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ON A MISSION

No. 1 Bishop Garrigan has something to prove

Submitted photo Bishop Garrigan girls basketball team members include, front row (left to right): Reese Rosenmeyer, Grace Rosenmyer, Gracie Elsbecker, Kaylyn Meyers, Kelly Baade and Anna Berke. Back: assistant Joe Bartolo, head coach Brandon Schwab, Ashlyn Hovey, Reagan Murphy, Ella Muller, Audi Crooks, Meredith Tigges, Emma Grandgenett, Molly Joyce, Abbie Capesius and assistant Mick Elbert.

DES MOINES — The Bishop Garrigan girls treated their regular-season trip to the Des Moines area as a dress rehearsal.

In their final tune-up before tournament play, the top-ranked (Class 1A) Golden Bears traveled to face No. 10 (5A) West Des Moines Valley.

It wasn’t as much about the outcome for Garrigan as it was the experience of playing one of the biggest and best schools Iowa has to offer.

Head coach Brandon Schwab wanted his squad to play their best and soak up the atmosphere as a preparatory experience.

“It was a good opportunity for us to travel down there. We stayed overnight. It was like a warm-up for the state tournament,” Schwab said. “We were there to get better and play a great program. We needed to get that taste.

“Valley is an outstanding squad with great athletes and provided us with a great test.”

The Golden Bears were caught from behind and edged, 58-54. Still, the team took plenty away from the journey.

“We learned a lot of things that we just can’t simulate,” Schwab said. “Their speed and athleticism was something that we don’t see. They are a high-level talent. Outside of Molly (Joyce) and Audi (Crooks) our girls haven’t seen that type of play.

“They were quick and had some Div. I athletes.”

Garrigan cruised through its three regional games, winning by an average of 50 points to earn a second straight state trip. Last year, the Golden Bears (23-1) settled for second after back-to-back state champion Newell-Fonda rallied from a 14-point deficit to secure the 1A title.

That loss to the Mustangs was in 2020, though, and that’s exactly where the Golden Bears have kept it. Not a word has been spoken about last season’s championship-game performance at Wells Fargo Arena.

“We don’t talk about it at all,” Schwab said. “This is a new year and a new team. It’s always been in the back of our minds, but we never openly discuss it.”

When the Golden Bears handed the Mustangs their only loss of the regular season at 66-45, Schwab approached the outcome the same way.

“We never looked at it as a rematch. It was a completely different game,”Schwab said. “Neither team was at their best, as it was early. It was a good test.

“It was never about revenge. It was just about getting better as a team.”

Garrigan grabbed the top-seed in the 1A field. Newell-Fonda is second.

Crooks and Joyce — both sensational sophomores — burst onto the scene as rookies and helped lead the Golden Bears to the championship round in 2020.

Crooks, the daughter of 1986 Fort Dodge Senior High graduate Jimmie Crooks and former Garrigan standout Michelle (Vitzthum) Cook, was named the Class 1A Player of the Year.

The 6-foot-3 post player has been a monster in the low blocks. Crooks became the state’s all-time freshman scoring leader with 626 points. She also broke the freshman record of field goals made with 270, and had a 70.7 field goal percentage, second best ever among freshmen.

Crooks was the third-best rebounder in the state in 2019-20 at 320.

Both Crooks and Joyce have been a driving force again this time around. Crooks is averaging a double-double at 20.5 points and 10.3 rebounds. Joyce is scoring 10.3 points per contest.

“(Crooks and Joyce) are better players (than last year) and you can see that,” Schwab said. “They are more comfortable on the floor and have been playing together for 12 months straight (AAU and high school). Molly sets things up, and the offense runs through Audi.

“We are a year older and have more experience. We are more mature and understand what we need to do to get back.”

Joining Crooks and Joyce in the starting rotation are seniors Kaylyn Meyers, Grace Elsbecker and Reese Rosenmeyer. Senior Anna Berke is a key contributor off the bench.

Meyers, who is a four-year starter, was part of Garrigan’s 2018 state-qualifying team as well. She reached 1,000 career points this season, and is averaging 10.3 points for the Bears.

“Our seniors have put a lot of time into our program and in the offseason,” Schwab said. “When Molly and Audi came to the team, everyone saw how big of an asset they would be and everyone bought in to each other.

“Success builds success. It has been changing our program at all levels. Everyone is putting in time and it’s fun to see the results.”

The Golden Bears will open tournament play with eighth-ranked Springville (21-4). The quarterfinal contest will begin at 2 p.m. on Wednesday inside Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.

The Orioles’ record is deceiving, as their four losses are to a pair of top-five teams. Springville has lost to No. 1 Maquoketta Valley (2A) twice and fifth-rated North Linn (2A) twice.

“They play in a solid league and are well-coached,” Schwab said. “They won the state title in 2018 as the one seed, when we were the eight.

“Lauren Wilson is a great post player. This will be one of Audi’s biggest tests down low.”

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