Lofty goals for Triton women

After reaching the national tournament for a fourth time in program history a year ago, the Iowa Central women’s basketball team enters the 2013-14 campaign with plenty of momentum on its side.

Last winter, the Tritons compiled a 25-10 overall mark, including 12-4 in the ICCAC. Under the direction of head coach Craig Carlson, ICCC has managed at least 25 victories in six straight seasons.

The Tritons, who are ranked seventh in the first NJCAA Div. II poll of the season, bring back all-region nominees Katie Dentlinger, Babaye Oja, Miliakere Koyamainavure, Lydia Harvey and Theresa Doyle to their roster.

“This is an unusual bunch in that we’re not a terribly big team, but we are returning our top six kids from our national tournament trip,” said Carlson, who is 201-65 through eight years at the helm and 101-33 in conference play. “I think our only other team that probably had such high expectations was after (former Manson Northwest Webster all-stater and ICCC’s all-time leading scorer Mika) Rodewald’s freshman year.

“We feel like we have a lot more depth now than we had last season, which we thought hurt us at the national tournament. This is our biggest team size-wise and in numbers, and we’ve been working real hard in our practices. We just have the right kind of attitude.”

Dentlinger, a 5-foot-11 forward, paced the Tritons in scoring (11.8 ppg) and rebounding (7.7 rpg), while shooting a team-high 47 percent (159-for-338) from the field in 34 starts as a freshman.

“Dentlinger was a real pleasant surprise for us last season,” Carlson said. “We knew she was a hard-nosed kid, but being only 5-foot-10, I didn’t expect her to have so much success inside.”

Oja, a 5-foot-6 guard, contributed 10 points a night and led the Tritons in steals (76) a year ago, while grabbing 169 total boards.

“Oja missed about the first three weeks of normal practice with ankle problems,” said Carlson. “She’s ready to go right now, but she just hasn’t had enough time in our scrimmages.”

Koyamainavure saw action in all 35 contests last winter, including 19 starts. The 5-foot-8 guard delivered 347 points, 198 rebounds, 66 assists and 61 steals.

St. Edmond graduates Harvey (286 points, 188 rebounds, 74 assists and 42 steals) and Doyle (214 points, 127 assists, 107 rebounds and 29 steals) were also consistent performers for Iowa Central during the 2012-13 campaign.

“Harvey really probably played her best basketball at the end of the year (Harvey was named Most Valuable Player of the Region XI Tournament),” Carlson said. “We’d like to see her score and rebound a little more with how physical she is. She took awhile to get going from 3-point range, but she still shot about 38 percent (Harvey was 54 of 148 behind the arc), which is going to win you a lot of ballgames.

“(Coming off a torn ACL midway through her senior year of high school) Doyle did way more than what we expected from her, too,” said Carlson. “I thought she was the best point guard in our league at the end of the year, and she hasn’t missed a beat so far.”

Jasmine Binion, who was a key reserve for the Tritons a year ago, will be leaned on heavily, as well. Binion, a 5-foot-10 forward, produced 177 points and 105 rebounds as a freshman.

“Binion can really stretch the defense with her ability to step out and shoot the three,” Carlson said. “One area I’d like to see us improve on is our rebounding. We gave up way too many offensive boards last year, but part of that was our lack of size. For the season, we also shot only about 30 percent on threes and 62 percent at the free throw line. Looking back, we struggled down the stretch in making the front end of our one-and-one opportunities. Our goal this year (at the charity stripe) is about 70 percent, which can probably help us win four or five more ballgames.”

As a team, Iowa Central was second nationally in made three-pointers (285) and 20th in scoring (70.9) last season.

Newcomers Hannah Lentsch (St. Edmond), Beth Mork (Eagle Grove), Ashley Ray, Noelly Scott, Nyakat Diew and Artichala Wise are each hoping to make an impact off the bench at various points this year.

Aside from the Tritons, No. 11 Des Moines Area (24-8 overall, 12-4 in the conference last winter) and defending regular-season ICCAC champion Kirkwood (28-5, 15-1) appear to be the other league frontrunners.

“From top to bottom, our league is probably the best since I’ve been coaching (at ICCC),” said Carlson. “I think we have about four or five teams that are capable of winning the (conference) title. It’s going to be a dogfight every night.

“It’s important we get off to a strong start this week. We want to get back to the national tournament and make some noise.”

Prior to last season, the Tritons advanced to nationals in 1987, 2000 and 2011. Gone from a year ago are Annie Lindburg, Carly McRae, Allison Seibert, Lauren Bengen, Rebecca Easton, Aubriegh Yetmar (St. Edmond) and Jade Gregory.

Assisting Carlson once again is Jordon O’Brien.

The Tritons welcome Grand View JV for their opener tonight. Tip is set for 5:30 p.m. on Dennis Pilcher Court at Hodges Fieldhouse.