That gnawing question of just how long could the unbeaten, number one streak last was answered January 10 when the Grundy Center Spartans handed South Tama its first loss of the season, 54-50. Coincidentally, it came at the exact time it did last season.
"The twelfth game is beginning to become like a monkey on our back," said head coach Nate Roberts.
Last season, South Tama also suffered its first loss in the twelfth game at home against Union, 50-37. It was also a night when the shots would not go down.
Trying to haul down an offensive rebound with Grundy Center's Sarah Frisch playing through her is South Tama's Jade Rohach. The Trojans got no help from the officials January 10, and combined with poor shooting, the Trojans lost their first game of the season, 54-50. Chronicle/Jeff Barker
To be fair, Grundy Center had a lot to do with that. But early foul trouble on the Trojan's leading scorer and rebounder Madison Baier kept her off the floor two minutes of the first period and the entire second period. After collecting her fourth foul, Baier only saw part of the third period and was only brought back into the game about midway through the fourth before fouling out with a minute to go in the game.
"I thought when she (Baier) was out of the game, I thought we picked it up, did a nice job. We stayed in the game for 20 minutes without her.
"We've been in that spot before. You've just got to play over that. Maybe I was a little too focused on the refereeing. I know that if I'm focused on it, the girls are, too. So, you just got to play through that."
By the numbers, South Tama was hit with 19, often head-scratching, game-impacting fouls. The Spartans had 12. The Trojans had three players in foul trouble (Baier 5, Jade Rohach 4, Kendra Bradley 4), and the Spartans one (Heather Hook 4).
In the first half, South Tama went to the line just three times, making two. The Spartans made twelve trips and converted seven of them. For the game, STC was 6 of 11 and Grundy Center was 11 of 21.
It is easy to understand the frustration with the officiating when paired with one of those nights when the lid is on the bucket.
The Spartans' defense was a big part of the victory for Grundy Center. South Tama looked well off their game in most every phase of it. But the Trojans did not help themselves, missing several uncontested easy transition points and "bunnies" inside that are normally automatic for any team.
"Megan (Wanatee) came in the first half and gave us a huge lift. She hit some big shots. I thought the girls had a lot of effort tonight, we just got to execute better. That's the main thing," commented Roberts. "Down the stretch, you've got to hit your layups, get the bunnies."
There are silver linings, even in a loss. That target with "#1" on it will be on someone else's chest when the next rankings come out. And even with the loss, the Trojans remain alone on top of the NICL.
Roberts is moving on. He knows in the greater scheme of things, a loss on Jan. 10 means nothing when regionals roll around next month.
"We'll chew on it tonight and then it's done," said Roberts, "The sun will come up in the morning."
It always does
The Trojans fall to 11-1 (7-1) for the season. The Spartans move to 12-2 (6-2). The Trojans hosted East Marshall Jan. 13.
Scoring - Rohach 14, Wanatee 9, Baier 8, Keahna 8, Smith 6, Sieck 3, Bradley 2
Rebounds - Sieck 11, Rohach 9, Baier 6, Smith 3, Keahna 3, Sieck 3, Bradley 3, Wanatee 1
Assists - Bradley 3, Sieck 3, Smith 3, Keahna 3, Rohach 2, Wanatee 1, Baier 1
Steals - Bradley 3, Keahna 2, Rohach 2, Sieck 1, Wanatee 1, Baier 1
Blocks - Baier 2