Last season saw the Roland-Story boys basketball team return to state for the first time in a decade.
The Norsemen went 22-3 overall and won the Heart of Iowa Conference with an unbeaten 14-0 record a year ago. They defeated Garner-Hayfield-Ventura in the Class 2A substate finals to make it to Wells Fargo Arena, where they fell to Pella Christian in the state quarterfinals, 69-62.
This year's team plans to top all of that.
"The goal is to finish off better than last year," said Roland-Story senior guard Isaiah Naylor. "We're all focused and coming in with a better mindset."
But the Norsemen know it won't be easy.
“We have a lot of experience coming off a very successful year last year, so that’s exciting, but it brings a lot of different challenges than past years,” said Roland-Story coach Darrin Berggren. “You know every night you’re going to get everybody’s best. We’re going to have to be ready to go.”
Roland-Story will be led by the talented combo of Naylor and junior forward/guard Jonovan Wilkinson.
Naylor averaged 17.1 points, 2.2 assists and 1.6 steals a year ago. He shot 46.2% from the field, made 72 3-pointers at a 39.8% clip and converted 83.3% of his free throws.
Wilkinson does a little bit of everything for Roland-Story. He averaged 14.2 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.6 steals while shooting 49.6% from the field and 79.2% from the line in 2021-2022.
"Jon and I are a pretty good two-guard combo," Naylor said. "To be honest I don't think anybody can shut us down. We got way better over the summer."
The duo does a fantastic job playing off each other and getting their other teammates involved.
"He brings a lot of energy and so do I," Wilkinson said. "We fuel each other and everybody else on the court."
But Naylor and Wilkinson are also surrounded by an excellent supporting cast.
Luke Patton, a powerful 6-foot-5 post player, averaged a double-double last season, with 10.7 points and 10.9 rebounds per game during his junior year. Ben Greenfield averaged 5.0 points and 3.7 rebounds and was a sneaky-good defender, as was 6-foot-4 forward Kale Lande, who put up 2.8 points and 4.6 rebounds per game last year.
"Kale, Ben...all those guys have stepped up defensively and offensively," Naylor said. "They just got way better throughout the summer."
Senior Dillon Lettow averaged 3 points and two rebounds last year. Junior guard Boaz Clark averaged 3.9 points and hit 25 3-pointers and Nick Butler averaged 1.4 points and rebounds apiece in the post.
"One of our strengths is going to be our depth," Berggren said. "I don't know a lot of teams in 2A that can go as deep as we can go."
Roland-Story will face a big challenge from Nevada in the HOIC. The Cubs' only conference losses last year came at the hands of the Norsemen.
Berggren expects the rest of the conference to give Roland-Story a good run too.
"Nevada's got a strong program with a lot of tradition," Berggren said. "Greene County's got two of the better players in the league (seniors Richard Daugherty and Jesse Miller). PCM (Prairie City-Monroe) always rolls out a really good team...it seems every year they lose their top two scorers, but come back with a 15-win team. We aren't going to take anything for granted or overlook anybody. Night in and night out it could be anybody's game."
This year's Roland-Story team is built to handle anything the opposition will throw its way.
"Last year our guys were locked in and excited to take that next step," Berggren said. "I think you can say the same thing this year. We did get down to state last year, but I don't think anyone was satisfied. They put in a lot of time this summer and we're just really excited to get going."
Roland-Story opens the season by hosting old rival Gilbert on Nov. 29 in Story City.
This article originally appeared on Ames Tribune: Roland-Story boys basketball program eyes a return to state in 2023