QUEEN CREEK – American Leadership Academy-Ironwood is in its third season as a member of the Arizona Interscholastic Association and it’s safe to say that the Warriors were not on anyone’s radar this year.
After starting the season 0-3 it seemed this season would not be any different, but head coach Joe Lundstrom deserves a lot of credit for turning the boys basketball program into a playoff contender.
“This is my third year here,” Lundstrom said. “We’ve just been building this and I couldn’t be more proud of this group of boys. We’re really young still but it’s been a long process and I couldn’t be more proud of these guys and all the hard work they’ve put in the last three years.”
In their first two seasons in the AIA the Warriors did not have a winning season and went 9-27. This year they ended the regular season 10-6 following a blowout 63-34 win over Arizona College Prep on Wednesday.
“It was a great way to finish off the regular season,” Lundstrom said. “Arizona College Prep is playing really well right now, we were really worried about them, but we brought our defense tonight and that’s what won us the game.”
A happy Lundstrom was seen with arms raised above his head as hugs went all around. The Warriors entered the Wednesday contest ranked No. 12 in the 3A conference power rankings.
“That was three years of hard work,” he said. “That’s the payoff. I’m excited for those kids, this is the first time ever in the school’s history to make state so it’s exciting.”
As a team the Warriors had four steals, five blocks and controlled the rim as they grabbed 39 rebounds.
Offensively they were led by senior Kyree Jackson who put up 18 points and shot 47% from the field. Elijah Taylor posted a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds.
Arizona College Prep’s brief lead lasted the first quarter and carried on into the early portion of the second quarter. The Knights’ 11-8 lead was extended by a three from sophomore guard Jonathan Kearney.
Taylor quickly responded with a bucket and then brought ALA Ironwood within two points after hitting two shots from the free throw line.
Sophomore Corey Wood nailed a three with 5:25 remaining the second quarter to give his team a 15-14 lead and the Warriors never looked back.
ALA Ironwood outscored the Knights 48-17 in the second and third quarters.
It was a rocky 0-3 start to the season for the Warriors as they faced off against three top 10 teams in Coolidge, Florence and American Leadership Academy-Gilbert North.
In those three games, ALA Ironwood was without its leading scorer in Jackson, who has averaged nearly 18 points and 7 rebounds per game.
However, the Warriors did have leading rebounder and blocker Andy Allen as well as Taylor and Wood.
“It was up and down,” Lundstrom said. “In the beginning of the year we didn’t have our best players. We just kept plugging away and I think we’re peaking at the right time.“
The AIA will release the playoff brackets on Saturday; based off current power rankings, as of Thursday the Warriors moved up one spot to No. 11.
“We’ve never been here before,” Lundstrom said. “We’ll just figure out who we’re going to play and go from there, it’s all we can do.”