It took some time for the North Polk girls’ basketball team to gel, but by the end of the season the Comets were in peak form as they came one win away from returning to state for the first time since 2007-08.

The Comets had new players step onto the court and contribute right away on an already deep roster. As the season progressed, the chemistry started to come together for North Polk and that resulted in a deep playoff run.

North Polk ended the season at 17-7 to better its 14-8 mark from a year ago. The Comets went 12-4 in a tough Heart of Iowa Conference this season — placing third behind state qualifiers Nevada (16-0) and Prairie City-Monroe (14-2).

After back-to-back losses to PCM and Nevada in its first games back from Christmas on Jan. 6 and 13, North Polk won 10 of its final 12 games. The Comets’ only losses in that stretch came in a rematch with PCM, then to No. 8 Clear Lake in the regional finals.

“Overall, it was a very good season,” North Polk head girls’ basketball coach Clint Albertsen said. “The ending was disappointing because if a few things break our way in the regional final it would have been a different game, but that happens in basketball. Five of our seven losses were to state tournament teams and the other two were to regional final teams in both the 3A and 4A classes.”

North Polk gave Nevada — a 4A state qualifier — a good test in a 51-35 setback the game before starting an eight-game winning streak. During the streak, the Comets disposed of Greene County, Gilbert, Roland-Story, South Hamilton, Norwalk and Saydel and they earned two victories over Collins-Maxwell-Baxter.

Making the winning streak more impressive was the fact that all but one of the victories came on the road.

PCM ended North Polk’s hot stretch by handing the Comets a 56-41 setback on Feb. 7 at Alleman to close out the regular season. North Polk ended the regular season rated No. 15 in 3A.

North Polk bounced back strong from its loss to PCM by whipping CMB in the 3A regional quarterfinals, 55-28, at Alleman.

That put North Polk in the regional semifinals versus a previously ranked Humboldt team at Humboldt. The Comets were sluggish offensively in the first half, but rallied for a big 39-35 victory.

“I enjoyed the way our team closed the season and (advanced) to the regional final,” Albertsen said. “I particularly enjoyed the way the girls fought back in the regional game against Humboldt — coming back from down six at halftime to get a tough win.”

In the regional finals, North Polk hung tough with Clear Lake for three quarters before being outscored by 11 points in the fourth quarter to end the season with a 47-32 loss.

“The biggest highlight was advancing to the regional final,” Albertsen said. “There was a time in the middle of the season where things were tough and it may not have looked like we could get that far.”

Albertsen credited improved defense with his team’s strong play to close out the season.

“Our defense really carried us at times this year,” Albertsen said. “We only gave up 35 points a game. We held our opponents to below 30-percent shooting from the field and from 3-point range.”

North Polk allowed teams to only shoot 29.9 percent from the field and 26.1 percent from 3-point range.

Depth also helped North Polk fight through the grind of having to play 12 of its final 15 games away from home.

“The other highlight for me was just the number of kids who contributed to our 17 wins,” Albertsen said. “We had a very balanced team and everyone did their part in some way each night.”

North Polk averaged 48.0 points, shooting 36.3 percent from the field, 29.1 percent from 3-point range and 58.1 percent from the line. The Comets hit 127 3-pointers and ended up outrebounding their foes by an average margin of 30.6-28.8.

Nine players played at least 20 games for North Polk. An impressive 15 players played in at least 10 games.

A total of 11 players averaged at least 2.0 points and 1.0 rebounds per game for the Comets. The distribution of production was so well-rounded that no player averaged as many as 9.0 points and only four scored more than 5.0 per game.

Senior guards Rachel Scott and Riley Murphy, sophomore forward Katie Brown and freshman forward Jaedon Murphy were all-HOIC performers for North Polk this season. Scott made the first team, Riley Murphy the second team and Brown and Jaedon Murphy were honorable mention.

Scott led North Polk in scoring (8.5 points per game) and 3-pointers (52). She shot 40 percent from 3-point range and also averaged 1.8 rebounds, 1.0 assists and 1.0 steals.

Riley Murphy put up 5.7 points, 3.0 assists, 2.6 rebounds and 2.1 steals per game. She shot 76.3 percent from the line and made eight 3-pointers.

Brown contributed 6.3 points and 2.3 rebounds per game. She made 20 3-pointers and also averaged 1.1 assists and 1.1 steals.

Jaedon Murphy put up 6.5 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.1 blocks per game. She shot 40 percent from the field and converted six 3-pointers.

Senior 6-2 center Hannah Becker anchored North Polk defensively. Becker led the team in rebounds (6.5) and blocks (1.5) and also averaged 4.8 points and 1.4 assists.

Seniors Maddy Hill and Macy Gill netted 3.9 and 3.2 points per game respectively for North Polk. Hill also put up 2.0 rebounds per game and Gill averaged 2.4 rebounds and 1.2 steals.

Sophomores Carolyn Steffen, Katie Scott and Katryn Halterman averaged 2.5, 2.3 and 2.1 points respectively. Steffen hit eight 3-pointers at a 42.1-percent clip and averaged 2.5 rebounds, and Katie Scott hit 12 3-pointers, shot 80 percent from the line and averaged 1.2 assists.

Junior Becca Ley averaged 4.6 points, shooting 58.3 percent from the field. She also averaged 1.9 steals and 1.5 rebounds in 11 games before suffering a season-ending knee injury.

Juniors Danielle Bonewitz and Madison Paine averaged 1.2 and 1.1 points respectively. Maddie Bruggeman totaled 11 assists and nine points in 16 games and junior Sydney Albaugh scored eight points in 10 games.

North Polk suffers some big losses in Rachel Scott, Riley Murphy, Becker, Hill and Gill.

“This senior class led our program to a lot of success during their four years,” Albertsen said. “They were a very committed group and showed a lot of class. It will be strange for them to be gone because they are the first class that I have coached all the way through high school. Those girls leave big shoes to fill for the girls in our program.”

But with so many players getting quality minutes this season, North Polk will have enough talent coming back to remain strong in 2017-18.

“Next season is very promising,” Albertsen said. “We do lose six seniors who have helped us win a lot of ball games, but we also have a number of kids coming back with a year or two of experience, and also some promising newcomers. I look forward to building off the success of this season.”