Rested Rebels ready to rumble at state

Gladbrook-Reinbeck's Tyler Pierce hooks a shot toward the basket during a Feb. 7 game against East Marshall in Reinbeck. (Jake Ryder/The Grundy Register photo)

   REINBECK – The road to the boys’ basketball state tournament has taken its toll on Gladbrook-Reinbeck.

   “We’ve got young kids in some old bodies right now,” G-R head coach Scott Kiburis said.

   The end result was no less satisfying for the Rebels: A third consecutive trip for Gladbrook-Reinbeck (24-2) to the Class 1A state tournament, beginning with a state quarterfinal against Lynnville-Sully (24-1) at 10:30 a.m. on Monday in the Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.

   “Being at this level three consecutive years is special, and I don’t think we take that for granted,” G-R co-captain Joe Smoldt said. “But we’re not getting too worked up about it. Just trying to stay loose, same way we have all season long.”

   The Rebels are certainly a special team led by arguably one of the best players in the state, regardless of class, in Smoldt.  He leads all scorers in Iowa with 30.5 points per game and has dished out five assists per contest this season, often when teams have designed defenses to wear Smoldt down from baseline-to-baseline.

   Make no mistake, the Rebels earned their way to Des Moines, and not just through challenging battles with Colo-Nesco and Wapsie Valley, the latter an overtime thriller that the Rebels were able to tear away late.

   The season has been filled with hungry, talented opponents anxious to show that they can take down the vaunted Rebels, a preseason No. 1 in 1A that remained in the top half of the Associated Press poll all season long.

   “When Jesup beat us earlier this year, we could hear them a bit since our locker rooms were so close together. They sounded like they were on top of the world,” G-R co-captain Tyler Pierce said. “We’ve had a lot of packed (crowd) games, a lot of close games. We know how to handle ourselves and it’s been really fun.”

   G-R’s non-NICL West schedule keeps them honest during the regular season, too. Not just Jesup from the neighboring NICL East, but 2A state qualifier South Hamilton, who handed the Rebels their only other loss this season, in addition to talented 1A squads from Montezuma and Ankeny Christian.

   The Rebels also scratched and clawed their way to another undefeated season in the NICL West, turning back an aggressive East Marshall upset bid in overtime.

   “We’ve had a tough schedule, and it’s given us confidence down the stretch,” Smoldt said. “And we’ve got to have confidence to go in there and treat this game like any other game.”

   Lynnville-Sully hasn’t lost since a Dec. 9 defeat, 48-40, against Montezuma – the Hawks won the rematch in Montezuma 63-51 – and have reloaded since losing a couple of key contributors from last season’s team, which G-R bested for state trip No. 2.

   Jesse Van Wyk leads the Hawks with 12.5 points per game, one of four L-S players averaging 10 or more points scored per game.

   Before G-R even knew they were facing the Hawks, Kiburis made sure that the team would get a couple of days away from practice before returning to full-speed-ahead on Tuesday.

   “We needed to run and get our feet under us again,” Kiburis said. “They got some rest, they’re excited and the school’s really excited.”

   Kiburis expects to see early and often the kind of man-to-man defense that has allowed Lynnville-Sully to hold opponents to 39.2 points per game this season.

   But defense is also an area of focus for the Rebels. No 1A state qualifying team has allowed more points per game (50.1) than G-R.

   “We’ve really had to key in on that this year,” Smoldt said. “We’re trying to stop teams because we know we can score.”

   This season is also special for Smoldt himself, a chance to really take on the senior leadership role he’s learned so much about playing on the G-R squad the previous three seasons of varsity play.

   “We do have a lot of younger guys that play for us in big roles,” Smoldt said. “We’re just trying to get better every single day.”

   After facing down some tough opposition, what’s three more games with high stakes?

   “As a little kid, you always want to be the big guys taking the big shots in the big games,” Pierce said. “Our crowd, we’ve got a sea of blue that’s been behind us and just been amazing to help us in this late playoff run. I think the team’s looking forward to it.”