You could find a lot of good boys basketball in eastern Iowa gyms this winter.
That was especially true in the three conferences that the Observer-area teams call home.
The Tri-Rivers produced both a No. 1 team — Easton Valley, which spent five weeks atop the Class 1A rankings — and a state runner-up in North Linn.
The Lynx were part of a 2A state field that included a pair of teams, Camanche and Monticello, from the same division —the River Valley North.
The Class 3A state field, meanwhile, featured three different WaMaC Conference teams — Clear Creek-Amana, Center Point-Urbana and Mount Vernon.
Three other teams from the league reached the substate final and the WaMaC had two different teams spend a week at No. 1 in state rankings.
That type of competition provided some big challenges to the Calamus-Wheatland, Central DeWitt and Northeast boys basketball squads.
But ones they were more than happy to take on.
The Sabers, in particular, were part of an upper echelon in the WaMaC, as the top six teams in the conference posted a combined record of 116-33.
Central DeWitt knocked off both of the WaMaC’s No. 1 teams, dropping Beckman Catholic, 58-55, and pulling away from Marion, 62-52.
The Sabers went 18-6 overall in their final season in the conference with the 18 victories being their most in six seasons. The six losses, meanwhile, were all to squads (Mount Vernon, Center Point-Urbana, Marion and Beckman) who advanced to either state or the substate final.
Change will be afoot for the Sabers. Along with the move to the MAC, which had two state teams of its own, Central DeWitt will say goodbye to seven seniors, including four starters — Tucker Kinney, Alex McAleer, Logan Paulsen and Zach Hinkle — who earned all-conference honors for their play this season.
Northeast represented the River Valley Conference in the state rankings after an impressive 5-0 start highlighted by a 10-point win over a West Branch squad that would finish 18-5.
The start was even more impressive when you consider that the Rebels were playing their first games under first-year head coach Brandon Hansen and attempting to replace the offense of their two leading scorers from the year before.
Northeast, though, spread its points around — five players averaged between six and 10 points per game — and continued to be one of the class’ top defenses (they allowed an area-low 46 points per game).
The result was a 13-victory campaign that was nearly extended in a tight district semifinal with eventual state squad Monticello.
The Rebels will face their own roster turnover. Six of the nine players who saw action in that low-scoring district game with the Panthers were seniors, including three starters in Dakota Stevenson, Grant Rickertsen and Trey McAleer.
The Calamus-Wheatland boys basketball team faced that type of reshuffling this season after graduating four major pieces from last year’s co-Tri-Rivers East champion.
The Warriors, though, rode their fast-paced offensive attack — they attempted nearly 200 more shots than both Central DeWitt and Northeast and led the area in three-pointers — to 11 victories, including eight in the East division, helping them finish second behind top-ranked Easton Valley.
The Warriors racked up points against some of the conference’s best, too. They trailed Springville — a 1A state team — by just two points entering the fourth quarter of their matchup and scored the most points — 68 — of anyone who faced Easton Valley this winter.
Now, the challenge will be tuning up the defense to avoid shootouts (the Warriors had seven games where both teams scored at least 60 points, going 2-5 in them), while also plugging the holes left by senior starters Caleb Banowetz and Brian Forret.
The good news is that the Warriors are set to return six players who took part in at least 20 games this season — the most of any area boys squad.