One last test looms on the horizon for Central Lakes College Raiders men's and women's basketball teams before the start of division play.
And, this last test should be a doozy.
The Iowa Lakes Community College Lakers of Esterville and the North Iowa Area Community College Trojans of Mason City, along with Vermilion, will be in town Friday and Saturday for the CLC Classic tournament.
ILCC and NIACC are Division II community colleges with scholarship players. This weekend marks the fifth time this season the Raiders have played a bigger school with scholarship players.
The Raider women's team (1-9) opens with the Lakers at 6 p.m. Friday and takes on North Iowa 4 p.m. Saturday. The men (7-3) will face Iowa Lakes 8 p.m. Friday and the Trojans 6 p.m. Saturday.
Iowa Lakes (9-3) and North Iowa (12-0) employ high-octane offenses and stingy defenses. Iowa Lakes averages 84 points a game while giving up only 71. NIACC pours in 77 points a game while holding foes to 67.
The Lakers' Lucas Schossow and Charles Cleveland are both 6-foot-7 and weigh more than 245 pounds. Josh McKinney averages 20 points and 3.4 steals while Travis Larsen averages 19 points and 5.6 assists.
"We'll use our quickness and smarts instead of just banging with them," Raider men's coach Jim Russell said of Iowa Lakes. "We need to beat them to spots instead of fighting with them for spots."
The Trojans' Lester Simpson averages 16.5 points and 5.8 rebounds while Jamaal Byers adds 12.5 points and 5.3 assists. NIACC beat CLC 75-72 Nov. 21.
"We want to play our tempo and not theirs," Russell said of NIACC. "Offensively, we need to be more patient and play defense a little longer. I think we'll go at (NIACC) early inside. We need to stop their key players and control the boards."
The Raider men's team can also put up points. In its last four games, CLC is averaging 91.5 points. Forward Leonard Langdon leads CLC's balanced attack with 12.6 points a game while guard Deejay Mayfield adds 10.1.
"We just want to be competitive and play up to their level," said Russell. "We need to take care of home court and get the chemistry going again. The most important thing is to rise up to another level that we maybe haven't reached yet."
The Raider women have had a more difficult season but coach Dennis Eastman believes his team is taking steps toward improvement.
"The players are talking more and switching on defense," Eastman said. "They're also running the offense better. I think they're starting to feel comfortable with what I'm trying to do. The biggest thing is their confidence. We have to get over that hump."
Iowa Lakes and NIACC average more than 75 points a game and will have considerable size advantages.
The Lakers' Tina Geisler (5-11) scores 10.8 points a game while Lucey Geitzenhauer (6-0) adds 9.5. North Iowa's Kelly Parker (6-0) averages 17.7 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.3 blocks. CLC's tallest player is Kaylee Bandemer at 6-0.
"The biggest thing we have to stress is our passing," said Eastman. "Most of our players throw the ball over the top and there's no way we can do that against these teams. We need to do more ball fakes and our big people will have to move more. We want to get their big people tired so we're going to have to run and keep moving."
CLC will rely on forward Bobbi VanWechel's 19.1 points and 7.2 rebounds a game to power its attack. Bandemer will also need to find points inside. The slim slasher averages 11.7 points and 8.6 rebounds.
"It's going to be one of those challenges again," Eastman said. "It's going to be good for us playing against good competition like this."
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