jones, Dillon Carlson Kevin Cook, Ryan Hall and Caleb Johnson—are all averaging 12 points or better per game and all earned all-Region XI honors for their play this season.

“We all just care about each other—we’re all just one team,” said Jones, a sophomore from Milwaukee. “There’s no hate or pointing fingers – that’s what I like the best about this team.”

Hall said it was difficult to “gel” earlier in the season. “I feel we’re peaking as a team and we’re one of the most competitive teams,” Hall, a freshman from Kettering, Ohio, said.

“We all like each other and that makes basketball on the court a lot easier,” said Carlson, a sophomore from Ankeny.

The Lakers qualified for the National Tournament by winning the Region XI Tournament last week winning three games in five days. They defeated Iowa Central 103-82, then dominated Kirkwood 79-56 in the semifinal before defeating Southwestern 85-73 in the championship game.

The players talked about what making the national tournament means to them.

“To me it just a lot of work that’s paid off – working at since September – It’s great to have success and be part of a winning program,” said Carlson.

“It’s amazing to me and it’s amazing to the team too,” said Jones on winning the Region XI Tournament.

Larson, who last took a team to nationals in 2013, believes in this team.

“The last three out of the past four years, our region has had the national champion (Kirkwood twice and Southwestern once),” he said. I know our league is really respected. I’m told by other coaches, there are about 3-4 other teams at our level. We’re one that has a chance to win the whole thing.”

Nationals is a 16-team tournament and league rival Des Moines Area also will be there, having won the Region XI regular season title this year.

First things first, as Iowa Lakes takes on North Central Missouri next Wednesday.

“They’re a talented group,” said Larson of NCM. “They have a 6-6 guy who can play anywhere from the 2 to the 4 (position) and is a good two-way player. They have a guard that gets 19 points a game, as well as an off-guard that shoots it well.

“I don’t think their guards are better than ours, but I feel our bigs are better,” the coach said.

Larson expects North Central Missouri to use some full-court pressure.

“We’ll prepare for that,” he said. “I like our matchup and we have a chance to be successful.”

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