REINBECK - The balance of power shifted, if ever slightly, on Jan. 25 inside a packed gymnasium in State Center.
Handing the West Marshall boys basketball team its first conference loss in the North Iowa Cedar League West Division in more than three years, Gladbrook-Reinbeck ended a 44-game string of dominance by the Trojans and signaled a potential changing of the guard.
Claiming a share of its first conference title since 2007-08, the Rebels split the league crown with West Marshall and enter the new season looking to further establish the momentum created from the breakthrough win.
Gladbrook-Reinbeck juniors Cam Kickbush, left, and Zach Pierce lead the Rebels in their pursuit of a repeat North Iowa Cedar League West Division title. The Rebels shared the conference crown with West Marshall last season, finishing 13-1 in league play.
Photo by Tyler Strand
"It was big for us mentally just getting over the hump," said junior Zach Pierce, who led the Rebels in scoring (15.5 points per game) and rebounding (7.9) last season. "We want to go far and go to state, but we need to do things right first. If that's jumping a little higher, playing better defense, making more free throws ... we've just got to improve as a team."
While some uncertainty resides on the Rebels' roster after losing three starters from last year's 17-7 (13-1 NICL West) unit, G-R returns a pair of NICL West first team selections to build around.
Pierce, a 6-foot-4 post, joins point guard Cam Kickbush (12.6 ppg) who connected on 46 3-pointers last season at a 44 percent clip. The junior tandem is well known for its offensive prowess but is looking to ramp up its defensive game after the loss of top defenders Trevor Trunck and Jacob Smoldt along with fellow starter Logan Koester.
"We've got a lot of scorers, but the coaches' goal is to be a better defensive team," said Kickbush, who has developed a strong chemistry with Pierce over many years on the court. "I've played with Zach since fourth grade and we just know how to play together."
Cameron Clark, a 6-4 junior, and sophomore guard Colton Dinsdale are two players expected to bolster the defense. It remains the Rebels' primary focus in practice each day and G-R coach Scott Kiburis hopes a stronger defense will springboard the offense.
"Last year we were pretty slow on offense," said Kiburis. "Every possession was important and we created a lot from our defense. We're trying to hopefully speed the game up a little bit and on the defensive end is where we're going to get more opportunities down the floor."
Offensively, junior guard Luke Holman will look to fill the shooting prowess left by Smoldt, who drained 49 treys last year and averaged 10.7 points en route to all-NICL honors.
"(Luke's) exactly like Jacob other than he's left handed," said Pierce. "He'll go 10-for-10 on threes (in practice), he's just that good of a shooter."
Senior Chase Clark averaged six points off the bench last year and should provide solid minutes once he returns from a hamstring injury, while freshman Joe Smoldt and sophomore Tyler Eiffler are two others expected to contribute on a relatively young 12-member roster.
Outside of their top tandem, starting spots have yet to be established though Kiburis is confident in his team's depth and is putting more stock in finding the right combinations that work most effectively.
"It could be a situation where even if a guy is not starting the game, he could be as much if not a more important part of the puzzle," said Kiburis. "There's certain roles guys play and certain combinations, so starting the game isn't a key thing, it's how it all fits together. We always say, 'Who's finishing the game? Who does coach want in at the end of the game?' That's where it counts."
Kiburis expects another competitive battle for the conference crown this year with West Marshall at the forefront along with a handful of others. The G-R coach believes he'll have a "pretty solid team" this year, but it will take some time for the new pieces to come together and the defense to take shape.
Though so far, the Rebels are buying into the coach's point of emphasis.
"Defense is what gets you far in the playoffs," said Pierce. "If the other team scores 10 and we score 11, that's all you need."
The Rebels open the season at home against South Hardin on Dec. 6, and host defending co-NICL West champion West Marshall on Dec. 20.
Last year: 6-16, 3-3 CIC North
Top returners: Mason McCarville, sr., 3.7 points, 1.1 rebounds per game; Austin Kluver, jr., 2.6 points per game; Aaron Hauser, soph., 2.0 points per game.
Recap: The Bobcats graduated their top six leading scorers and their top five leading rebounders from last year's squad. Marshalltown welcomes in transfer Dylan Diveney to help fill some of the voids. Diveney averaged 14 points and eight rebounds for Clarke last season. This year's team could be quicker and more athletic but the Bobcats won't be as good from 3-point range.
Last year: 17-7, 13-1 NICL West
Top returners: Zach Pierce, jr., 15.5 points, 8 rebounds per game; Camden Kickbush, jr., 12.6 points, 2.6 assists per game; Chase Clark 6 points, 3.6 rebounds per game.
Recap: The Rebels should be in the mix to win the NICL West Division with its two top scorers from last year's 17-7 squad back this season. Pierce is one of the best players in the conference and Kickbush should give G-R a solid inside-outside game. The only loss in NICL West play last year came when the Rebels split two games with West Marshall.