MASON CITY, Iowa — Allie Negen and her North Iowa Area teammates were just a few days from playing in Nationals when the plugged was pulled on their 32-1 season with no chance to compete for the NJCAA championship due to coronavirus concerns.
The No. 1-seeded Lady Trojans had defeated rival Kirkwood Community College by 22 points to win the Region XI championship and were primed for a run at Nationals.
“We were all really excited and when we found out it was canceled it was like everyone was crying. Sophomores especially, that was their last chance to make their statement for NIACC,’’ said Negen, a 2019 Mountain Iron-Buhl graduate.
North Iowa Area Community College actually first found out the tournament was postponed, which left them with some hope.
“About four days before we would leave for Nationals, we found out it was postponed so we were all kind of relieved. OK this is good we can still play, we can still have a chance,’’ she said.
The women were allowed to go home after that, which is when they found out the bad news.
Negen called it “just kind of a sad moment.’’
Despite the cancellation, Negen was proud to be a part of the historic 32-1 season. The Region XI title game win was NIACC’s 34th straight home victory and was also the second straight season that the Lady Trojans have topped Kirkwood in the regional title game.
The region championship was also the team’s 20th straight win, which completed their second straight perfect season at home.
With only four sophomores on the team, “no one was really expecting the record to even be like that,’’ the 19-year-old added.
Besides the records set, Negen said she’ll remember the team camaraderie is what she will remember about her first season in Mason City.
“It was the connection that the team had that I just loved the most. I’ll never forget the team of this year.’’
The feeling was immediate last summer when the squad first got together and hung out for two weeks.
“We all got to know each other. We went to a couple of tournaments and realized there’s a click going on. I’ve never seen a team so connected before.’’
The team was all on the same page right from the start, she added.
“Having that, it was really nice. We had nothing against each other and we were all there for one reason and one reason only, which was to get better and be the best that we could be.’’
The season wasn’t without any obstacles for Negen, who suffered torn ligaments in her foot during a game with her NIACC teammates last summer.
Going into the season just training was “a bit depressing,’’ but Negen turned her focus to rehab. “I was in the training room as much as I possibly could because I saw all the girls and how well they were doing and I wasn’t even part of it yet. It was a bit of jealousy I guess.’’
Negen ended up missing only a couple of games, which she considers very lucky.
Once back in the lineup, the 5-foot-10-inch Negen was used primarily in the post and at wing. “Generally I shot the 3 and then they would have me post up when I had a small player on me.’’
While MI-B played at a high level and reached the state tournament all of her varsity years, Negen said transitioning to community college ball was a bit of a challenge.
“It was a big change actually. I wasn’t expecting it to be like that. It’s just much faster paced. You’re just expected to know a lot more and be more responsible.’’ She added that everyone is a leader on the court and the players respectfully tell each other what they need to work on.
The responsibility includes living and getting to the gym and weight room on your own. “You have to do that on your own. You don’t have anyone reminding you what you have to get done.’’ Negen added that it took a little while to get into that groove. “I didn’t get that to click until two weeks into the school year. And when I finally did, it was a relief.’’
The latest adjustment has been to only being able to do coursework online. “It was a big change and just trying to adapt to it with more online was kind of hard,’’ said Negen, who plans to major in elementary education.
In preparation for next season, Negen continues to work on her game and conditioning.
“I’ve been constantly working out. My dad just cleared off the basketball court in our backyard so I’ve been out and about kind of shooting,’’ which included social distancing. In addition, she is working on agility and athletic explosion in her basement.
Looking back on her freshman year, Negen considers the records set by the 2019-20 Lady Trojans the highlight of the season.
“That was one thing I’ll never forget for sure.’’
With NIACC recruiting Hibbing’s Kourtney Manning for 2020-21, Negen stated she’ll be happy to have a fellow Iron Ranger playing with her. “I’m just excited for next season.’’