JAN. 2 HOME STRETCH COLUMN — PETE TEMPLE, SPORTS EDITOR
One of the slogans we have here at the Express is, “It’s never too early.”
As in: It’s never too early to start lining up feature stories for upcoming special sections. It’s never too early to start gathering information for the Monticello Guidebook and the Jones County Vacation Guide. It’s never too early to start making coverage preparations for the Great Jones County Fair.
Here’s another one. I don’t believe it’s too early to start looking at how Monticello might fare when it joins the new River Valley Conference next year.
I’ve written this information previously, but it never hurts to review: The new 13-team conference will include the entire current Cedar Valley Conference, along with two teams from the Tri-Rivers (Monticello and Cascade) and three from the Big East (Northeast, Bellevue and Camanche).
Obviously team rosters will change between now and next season. Still, I thought it would be fun to speculate on how Monticello would do if the new River Valley Conference was in operation this season.
The answer appears to be: not bad.
Keep in mind that Monticello will be in the six-team North Division with Cascade, Bellevue, Northeast, North Cedar and Camanche.
The toughest basketball school in the new conference, if it were in play this year, would clearly be Cascade. Its girls are 10-0, and ranked fifth in 3A. The Cougar boys are 7-0, and ranked third in 2A.
For girls, the three Big East teams that are joining the River Valley have strong records at the holiday break. Bellevue and Northeast are both 6-2, and Camanche is 7-2. None are ranked, but all will be in the North.
The top Cedar Valley team so far is Iowa City Regina, 7-1 overall and ranked 13th in Class 2A (Monticello is now in Class 3A for girls basketball).
For the boys, there is currently a tie for first place in the Cedar Valley, between West Branch and Mid-Prairie, both at 4-1. West Branch has the best record overall, at 8-1, and is ranked 10th in the state in 2A. Mid-Prairie is on the “watch list” (others receiving votes). All of those schools will be in the South Division.
Northeast has the best record among the boys teams in the Big East that will be joining the River Valley. The Rebels are 7-1, but are unranked. Camanche is 4-3 and Bellevue is 2-6. Those three will be in the North.
Of course, you can’t just plug a team into a different conference and expect that its record would be exactly the same. But Monticello’s teams might learn more about their potential standing in the new conference when they play Northeast in non-conference games later this season. The Panther girls will play Northeast Jan. 26 in Monticello, and the boys will play at Northeast Feb. 8.
You can also look at common opponents, although those are scarce. No Cedar Valley team has faced a team on Monticello’s schedule so far.
Monticello did face Midland, however, which is in the Big East with Northeast, Bellevue and Camanche. Bellevue’s teams play at Midland Jan. 4, which will be the first real chance to compare common opponents. The Panther girls defeated Midland 54-29 on Dec. 15, and the boys lost to Midland 49-43.
In wrestling, none of the River Valley teams are listed in rankings posted by The Predicament, but there are several ranked individuals. Wilton, Regina and West Branch each have two wrestlers ranked in Class 1A, and Tipton has one. In 2A, one Northeast wrestler is ranked.