They are causing a fun commotion.
They are the talk of barber shops, retail checkout lines, restaurant tables, and social media posts.
They are why sports fans have packed the Maquoketa High School gym’s 1,800 seats to near-capacity for the last couple months, creating standing-room only.
They have become a uniting force – a common bond, if
you will – for Jackson county residents.
Who are these people, you ask?
They are the Maquoketa Cardinals basketball team, a scoring phenom, two high school wrestlers, a winning girls team, and an Easton Valley hoops squad that is winning games at a near-record pace.
Yes, this winter has been good to high school sports fans in this part of Eastern Iowa, and here’s why:
ν The Maquoketa Cardinals boys basketball team clinched the WaMaC Conference championship Feb. 9, held a No. 1 state ranking for weeks, and were 17-2 heading into scheduled games Monday and Tuesday night.
ν Cardinal senior hoopster A.J. Becker torched Maquoketa High School’s single-
game scoring record (which he broke in December) and tied the state single-game three-point shooting record.
ν Maquoketa High School’s Abe Michel captured his 100th career wrestling win, and he’s only a junior.
ν Michel and Taven Rich, also a junior, have wrestled their way to the state tournament in Des Moines, which is scheduled for this week.
ν The Maquoketa High School girls basketball team is enjoying its best season in many years, posting a record of 13-7 so far this season.
ν The Easton Valley River Hawks boys basketball team defeated 18 opponents in 21 games, putting them on pace for a trip to the Class 1A state basketball tournament and for at least a share of the Tri-Rivers Conference Title. The EV girls basketball team is also posting a winning season.
While tournaments for these teams and athletes are yet to be played, the highlights this winter have been notable and many.
Becker breaks records
Eating his mother’s handmade peanut butter balls and drinking six bottles of water after 4 p.m. on game night. That’s part of Becker’s pre-game ritual. With a special playlist cued up, he heads into the locker room “to get focused” before hitting the basketball court with his teammates.
His pregame approach worked Friday night.
Becker lit up the scoreboard against Williamsburg as he sank 13 three-point shots on his way to 43 points — shattering the MHS single-game scoring record of 33 points, which he set in December.
Maquoketa beat Williamsburg 68-54.
Becker hit seven three-pointers in his previous best game. His new personal-best of 13 tied the state record set by Charlie Dugger of Lake Mills in 2016 and Kyle Crowl of Council Bluffs in 2014.
Becker’s record-breaking game also broke him free from a three-game shooting slump in which he scored a total of 30 points.
While Becker’s scoring has helped propel the Cards to a 17-2 record, it’s been a team effort, according to Coach Matt Hartman.
The coach said he was happy with the team’s passing game over the weekend. While the ball ended up in Becker’s hands a lot Friday, the players know how to read the situation on the court and how to get the ball where it needs to go, Hartman said.
Basketball fans will have more opportunities to cheer on the Cards. The team was scheduled to play Central DeWitt Monday at DeWitt and Solon Tuesday at home to round out the regular season.
Their road to state begins with a district home game against Independence Monday, Feb. 18. The winner of that game will play Thursday, Feb. 21, against the winner of the Solon-Central DeWitt game.
Rich, Michel to wrestle at state
Maquoketa’s success on the court doesn’t end with basketball. Throw down the wrestling mats, and the Cards are ready for action, sending two grapplers to the state wrestling tournament this year.
Juniors Taven Rich and Abe Michel qualified for the Class 2A state tournament following first- and second-place finishes, respectively, at sectionals in DeWitt Saturday. The tournament runs Thursday through Saturday at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.
Wrestling in the 182-pound weight class, Michel is 25-8 on the season but notched his 100th career win against Kole Kreinbring of Davenport Assumption Feb. 2.
Michel takes on Lucas Roland (21-3) of Prairie City-Monroe (PCM) High School in Round 1 Thursday.
Rich, who is 30-4 on the season, qualified in the 285-pound weight class by defeating Carson Petlon of West Delaware Saturday. He scored a fall in 2:57.
Rich will face senior Jarrett Fastert of Central Lyon/George-Little Rock High School in Round 1 on Thursday. Fastert’s record is 30-7 for the year.
Cardinal girls’ winning ways
On the girls side, the Cards are 13-7 on the season, thanks in part to a senior Brie Bennis. Bennis is averaging 15.8 points per game and shoots 78.8 percent from the free throw line, which helped to propel the team to its 13-7 record.
She also set a school record earlier this season with 33 points in a single game.
Check out the Cardinals Wednesday night when they travel to Clinton High School to take on the River Queens at 7 p.m.
River Hawks on pace
The Easton Valley River Hawks hoopsters sport a winning record as well, notching 18 wins in 21 games so far this year.
Their Class 1A success is due in part to post players Curtis Hartung and Kaleb Cornilsen defending under the basket and the outside game of Cade Jargo and Nate Trenkamp shooting three-pointers. Jargo’s three-point sweet spot falls well beyond the arc.
Watch the River Hawks boys take on Marquette High School at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Clinton Prince of Peace.
The EV girls basketball is also enjoying a winning season, with a 15-6 record in the Tri-Rivers Conference.
Sadie Zaruba, the only senior on the team, is a switch-up player, commanding rebounds on defense, yet shooting hot from behind the arc.
The girls were scheduled to play Calamus -Wheatland at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Preston. If they won, EV next would play at Marquette High School against a team to be determined Feb. 15.