It was a big rebuilding season for the Nevada boys’ basketball team in 2013-14 as the Cubs had to replace nearly their entire varsity roster from last year’s 18-5 team.
Nevada entered the season needing to replace its top 11 scorers from the 2012-13 team. The Cubs only had one returning player with more than five games of varsity experience.
As a result of so much inexperience, the season was a bumpy ride at times as Nevada finished 5-15 overall and 5-13 in the Heart of Iowa Conference.
But to long-time Nevada head coach Joel Fey, it wasn’t about wins and losses for Nevada this past winter.
“It was one of the most enjoyable seasons I’ve ever been a part of,” Fey said. “This group was an exceptional group of young men that worked extremely hard and represented Nevada with a lot of class and dignity. Record-wise we struggled, but you would have never known based on the effort the guys put forth.”
The season began with a 68-50 road loss to eventual HOIC champion South Hamilton. But the Cubs followed that up by dismantling Colfax-Mingo, 65-15.
The 15 points allowed versus the Tigerhawks was the least given up in school history.
Things started to go downhill with a 52-36 home loss versus Collins-Maxwell-Baxter Dec. 10. Nevada went on to lose seven in a row before snapping out of its funk by handing Colfax-Mingo another drubbing, this time by a 61-27 margin at Nevada on Jan. 17.
“Our lack of experience slowed us down some,” Fey said. “It took us awhile to adjust to the speed of a varsity game.”
On Jan. 21, Nevada traveled to Baxter and gave a good CMB team a fight before suffering a 51-43 loss. The Cubs lost at home to North Polk three days later, but they closed out January on a two-game winning streak.
Nevada downed Saydel by a 55-45 score Jan. 28 at Saydel and on Jan. 31 the Cubs traveled to Jefferson and handed Greene County a 58-50 setback.
Nevada suffered road losses to Bondurant-Farrar and Gilbert on Feb. 1 and Feb. 7. The Cubs then finished the regular season playing their best basketball.
Roland-Story and Prairie City-Monroe both defeated Nevada at home on Feb. 8 and 11 respectively, but the Cubs pushed both foes to the limit. Nevada suffered a 53-47 setback at the hands of Roland-Story and the Cubs fell just one point shy against PCM, 48-47.
On Feb. 13 Nevada outlasted Greene County by a 62-56 score in Nevada to complete the regular season.
“I think we just got better each game we played,” Fey said. “We were up and down a little, but each game we felt more confident.”
The Cubs had to endure an 11-day layoff between the Greene County victory and their Class 3A district quarterfinal game with Humboldt. The effects of that long dry spell showed as Nevada never got anything going, ending the season with a 61-19 setback.
For the season Nevada averaged 49.3 points and allowed 54.7 per game. The Cubs shot 37 percent from the field, 30 percent from 3-point range and 65 percent from the line.
Nevada totaled 92 3-pointers and averaged 10.6 assists against 14.5 turnovers per game. The Cubs also averaged 25.8 rebounds.
Sophomore guard Cole Gidel and senior center Alex Merfeld were the leaders on the court for Nevada.
Gidel was the top Cub scorer with an average of 13.1 points per game. He also led the team in 3-pointers with 43.
Gidel shot 37 percent from the field, 38 percent from 3-point range and 70 percent from the line. He averaged 2.0 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.3 steals.
Merfeld put up 9.3 points per game and he led the team in rebounding with an average of 5.8. Merfeld shot 49 percent from the field and 63 percent from the line and he also totaled a team-high 18 blocks.
Guards Zach Hansen, Patrick Stephenson and Duncan Westphal and forwards Riley Huhn, A.J. Strottman, T.J. Fey, Bennett Thompson and Jake Barker were the other main varsity participants on team. Each individual played in at least 13 games.
Hansen averaged 5.6 points and shot a team-best 79 percent from the line. He also averaged 1.2 steals on defense.
Stephenson averaged 5.5 points, hit 15 3-pointers and shot 68 percent from the line. He added 2.6 rebounds and a team-best 1.4 steals per game.
Westphal averaged 1.3 points per game.
Huhn averaged 4.9 points and shot 70 percent from the line. He paced Nevada in assists with 2.3 per game and also averaged 3.3 rebounds.
Strottman put up 4.3 points and 3.3 rebounds per game as a freshman. He also shot 49 percent from the field.
Fey was a defensive workhorse for Nevada. He averaged 2.5 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.1 assists.
Thompson and Barker provided Nevada valuable minutes off the bench. Thompson averaged 1.8 points and Barker put up 1.4 points per game.
Next season Nevada must find a way to replace the valuable contributions of Merfeld, Stephenson, Huhn, Fey and Barker.
“This is a very special group of seniors for me,” Fey said. “Not only because of my son T.J., but they have all grown up before my eyes. We talked a lot about the great memories, from booster club basketball in fifth grade to our high school team camps, and the games that we won. It will be very difficult for us to turn the page to the next chapter of their lives. But this is what we want as coaches, teachers and parents – great kids having great experiences and moving on to college or finding a job.”
It will also be a big adjustment on the bench as Fey is stepping down as head coach after 16 years of service that included 161 victories.
“There are way too many people to thank as the school and community have both been very supportive,” Fey said. “It has been a wonderful place to coach and I see a lot of success in the future for Nevada basketball.”
But Fey said he thinks the program will be in good hands.
“There will be a lot of very nice components returning next year,” Fey said. “Cole had an excellent season, Zach was one of our best players the second half of the season and A.J. is only going to continue to get better. Couple that with our eighth-grade, freshmen and JV that went a combined 36-3, and I think there are great things to come.”