A tough break right before the start of the season couldn’t prevent the Collins-Maxwell girls’ basketball team from turning in a fantastic season in 2019-2020.


The Spartan girls lost starting point guard Mikayla Houge for the season to ankle injury suffered in a scrimmage just before the season began. They lost their opener to Woodward-Granger, but then won their next five games.


Collins-Maxwell went on to finish 19-5 overall and take second in the Iowa Star Conference South Division with a 10-2 conference mark. Even without Houge the Spartans bested last season’s marks of 15-6 and 8-2 respectively.


“We entered this season with high hopes and set our goals high,” Collins-Maxwell head coach Justin Flaws said. “In the first week of practice we lost our returning leading scorer for the season and our girls didn’t even think about changing our goals. They just dug in and worked even harder to pick up the slack. We finished 19-5, which is our school record for wins in a season. These girls are proud of themselves for accomplishing that.”


The Spartans fell to Woodward-Granger by a 48-38 score despite 32 points and 19 rebounds from junior center Reagan Franzen. Sophomore guard Alexis Houge — Mikayala’s younger sister — and sophomore forward Kenzi Wierson picked up the slack in the next game and Collins-Maxwell whipped South Hamilton on the road, 55-36.


Collins-Maxwell followed up the South Hamilton by knocking off Colo-NESCO — the eventual winners of the ISC South Division for the eighth year in a row — by a 52-49 score at home to hand the Royals their only conference loss. The Spartans then whipped GMG (52-27), edged Janesville (36-31) and trounced North Tama (57-26).


Meskwaki halted the winning streak and handed the Spartans their first conference loss Dec. 13, 47-36. Collins-Maxwell bounded back to crush Riceville (63-40) and take down Dunkerton (54-44) in its final games before Christmas.


After the break the Spartans trounced Valley Lutheran (74-11), handled Colfax-Mingo (53-37) and topped Pleasantville (39-30) before falling in a rematch with Colo-NESCO, 58-55. Collins-Maxwell rebounded from the heartbreaking loss to Colo-NESCO by thumping GMG (57-24) and avenging its earlier loss to Meskwaki with a 47-42 victory over the Warriors.


The Spartans lost a 41-39 defensive battle to Paton-Churdan on Jan. 30 then ended the month by handing Valley Lutheran a 60-14 drubbing. They opened their February slate by edging top rival Baxter, 44-43.


Collins-Maxwell won at North Tama by a 43-34 on Feb. 6 then completed a sweep of Baxter with a 45-37 win in Baxter two days later to complete conference play. The Spartans ended the regular season by winning a 38-37 non-conference thriller at BCLUW.


Collins-Maxwell opened Class 1A regional play Feb. 13 with a 50-33 home win over GMG. The Spartans then crushed Meskwaki in the quarterfinals, 53-23.


“We dropped one to Meskwaki early in the season that left a bitter taste in our mouth and we redeemed that with a 30-point win at their place in regionals,” Flaws said. “We didn’t allow a two-point field goal the whole game. They took losing personally and did whatever was needed to correct it.”


On Feb. 21 Collins-Maxwell faced fifth-ranked Montezuma in the regional semifinals. The Spartans saw their season come to a close with a 68-49 setback.


Collins-Maxwell turned in a successful season despite having constant health issues. Not only did the Spartans lose Mikayla Houge, but Emma Kahler, Ella Kahler, Alexis Houge, Karley Bartleson and Avery Fricke all missed at least one game.


Collins-Maxwell only had four players compete in all 24 games during the season.


“I’m not sure that we had a full week the whole season where we were healthy,” Flaws said. “It just kept happening all the way through the postseason when Ella tore her ACL again before the Meskwaki game. We spent the first half of the season trying to figure ourselves out and the second half of the season the girls got comfortable knowing they might have to play three or four spots in a night. We learned we have a resilient group because every time someone went down someone else stepped up.”


Flaws credited confidence for helping the girls pull through the tough situations they faced.


“Our girls took an interest in understanding the game and we started watching the Kobe Bryant ‘Detail’ episodes on ESPN-plus at the beginning of the season,” Flaws said. “He had a gift in translating the game and our girls enjoyed learning from how he broke down film. Our girls started asking great questions in practice and communicating what they were seeing in games. In year two of our program, that confidence, understanding and communication really allowed us to perform at a high level.”


As a team Collins-Maxwell averaged 49.5 points shooting 39.6 percent from the field, 24.7 percent from 3-point range and 63.1 percent from the line. The Spartans made 75 3-pointers and they averaged 13.7 assists against 15.2 turnovers.


“We were so unselfish and thankfully we were because we had to be,” Flaws said. “It’s pretty remarkable when your top two scorers are also first and third on the team in assists, rebounds and steals.”


On defense Collins-Maxwell gave up 36.7 points per game and held teams to 30.8-percent shooting from the field. The Spartans forced 21 turnovers per game and also outrebounded foes by a 35-27 margin.


Franzen and Alexis Houge led the way for Collins-Maxwell. They were both first-team all-conference picks.


Franzen stepped up to average 15.2 points, 10.8 rebounds, 3.4 steals and 3.0 assists per game, up from 11.2 points and 10.4 rebounds a year ago. Franzen shot 47 percent from the field and 72 percent from the line and she made 14 3-pointers at a 30-percent rate.


After averaging just 3.7 points as a freshman Houge put up 12.0 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.5 steals and 2.1 assists per game as a sophomore. She shot 48 percent from the field and made 10 3-pointers at a 29-percent clip.


Wierson stepped up to average 5.9 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.0 steals and 1.7 assists per game as a second-team all-conference selection. She shot 45 percent from the field.


Junior guard Brooke Christie emerged as Collins-Maxwell’s top threat from outside. She made 32 3-pointers and averaged 4.9 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.0 assists.


Trinity Stover tallied 4.5 points, 2.5 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 1.3 steals per game as a senior leader and all-ISC South Division honorable-mention choice. Stover shot 73 percent from the foul line.


Emma Kahler contributed 2.9 points, 2.5 assists and 2.2 steals and rebounds per game. Ella made 12 3-pointers and tallied 3.1 points and 1.8 rebounds per game.


Bartleson got in 20 games and had 17 rebounds and five blocks during the season. Freshman Marissa Boege averaged 2.0 points and 1.3 rebounds and sophomore Isabelle Hill 1.1 rebounds and Fricke delivered 10 assists and seven steals.


Jane’e Jones got in 13 games and had five steals. Mary Staudt played nine games and pulled down four rebounds.


Next season Collins-Maxwell will have a tough time replacing Mikayla Houge, the Kahler twins, Stover and Bartleson.


“These girls were what coaches hope for when they have a big group of seniors,” Flaws said. “ Emma set a Spartan record in assist to turnover ratio at nearly two to one, Trinity really became our motor down the final stretch, Ella was very consistent from 3 and played five positions defensively because she had guts and Karley turned into a good defender and the best communicator we had. Mikayla had a different role this year — she essentially turned in to a volunteer coach. It was nice having an extra set of eyes.”


But with Franzen, Alexis Houge, Wierson and Christie back to lead the way the Spartans have high hopes for 2020-2021.


“We’ll look for them to lead us going forward and if they’re great leaders then we might be in good shape,” Flaws said. “We return nine from the current varsity roster including our top four scorers and rebounders, but that doesn’t mean much if we don’t improve in the offseason,” Flaws said. “The current underclassmen displayed great growth this season - there’s some potential there. I’m really excited to see how they develop before next season because they’ll be the ones that determine if we can take the next step as a program.”