As he begins his third season as Iowa Central women’s basketball coach, Kelly Kruger feels confident with the roster he has.
Kruger and the Tritons return five sophomores from a season ago, with that group being boosted by the transfer of both former Fort Dodge Senior High standout Shariah Smith and Tierra Itula.
Jaylin Carter, Kira Ward, Humboldt grad Avery Terwilliger, Brittany West and Jescenia Mosley were part of a team that went 17-15 overall, including an 8-6 record in the ICCAC.
“I like our group of kids,” said Kruger, who is 29-33 in two seasons. “We aren’t a tall team, but we have decent athletes and a few kids that can stroke the three-ball.
“We are still searching to find our identity and what we can hang our hand on.”
West was the leading scorer last year as a freshman, averaging 13 points per game. She also grabbed five rebounds, had 64 assists and was an 82 percent shooter from the free throw line.
Terwilliger, a multi-sport standout for the Wildcats in high school, scored just under eight points per game with 2.5 assists and 4.2 rebounds as the starting point guard.
Ward, Carter and Mosley all played in at least 10 games and will be counted on to help replace the graduation of Sarah Rolling, Rachel Toto and Emma O’Donoghue.
“We’ve been preaching to play really good defense here early on because if we can do that, even on nights when our offense is struggling, we can be in games,” Kruger said. “The sophomores, they have college experience now and understand what it takes in both practice and games to get the job done.”
Smith played her freshman season at Neosho in Kansas, while Itula was at Colby, another community college in Kansas. Both Neosho and Colby are Div. I programs.
“Shariah and Tierra have been great additions because, like the group we have coming back, they are familiar with what to expect,” Kruger said. “With Shariah (returning home), I know she is tight with her family and sometimes that first school you go to, it isn’t always a great fit. I’m just glad to have her here with us.”
Smith started 20 of 30 games last year, averaging just under four points per game. Itula started 17 of 19 and averaged almost 13 points a night.
Justice Crooks is also back for the Tritons after suffering a season-ending injury in the opener last year. Crooks, an FDSH graduate, missed much of the fall with a different injury.
“We’re still working Justice in, but having her in the rotation will be great,” Kruger said. “We have a few freshmen in Jessica Jackson, Arriyonn Phillips and Ceairra Smith who are also competing well in practice and during scrimmages.”
The Tritons begin conference play on Dec. 5 against Kirkwood at Hodges Fieldhouse. The Eagles, defending national runners-up, are ranked second to start the year, with North Iowa Area 10th.
Kruger is assisted by Sabah Dickerson, a former graduate assistant for Upper Iowa University.
“Sabah has done a very good job so far with the team,” Kruger said. “She is extremely professional and a very good female role model for our women.”
Iowa Central opened the year with a loss to Northeast this past Saturday, 66-50. Terwilliger and Itula each scored 10, with Smith and Crooks adding seven.
IOWA CENTRAL WOMEN’S BASKETBALL
Sophomores — Jaylin Carter, Kira Ward, Shariah Smith, Avery Terwilliger, Brittany West, Jescenia Mosley, Tierra Itula.
Freshmen — Justice Crooks, Ceairra Smith, Aaliyah Hull, Alysse Parker, Jessica Jackson, Arriyonn Phillips, Shay Poe.
Nov. 5 — Central-Columbus; 9 — Butler at Central Classic; 10 — Midland JV at Central Classic; 13 — at Marshalltown; 18 — Briar Cliff JV; 19 — Graceland JV; 26 — Buena Vista JV; 30 — North Dakota State College of Science in Great Western Classic.
Dec. 1 — Northeast in Triton Classic; 5 — Kirkwood; 8 — Marshalltown; 14 — Lake Region State at Baymont Inn Classic; 14 — North Dakota State College of Science at Baymont Inn Classic.
Jan. 5 — Iowa Western; 9 — at NIACC; 12 — Ellsworth; 16 — at Little Priest Tribal; 19 — Iowa Lakes; 23 — at Southeastern; 26 — DMACC; 30 — at Southwestern.
Feb. 2 — at Iowa Lakes; 6 — NIACC; 13 — at Kirkwood; 16 — Southwestern; 20 — at Little Priest Tribal; 23 — at Ellsworth; 27 — Southeastern.
March 2 — at DMACC.