It was never a smooth and easy ride for Mardaeja Cross, but the Iowa Central sophomore knows that it has helped shape who she is today.
Cross, Justice Crooks and Aaliyah Hull were all honored here Wednesday night inside Hodges Fieldhouse as the Tritons picked up a 84-37 victory over Ellsworth.
Aaliyah Hull led the way with 17 points and 11 rebounds, Cross added 14, both Isabell West and K’Breonna Collins had 13, and Jordan Engbrecht chipped in with 12 for the Tritons (17-12 overall, 8-7 in ICCAC)
For Cross, this served as a signature moment in her life up to this point both on and off the basketball court.
“Being a Triton has meant a lot to me,” she said. “I’ve made so many great friendships that I’ll continue after leaving. Where I come from, college is a big thing and not a lot get to experience it, so I consider myself blessed and I’m going to continue with my education.”
After averaging nine points and 5.5 rebounds during the 2017-18 season, Cross took a redshirt last year, working on both her physical and mental skills.
“These three years have been life-changing for me as a player and a person,” she said. “I’ve learned so many new life skills and I’ve developed myself as a player. I know more about the game of basketball thanks to my head coach.”
Iowa Central made sure to put the game out of reach quickly, using a 13-0 run in the second quarter to take command, 38-15. That advantage stretched to 40 at the end of the third.
The Tritons shot 61 percent from the field in the opening 20 minutes, scoring 45 points. That included 30 in the paint and 10 second-chance points.
“We came out and had a rough first quarter, but in the second, we settled in and started playing good basketball,” ICCC head coach Kelly Kruger said. “Considering the injuries we’ve had and the loss of players, 17 wins has been a good season thus far.”
Iowa Central has now won six in a row in the series with the Panthers, who have lost 63 in a row dating back to the 2017-18 season.
Crooks, a former Fort Dodge Senior High standout, was limited to 21 games total over her three years due to injuries. She was averaging just under 11 points per game this season and finished with 307 total points, 142 rebounds, 108 assists and 44 steals.
Hull recorded her fourth double-double of the season and second straight. She’s reached double figures in rebounds five times total.
“It was good to see Mardaeja and Aaliyah have big games,” Kruger said. “It’s always nice to send them out on the home floor with a win.”
Cross now has 526 career points, 333 rebounds, 146 assists and 74 steals.
Iowa Central concludes its regular season on Saturday in Cedar Rapids vs. No. 4 Kirkwood. Tip is set for 1 p.m. The Eagles won the first meeting back in January, 85-39.
IOWA CENTRAL 84, ELLSWORTH 37
Iowa Central — Aaliyah Hull 6-10 5-8 17, Isabell West 6-11 1-2 13, Mardaeja Cross 5-9 4-4 14, Anni Cummings 3-7 0-0 9, Jordan Engbrecht 4-12 2-2 12, Jacie Stephenson 1-2 4-4 6, Jhordyn Chalmers 0-1 0-2 0, K’Breonna Collins 6-10 1-4 13. Totals: 31-62 17-26 84.
Ellsworth — Ellie Barrows 2-13 0-0 5, Cheyanne Marshall 0-3 0-0 0, Kevonda Primes 1-9 3-6 5, Keara Williams 1-9 2-2 4, Lorelle Dean 2-7 4-6 8, Jada Mullinex 0-0 0-0 0, Danielle Woodruff 5-10 4-6 15. Totals: 11-51 13-20 37.
Quarter scores: Iowa Central led 20-11, 45-19, 67-29. Three-point goals: Iowa Central 5-15 (Cummings 3, Engbrecht 2); Ellsworth 2-11 (Barrows, Woodruff). Total rebounds: Iowa Central 50, Ellsworth 27. Assists: Iowa Central 15, Ellsworth 4. Blocked shots: Iowa Central 3, Ellsworth 1. Steals: Iowa Central 10, Ellsworth 4. Turnovers: Iowa Central 11, Ellsworth 15.