By Mark Pawlak
Central Iowa Press
TRAER - North Tama has brought a little attitude and that has been a great thing in the win column.
The Redhawks are doing the unprecedented in 2010-11 in girls' basketball. North Tama has won its first conference title in the program's 5-on-5 history as well as achieving its first-ever state ranking and setting a new record for most wins in a season.
At the front of it all as the Class 1A No. 11 Redhawks take an 18-3 mark into tonight's regional opener against NU High in Traer is center Kailey Kladivo.
The 6-foot-2 junior Kladivo is second in Class 1A in both scoring (19.8 points per game) and rebounding (14.2 boards per game).
Kladivo also was the team's top scorer as a freshman and sophomore.
"She has really stepped it up this year. She's aggressive on offense. She'll take some shots this year she turned down last year and she's willing not to force shots," said North Tama head coach Irv Laube. "I think that's one of the biggest things too, if she's getting doubled or tripled she's going to kick it out to the open girl.
"Rebounding has been a huge difference this year. Kailey's been dominating."
"I think it's just her aggression this year. Rebounding is more attitude than it is anything else," Laube added. "You can have a short person get a lot of rebounds if they'll box out and go after the ball hard. I think part of it is her mindset, we've talked to her about that every rebound is yours and go get it."
Kladivo grabbed 9.7 rebounds per game as a sophomore for a North Tama squad that finished with a 10-13 record.
"I'm playing AAU now and playing with girls who practice all year round, it's more competition," Kladivo said. "Then you bring that back to your team and it just picks up everybody."
The roster for the Redhawks is packed with the same faces that led the softball team this past summer to its highest win total since the 1980s and then won the conference title in volleyball.
The basketball team wouldn't be outdone even with all that was stacked against it.
North Tama was searching for its first conference title and neither had it been mentioned ever in the state's rankings.
The Redhawks were definitely an emerging team as the season started, but this season's 18 wins already is more than the last three years combined.
"It's probably the most fun I've had out of all my years of basketball because we work well as a team and we support each other," Kladivo said. "Winning has been icing on the cake."
Seniors Amanda Howard and Erin Herink were there when North Tama didn't enjoy the same level of success on the court.
"It's been a blast this year," Howard said. "We've come together a lot better and our chemistry is a lot stronger. We have fun in the practices, we have fun in the games. There's always smiles on our faces. We love what we do."
The Redhawks were 1-18 back in 2007-08.
"I've never been on a team where we've gone into games knowing that we're going to win," Herink said. "Having a 18-3 season, that's amazing."
Last year's senior class helped put down the groundwork with how hard they worked, Laube said. Huge early season wins were great confidence boosts as well.
"I definitely thought they had the potential," Laube said. "They've lived up to it."
"Each one that we won early was a turning point that said we can do this," Laube added. "When you start the year, you always say what do you want for your record and where do you want to end up? Obviously beating the win record this year of 15 was certainly a goal that we had set."
North Tama downed Belle Plaine in the season opener, 45-37, behind a double-double of 17 points and 11 rebounds by Kladivo. Belle Plaine was a team that beat the Redhawks pretty handily last winter.
"We set goals at the beginning of the year and a lot of goals we had to say what we thought our overall record would be," Herink said. "Everyone was thinking 17-4, 18-3, high up there. That seemed realistic to me because I knew we had a talented team."
Next up was a win at Don Bosco and then beating tradition-rich Colo-NESCO. North Tama went into the Christmas break undefeated and won its first 10 games of the year on its way to a 15-1 mark to win the Iowa Star Conference South Division.
"We all know what we've got to do to make the wins happen for us," Howard said. "Things have changed tremendously. The attitude is different and that's shown in our record and our performances."
The four-year starter Herink averages 7.6 points per game and is joined on the perimeter by Allie Zobel (the school's single-season 3-point leader) and Aryn Isenhower.
"Erin Herink brings so much poise on the offensive end to us when we're getting pressured," Laube said. "If there's a turnover, she's not getting frustrated. A younger player may make an error and she's bought into being the one that's going over to say 'It's OK, you'll get the next one.'"
Kladivo's scoring assault has already set school records for field goals in a game, field goals in a season, points in a game and points in a season.
She had 23 points and 23 rebounds in North Tama's four-point win over NU High on Jan. 15 in Traer.
"We've met a lot of goals this year," Laube said. "But we have some more goals we want to meet. Now its about really getting the girls to think one game at a time and that anything can happen."
"Coach always says 'Stay positive, have fun and play hard,' Kladivo added. "It's really the only thing."