Jan. 22—OTTUMWA — At first, Camdyn Crouse was fine with a few days off from school.
As the snow continued to fall and temperatures began to plummet, however, the longer the layoff became for Crouse and the rest of her Ottumwa girls basketball teammates. Heavy snow, high winds and frigid temperatures not only kept the Bulldogs stuck at home, but started to lead to a mounting number of postponed games over the past two weeks.
Ottumwa finally returned the court for their first game in 14 days on Friday. Despite a slow shooting start, the defense of the Bulldogs stymied visiting Des Moines Hoover forcing 34 turnovers against the Huskies in a 54-19 win at Evans Middle School Gymnasium allowing Ottumwa to remain alone in first place in the Iowa Alliance's south division with a perfect 5-0 record.
Friday's win kicks off a hectic sprint to the end of the regular season. The Bulldogs (7-2) play three games this week, four games the following week and four more games during the final week of the regular season.
"You start to realize that, with our schedule in January, that the game are just going to be piling up on top of each other," Crouse said. "After awhile, you realize you're eventually not going to be able to make stuff up, which is even worse. We needed to get back to school and we needed to play."
Ottumwa looked like a team that hadn't played a game in two weeks during the first quarter on Friday. The Bulldogs were able to build an 11-2 lead by forcing the Huskies into nine turnovers, two of which directly led to three points for Crouse on a free throw on a drive to the basket and a lay-up that helped OHS establish a five-point advantage.
Cami Pauls came off the bench to score the final four points of the opening quarter, sinking a free throw and a 3-pointer off a feed from Crouse. It would be just the fourth field goal made by Ottumwa on their first 19 shot attempts in the game.
"This was only our third game since the holiday break. We haven't played a ton of basketball in about a month," Ottumwa head coach Joe VandenBerg said. "We knew there would be a little bit of rust. We just had to shake that off. Our girls did a good job. They let our defense lead to our offense."
That defense led to easier transition baskets in the second quarter, allowing Ottumwa to finish the first half making seven of their final 11 field goal attempts. Crouse sank a pair of 3-pointers as Ottumwa scored the first nine points in the second quarter before finding Nellie Morgan and Brylee Jaeger for lay-ups during a 17-3 run sparked by 11 more Hoover turnovers in the period.
The Bulldogs finished with 12 steals in the first half, including five from Crouse. Des Moines Hoover managed just two made field goals on 14 attempts while committing 20 turnovers as Ottumwa opened a 28-5 halftime lead.
"We were able to find some easy buckets when we couldn't find our touch from the outside," Vandenberg said. "We told the girls at the (first) quarter break that we needed to play faster. That could be simply moving the ball quicker, it could be moving the ball up the court faster in transition, it could be getting a pass fake and taking it into a driving lane. Playing faster was a big key for us."
Crouse led Ottumwa's attack, leading all players on Friday with 16 points and five assists while matching Jaeger with a game-high seven steals. The all-around floor game by Crouse including a feed into post for a lay-up by Nellie Morgan before collecting a steal and driving in uncontested for a lay-up in the third quarter giving OHS a 41-7 lead.
"It's been hard for us to get into the gym with the way that the weather has been, but when we do we prepare ourselves knowing that we haven't been able to play a game for awhile," Crouse said. "We're trying to prepare for that kind of environment. It's never the same. That first quarter coming back into a gym facing another team with all the people watching was something we had to adjust to.
"We definitely get going faster when we get steals and get going in transition. With Brylee and Miya (Fuller) moving up there to the top, it's really easy to get those steals and push the ball."
Meleah Davis led Des Moines Hoover (0-13, 0-6 Iowa Alliance) with 11 points in the loss. Jaeger and Morgan each scored nine points for the Bulldogs in the contest.
"January's going to be tough with five games left this month, but once we get back into the swing of things knowing how we want to play especially in those conference games, it's going to be helpful for us in the long run," Crouse said. "We want to win a conference title. We want to get our power ranking up an get a two-seed in the regional tournament. All of our girls can produce, so being able to count on five to seven girls to come off the bench is going to be huge. They can get out there, play defense and score just like any of our starters could."
After kicking off the first of three busy weeks at Washington on Monday, Ottumwa will get a somewhat rare multi-day break between games for the rest of the regular season. The Bulldogs head to Des Moines North on Thursday before returning to Evans Gym for a Saturday matinee against Burlington starting at 1 p.m.
"The girls are excited to play. They're sick and tired of practicing," Vandenberg said. "They see each other every day. They're looking forward to seeing someone else on the other side of the court.
"Over half of our remaining games are on the road, so we might have to take a few pillows and blankets with us to get a nap in between the games."
— Scott Jackson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter@CourierScott.