Golden Bears have become a force
DES MOINES — There was always the belief that the Bishop Garrigan girls would have something special on the court.
After one performance in February, though, head coach Brandon Schwab knew his Golden Bears were legitimate contenders.
Fourth-ranked Bishop Garrigan handed No. 2 West Hancock (Class 2A) its only loss of the season on Feb. 7 in a 55-54 nail-biter. The Eagles were 1A runner ups a year ago. It was a reversal of fortunes for Garrigan, which suffered its only loss against West Hancock in January, 56-55.
The Golden Bears haven’t looked back since.
Third-seeded Garrigan will open 1A play on Wednesday in the last game of the day against sixth-seed Martensdale St. Mary’s (18-8). Action will begin at 6:45 p.m.
“We knew we were pretty good, and that we turned a corner first in the summer. Then when we played West Hancock (in January), we were up five with two minutes left and it got away from us,” Schwab said. “We refocused and went on to win out.
“They believed all year, but it became a reality when we beat West Hancock — we were a team to beat, and we can play anybody at a high level. It put a light bulb in our head that our major goals are reachable.”
The Golden Bears (23-1) return to the state tournament for the first time since 2018 and fifth overall with a lineup loaded with seniors and a pair of dynamic freshmen.
The addition of standout freshmen Audi Crooks and Molly Joyce made the transition into one of the best teams in 1A seamless.
“We knew they were dynamic players from watching them in AAU and junior high,” Schwab said. “Everyone knew they were going to be in the lineup from Day 1, because they produced at a high level.
“They play much older than they are. They’re seasoned athletes who were ready.”
The jump to the high school level has been a great start for Joyce and Crooks, and they have been welcomed with open arms.
“Audi and I have meshed well with the team because of the leadership from our seniors and juniors,” Joyce said. “They play hard and just want to win and we want to win for them.”
Seniors Madison Meister, Emma Fogarty and Katie Noonan, along with Kaylyn Meyers, were all in the rotation the last time Garrigan made it to state in 2018.
“We’ve had great senior leadership this season,” Schwab said. “We had a couple of kids who started last season and didn’t this year, but they knew to reach our goal of the state tournament, we needed Audi and Molly in our lineup.
“Everyone has been accommodating and bought into our goals from the start. It’s a big value that we have players that have been there (at state) before. We weren’t satisfied just to make it in ’18, but we just didn’t have enough focus down there (two years ago).”
Crooks (22.9) and Joyce (18.2) are the leading scorers, while Meister (9.1) and Meyers (8.3) are near double digits.
“At this point, everyone double teams Audi. When she catches the ball, she gets sandwiched,” Schwab said. “Audi has done a nice job of being able to score from different aspects. She has developed her left, and it’s just as good as her right.
“Audi is very accurate; we’re shocked if she gets the ball down low and it doesn’t go in. She finishes well and is a good free throw shooter.”
The newcomers are in the Top-10 in 1A scoring. Crooks is second behind Shateah Wetering (23.3) of state qualifying Montezuma. Joyce is ninth.
“Molly and Audi have great work ethic,” Schwab said. “They are best friends on and off the court. Molly’s work ethic is why she’s scoring 18 points a game and why she is playing the point guard role at a high level.”
Crooks is third in the class in rebounds (275) at 11.5 per contest. Joyce has been a sharp shooter behind the three-point arc, nailing 60 on the year.
“This team has the passion and focus to win,” Schwab said. “They’re locked in, and has been more intense as of late.
“Having a 6-foot-3 post presence down low is huge.”
The Golden Bears are second in 1A in scoring (71.1), behind only top-ranked Newell-Fonda. Even with Crooks and Joyce leading the way, Schwab has an entire lineup to lean on for offense.
“Without a doubt, we have five scorers in our lineup,” Schwab said. “Anyone in our lineup is capable of a career night.
“We take the philosophy on our team that nobody cares who scores.”
The Golden Bears will take their high hopes and a 13-game win streak into the state tournament.
“The thing that makes this team special is determination,” Crooks said. “There isn’t one ounce of quit in anybody on this team.
“It’s not about who scores the points or what grade you’re in — as long as we play together as a team, it’s all that matters.”
The winner of Wednesday’s contest will face either No. 2 Bellevue Marquette (23-1) or LeMars Gehlen (15-9) on Friday at 3:15 p.m.
When the Golden Bears make the trip to Des Moines this week, Schwab knows Wells Fargo Arena will be packed with black and gold.
“Our fanbase has been great,” Schwab said. “When we went down to Hampton, our side was completely packed and we had some fans on the other side as well.
“The Bishop Garrigan family has always been very supportive of athletics. You will see a huge crowd travel to Des Moines.”